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New açaí shop set to open this summer in downtown Chapel Hill

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Photo courtesy of Morgan Gordon

Playa Bowls, a New Jersey-based açaí bowl chain, is currently developing a location on Franklin Street beneath Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery. The shop, located at 104 E. Franklin St., is expected to open this summer.

The space has been vacant for over two years and previously housed MidiCi, a pizza restaurant, Stephanie Cobert, director of marketing and engagement at Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership, said. 

The current space under TOPO is being divided to host two separate businesses. The larger space will house Starbucks, which is moving from a location across Franklin Street, and the smaller will house Playa Bowls.

“I think that by the end of the year, there's going to be quite a few new and old places that will be offered,” Cobert said.

The shop’s menu will include smoothies, juices and bowls with a variety of bases including açaí, pitaya, coconut, mango, oatmeal and others.

The new location's franchisee, Dave Eynon, said Playa Bowls will be a quick-service restaurant catered to both college students and the larger Chapel Hill community.

"[Playa Bowls offers] a good, healthy option as either a lunchtime or breakfast meal or a sweet treat at the end of the day that’s actually quite healthy for you," Eynon said.

Eynon said there will be seating for about 15 people and the shop will include a “chill zone,” featuring lounge chairs, a fireplace and table games. Construction is almost complete.

Eynon said he is opening the shop alongside longtime friends Jon Dickens and Jeff Giuliani, the older brother of Playa Bowls co-founder Robert Giuliani. They chose Chapel Hill after considering spaces in Raleigh, Durham and Cary because they felt most familiar with the area, Eynon said.

He said he hopes Playa Bowls will exist symbiotically with similar businesses such as The Purple Bowl, rather than as competitors. He also said the two businesses have different offerings, with Playa Bowls serving a wider variety of bowls and The Purple Bowl serving a broader menu, including breakfast foods and coffee.

Avery Barber, a sophomore at UNC, said she prefers The Purple Bowl and does not see herself visiting the new location.

"I have Playa Bowls at home, I'm from up North," Barber said. "I guess I just found myself preferring Purple Bowl."

Sydney Colen, a high school student in Chapel Hill, said her decision to visit the new location will depend largely on the price point.

Playa Bowls was founded in 2014 by Robert Giuliani and Abby Taylor — surfers who were inspired by açaí and pitaya bowls in the surf towns they visited in the U.S. and Central America. The first location was located in Belmar, New Jersey, and the company has since expanded to over 200 locations nationwide. In 2019, Taylor was included in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list  for her role in developing Playa Bowls. 

There are currently four Playa Bowls locations in North Carolina, in Raleigh, Durham, Mooresville and Wilmington.

According to the Playa Bowls website, the company also works to promote environmental sustainability. Playa Bowls locations are built partially from recycled or refurbished materials and use LED lighting and plant-based spoons, bowls, lids and straws to minimize environmental impact.

“We can’t wait for Playa Bowls to open their doors and be a new option for students and the public,” Cobert said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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