Smile Politely

An interview with Just Bee Açaí creator, Emma Reinbold

If you’ve been following their journey, you would have no idea that Just Bee Açaí has only been around for merely a year, yet it already seems like a C-U staple. Having been a fan for quite some time and a frequent customer, I was so excited to have a chance to ask its creator Emma Reinbold some questions about the amazing “Support Your Local Everything” campaign and the addicting açaí bowls.

Photo by Emma Reinbold.

Smile Politely: Hello! Can you introduce yourself and tell us your role(s) with Just Bee Açaí?

Emma Reinbold: Hello, my name is Emma Reinbold, and I am the creator and dreamer behind Just BEE Açaí. I was born in Champaign, grew up in Monticello, and graduated from UIUC, so I am and forever will be a townie at heart. This is where my passion for loving all things local rooted.

Being a small business that launched not even a year ago, I still have my hand in truly every role required to keep the wheels turning. This ranges from what you all see at the face of the business: preparing bowls on the Shasta trailer every time she’s out, engaging with our community through social media, partnering with other local entrepreneurs to embrace growing up in this world together, to all of those responsibilities that happen behind the scenes: gassing up the camper in the middle of a blizzard, navigating the seven wonders of running a business with only family members, coordinating events to make sure y’all have opportunities to find us, food preparation, of course. The list could turn into a novel that’d bore you all very fast, so we’ll leave it at that!

Entering the entrepreneur world with zero background in the business or food industry, this first year has been a journey of tremendous growth that I truly couldn’t have navigated if it weren’t for the guidance of other local business owners that were eagerly waiting to be tapped into for help. I love that I now have the opportunity to pay that forward through Just BEE.

An overhead shot of an acai bowl with blueberries, coconut, and other toppings. Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

SP: First off, what is açaí?

Reinbold: Açaí is a fruit that grows on the açaí palm trees only found in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. These one-inch, dark-purple berries pack a nutrient punch with a whole host of antioxidants, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. Dubbed by Brazilians as the “beauty berry,” açaí berries truly do the body good from the inside out. They have health benefits such as increased energy levels, a boosted immune system, improved metabolic function, and better hair and skin. And the best part? They taste amazing especially when served as a frozen puréed version of the berry, topped with additional powerhouse foods such fresh fruit, homemade granola, chia seeds, coconut flakes, nut butter, local honey, and more such as we do here.

Viewed from above, several assembled acai bowls sit on a counter. Each colorful bowl is artfully topped with fruits, nuts, and other toppings. Photo by Just Bee Acai.

Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

SP: So tell us a little more about that and how you incorporate it in your menu offerings.

Reinbold: We offer a line of eight signature açaí bowls along with a handful of seasonal options which are rotated out every few months. Our bowls offer a spectrum of flavor, texture, and nutrient combinations specifically created with every palate in mind.

Each bowl begins with a 8 ounce, 12 ounce, or 16 ounce portion of our açaí base which is a puréed version of the açaí berry that has been lightly sweetened and frozen into a very thick smoothie consistency. The bowls are then topped with a variety of fresh fruits, in-house made granola, “superfoods” (goji berries, cacao nibs, coconut, hemp hearts, bee pollen, to name a few) and finishing drizzles (local honey, fresh ground almond butter, agave, and more). All of the ingredients that we use in the assembly of these bowls are organic, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and dense in nutrients! Since each bowl is made fresh to order right there on the truck as the request comes in, you can customize our signature offerings or create your own combination however your heart desires.

SPWhat’s your favorite menu item or your go-to order?

Reinbold: To be quite honest, I hardly ever enjoy one of the bowls as listed on our menu. As the creator behind it all, I am always dreaming up and flavor testing what’s to be introduced next. Staying ahead of the trends and guaranteeing that we have something fresh to offer you with the turn of each season is a priority to me, so that’s the mission each time I put together my end-of-the-shift bowl. We are currently fine tuning a few new recipes that’ll be introduced come the relaunch of our Shasta trailer Miss Linda.

