Rather than simply mimic the Brazilian classic, Samba Rock Acai Cafe at 291 Water St. elevates the traditional “acai” (“ah-sigh-ee”) bowl -- bittersweet, rich blended frozen Brazilian acai berries topped with fresh bananas, strawberries, and granola -- to new heights with unconventional blends of fruit and spices such as avocado, blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Owners Vanessa and Ron Wilkerson met in Vanessa’s hometown Sao Paulo, Brazil, when Ron, a professional BMX’er and owner of his own bike manufacturing company was filming a video for his company, Two Hip Bikes.
They fell in love and got married. “It’s better to marry a BMXer than get hurt on one,” said Vanessa.
After Ron convinced Vanessa to open an acai shop with him and manage it, friend and designer Rich Hansen of San Francisco converted the old barber shop across from the Santa Cruz County Courthouse into a high-ceilinged rustic cafe. Hansen chose recycled plywood walls reminiscent of Rio’s ghettos or “favelas” where acai shacks are pieced together from whatever material can be found.
The Wilkersons described the hurdles they faced and current triumphs that leave them optimistic about the cafe’s future.
“It was tough to start in a recession but now people know we are here and the economy is getting better,” says Vanessa.
Ron added that the hurdles were not purely recession-related.
“Don’t even think about trying to open a business in Santa Cruz. Run away,” said Ron, adding that the process took a year because of unforeseeable hurdles and expenses.
For example, there was a $30,000 traffic impact fee the city assessed.
“We have bike parking inside! Are you crazy?” Ron told the city, getting the fee reduced to $9,000. The cafe features what may be the only indoor bike parking in Santa Cruz. These hurdles make the “pro local” hype seem like, well, just hype, said Vanessa.
While the cafe does not have a website yet, you can find it on Facebook.