Since that didn’t really answer your question, I will speak to our fan favorites: the Bee Sassy and Bee Fruitful. These two signature bowls tower over the others in popularity and offer very different flavor combinations. The Bee Fruitful is loved by many due to its familiar nature as it’s loaded with all of the fresh fruits (bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple) and is sealed off with a simple Original Nola sprinkle and local honey drizzle: classic and delicious. The Bee Sassy, however, is much more complex. We like to call it our savory-sweet combination as it offers a touch of nutty bitterness with the cacao nibs, almond butter, and hemp hearts while also bringing through that natural sweetness thanks to fresh fruits, goji berries, and local honey drizzle. Both offer a beautiful balance of flavors and textures which is why they’ve captured the cravings of many of our followers since that first bite.

Just Bee's vintage yellow and cream Shasta parked by a curb amongst trees. Displayed are its chalkboard menu and a wire rack to the side that is full of various local products for sale. Photo by Just Bee Acai.

Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

SP: Your food truck is certainly unique and cheerful. What was the inspiration behind starting a açaí business out of a vintage Shasta?

Reinbold: I’ve always said that I’m a child of the 60s born in the wrong era, so when I decided to chase the opportunity to turn those dreams into reality, I decided to embrace every aspect of those interests. One of the underlying missions driving Just BEE is to be a shining light in the shadows of this community and beyond through the services that we have the opportunity to provide.

What better way to instantly portray that message than a bright yellow, vintage camper? It catches the eye, sparks a sense of nostalgic joy, and allows us the ability to bring that light due to it’s mobile nature. It just felt right the moment the idea landed on my heart, so I didn’t second guess it and began the Shasta hunt. We found it in March of 2018 when I was still teaching special education. She sat in our yard until June which is when we began the makeover. A full year later, she was launched as the Miss Linda that so many people now get excited to see driving down the streets of C-U.

SP: If you take a break from the bowls, where is your favorite Champaign-Urbana area restaurant to grab some grub?

Reinbold: I have always been a foodie at heart, so exploring local restaurants and coffee shops is a natural thing for me to do in my free time. I have a favorite for every craving and hour of the day, but if I had to choose just a few, tou’ll find me at Café Kopi for their dry soy cappuccino, Seven Saints for their cheese curds, The Himalayan Chimney for their curry and naan, and Jarling’s Custard Cup for their lemon custard in a waffle basket. Talk about a five course meal right there. Oh yes, please.

SP: You obviously have a love for fresh, healthy ingredients. What inspired you to start a business that revolved around healthy foods?

Reinbold: I’ve always had a passion for fueling my body with natural nutrient sources that were gifted to this Earth for that exact reason, so when discovering that the food industry is where my heart was being led, I knew that was the market that I wanted to tap into. My hope was first, to educate this community on the many easily accessible, nutrient-dense ingredients that they can effortlessly be incorporated into their daily dishes; second, offer a quick, on-the-go option for those students and customers who maybe don’t have the time to prepare a healthy meal throughout the day; and lastly, to capitalize on the fact that wholesome eating doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Our bowls are attractive to the eye, palate, and body, creating an experience that leaves people feeling satisfied on many levels and wanting to learn more about those unique, healthy food options that they didn’t even know were out there before Just BEE came around.

Viewed from above, several paper sacks are filled with containers of ingredients for DIY bowls. Photo by Just Bee Acai.

Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

SP: Goodness knows during quarantine we could use some healthier options, what else other than açaí can we order from you?

Reinbold: Since the start of this pandemic, we have been offering what we call “Shelter-In-Place Superfood Supplies,” which essentially is all of our ingredients packaged up in bulk quantities so that our people can make açaí bowls in the comfort and safety of their own home during these times. That being said, although we often get so caught up on the health benefits of the açaí berry, everything else that we offer is (almost) equally as impressive in terms of nutritional content.

All of our superfood toppings (goji berries, cacao nibs, almond slivers, coconut flakes, peanuts, chia seeds, bee pollen, hemp hearts, and flax seed) are organic, gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, and most importantly, nutrient dense. Some offer saturated volumes of healthy omega fats such as the chia seeds and almonds. Hemp hearts add a rich plant-based protein boost, and cacao nibs bring doses of antioxidants. Each ingredient brings their own unique benefits to the table, so when all layered into one bowl atop of açaí, you truly are indulging in a meal that is building your body and immune system up on so many levels.

SP: Can you talk a bit about your ingredients? What are hemp hearts? Can you talk about cocoa nibs, chia seeds, and your add-ins?

Reinbold: We offer a total of 9 superfood toppings: five fresh-ground, local drizzles and two in-house made ‘Nolas (our unique name for granola. Don’t ask me how that started!) Fan favs amongst them all are goji berries, cacao nibs, almond butter, local Sasse’s honey, and our Original ‘Nola.

A goji berry is a bright red fruit that comes from a shrub native to China. We offer a dehydrated version of this berry (similar to a raisin in texture) as a topping option that provides immune system support, promotes healthy skin, and decreases stress levels. Cacao nibs are for the chocolate lovers out there who don’t want the added sugars but still want to satisfy those cravings. Cacao nibs are simple, crushed-up cacao beans (chocolate in its purest form) that offer high levels of antioxidants, fiber and minerals. Hemp hearts are the chewy, soft, innermost part of the hemp seed. They are nutty in flavor, high in protein, and rich in essential fatty acids. I could go on forever about the over 20 toppings options but that could get lengthy quick. All of the nutritional information and health benefits for each ingredient that goes into the assembly of our menu items can be found on our website, so reference there if you’re not bored yet.

SP: These kinds of ingredients might not necessarily sound familiar or like a grocery store staple to some. Where do you source them?

Reinbold: Our açaí is sourced from a 100% fair trade and self-sustaining farm located in the roots of where it grows: the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Most of our superfood toppings are purchased online in bulk from various organic suppliers. Our signature honey drizzle is sourced locally thanks to Sasse’s Apiary located in Chestnut, Illinois. We recently had the opportunity to turn our homemade granola recipe over to Central Illinois Bakehouse as a means to support local whenever we can, so they bake our original and cacao sea salt ‘Nola fresh every week. If I didn’t list it here, then that means it is something made directly in-house including our fresh ground nut butters and chia seed puddings.

Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

SP: What is the nutritional information for your bowls? Are they more like yogurt or more like dessert?

Reinbold: This is a question we often get, “So is it like healthy ice cream, or do I have an excuse to eat this for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert?” The answer is our signature açaí base can be enjoyed however and whenever the desire strikes. We always encourage people to listen to their bodies when they’re requesting certain nutrients, açaí, of course, included.

Since we are not blending the açaí that we receive from Brazil with any additional fruits, juices, or dairies, you are receiving a rich volume of the antioxidants, healthy omega fats, fiber and vitamins with each serving. Because açaí can be fairly bitter as is, they sweeten it slightly with organic cane sugar, 12 grams per 8 ounce serving, immediately after harvesting and puréeing it to bring out the flavor in its fullest. This prevents us from having to blend additional fruits, juices, dairies and sweeteners into our base, and instead maintain the beautifully unique açaí flavor, texture, and nutrients that the berry naturally has to offer. Please feel free to visit our website or reach out via email if you are interested in seeing the specific macronutrients for your go-to bowl and size.

SP: How has the stay-at-home order affected you and your day-to-day operations?

Reinbold: Our day-to-day operations changed tremendously with the stay-at-home order, only by choice though. Since the nature of a food truck is all carryout and delivery (no dine in), we technically could be out in the Shasta every day per usual. However, for the protection of my family and the community that we served, I made the decision not to do so with everyone’s best interest in mind. Plus, it just doesn’t feel right in my heart to be living the ordinary Just BEE life” when so many of my close entrepreneur friends from within this community haven’t yet been granted permission to do so.

I want to walk this journey with them and, therefore, I decided to put the truck away for a while to channel my energy there instead. This is where the “Support Your Local Everything” tee movement came into play. All of that being said, we still wanted to provide our loyal following the açaí that they’ve grown to love to bring them a sense of joy and normalcy during these times.

We have been packaging all of the ingredients needed to make açaí bowls in bulk quantities so people can assemble their own creations in the comfort and safety of their homes whenever that craving strikes. Our order link goes live on our website every Tuesday sharply at 6 p.m., with deliveries being dropped off all across Central Illinois that following Friday sometime between 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This community has overwhelmed us with their response to this new style of operating, and quite frankly, I think it’s going to be difficult to pull it away from people once the Shasta is back out. We are currently trying to fine tune how we might be able to offer both fresh bowls off the truck and bulk orders simultaneously to meet the requests of everyone, so stay tuned.

SP: What is your outreach approach during these difficult times? Have you found staying in touch with the public and community more difficult?

Reinbold: Establishing a sense of community that usually drives me through these efforts has been quite the challenge during these times. We launched Just BEE with community as one of our core values. We want to serve this community, support this community, love this community so, so well. Doing that during a time when we aren’t able to gather as a community has proven to be difficult. But, just as everyone else, we are continually learning how to adapt and embrace the beauties of this new norm.

Launching the “Support Your Local Everything” tee movement at the start of all of this has allowed me to personally contact 250 different businesses around the area with the purchasing of those gift cards. Talk about a humbling experience: to have the opportunity to simply ask them how they are doing in that very moment and communicate that they have an entire community willing to support and cheer them on through this, sparked such a light of joy. I will never be able to thank everyone who purchased a shirt enough. This is yet another reason I will be a forever townie; you don’t find love like this around every corner you turn, so I feel blessed to be rolling around in that vintage Shasta here all across Central Illinois. So even though I may not be able to see and love on and serve this community during these times, the people have proven to still be out there, and that thought alone is enough to get us through.

Tubs of various açaí bowl ingredients are pictured together in front of a brick wall. Various containers filled with toppings are stacked on one another beside a tub of pureed acai that is covered in stickers of the Just Bee logo. Photo by Just Bee Acai.

Photo by Just Bee Açaí.

SP: With such a shakeup to local businesses caused by the pandemic, what accommodations have you made?

Reinbold: Our main accommodation implemented during these times has been bringing our services directly to our customers’ front doors. With the shelter-in-place order, we knew we didn’t want to offer any sort of operating that encouraged people in our community to be out and about more than they absolutely have to. That idea didn’t feel responsible. We are a business that stands for health and wellness, so we are committed to maintaining that through it all, and especially now more than ever.

Our “Shelter-in-Place Superfood Supplies” deliveries have allowed me to protect my family’s health as it has eliminated any face-to-face interactions that we’d typically have on the food truck along as our customers’ health, as they get to just stay safe inside their homes as they eagerly anticipate their açaí delivery to be dropped off on their porch every Friday. It’s worked out beautifully. We continue to feel very content with this form of operating, and we are very grateful for how it has panned out thanks to everyone’s support.

SP: Can you share what plans you’re considering when things begin to get back to “normal” business?

Reinbold: “Normal” for our business is going to take quite some time to achieve, as our largest following of customers, University of Illinois students and staff, were stripped from us in heartbeat when they decided to convert everything to online. Time will only tell as to when they’ll all be coming back. Additionally, with the nature of a food truck being very event heavy, we have felt the impact there as well since nearly all of those events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

With all of that said, we are finding beauty in having the time to introduce new ways for people to get their hands on açaí. We are excited to tap into new markets and areas of town once the food truck is back out, and I have enjoyed having time to play with new recipes that we hope to introduce to the menu very soon. Miss Linda will slowly start to make her appearance on the streets again, starting out with Saturday mornings at the Urbana Market at the Square, and tiptoeing forward from there. Depending on how everything plays out, we could see operating the food truck part time while spending the other half of our hours on bulk deliveries are we are offering now: best of both worlds in a sense.

SP: Should customers order online or over the phone? Cash or credit?

Reinbold: Right now, all of our orders are being accepted online only with the ability to pay directly there through that platform. Our “Shelter-in-Place Superfood Supplies” online order form goes live every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and becomes inactive as soon as we sell out. WE usually sell out within the hour, so we encourage people to hop on fast if they want in on some açaí supplies. All orders are then delivered that following Friday. Our delivery radius is anywhere with a 30 mile radius of Champaign-Urbana. Once the food truck is back out and we are offering our signature assembled bowls again, we will still have the option to place an order ahead of time online, or you can walk up to the Shasta to place your order there. Only credit will be accepted come that time. Watch our social media pages for updates on when that’ll be happening!

SP: Anything else would you like to share with the readers?

Reinbold: I just want to say thank you. Thank you for continuing to support your local everything amidst these times. Thank you for pouring out your love even when I know you’re hurting in your own unique ways. Thank you for bending with us as we all navigate this new norm. Thank you for your patience as we wait until it feels right in our hearts to reintroduce you to Miss Linda again. Champaign-Urbana and beyond, your hearts are contagious, and we feel blessed to be experiencing even a glimpse of that love here at Just BEE. Açaí (ah-sigh-ee) you all someday very soon!

Just Bee Açaí
Currently only available for online order placed Tuesday.
Friday delivery 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Top image provided by Just Bee Açaí.

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