Two Lancaster businessmen beat the COVID-19 odds when they expanded their business from food trucks and market stands to open a bricks and mortar store amid the pandemic.
Joe Ferderbar and Brock Snider, owners of Oola Bowls, opened their standalone store at 1963 Fruitville Pike in the Foxshire Plaza in May 2021. They soon plan a new stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market in Reading.
Oola bowls are made from acai berries and topped with fresh fruit, peanut butter and homemade granola. Pitaya, often referred to as Dragon Fruit, is also an option.
The two attribute their success to imagination and use of social media to let customers know where they were and that they were open for business.
“We view everything as a challenge,” Ferderbar said. “We get creative and look for the positive outcome.”
According to the Small Business Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 40 percent of small business owners reported a negative effect on their business, with 23.3 percent reporting a “large negative effect” during the pandemic.
During that time, to get the word out and have people taste their creations, the two delivered Oola Bowls to health care workers and test takers to thank them for their efforts fighting COVID-19.
The store, which was open three days a week during the worst of the pandemic, is now open seven days a week at the Foxshire location. The market stands are open on market days and the food trucks are seasonal.
The business has about seven full-time employees and employs anywhere from 15 to 75 seasonal employees.
The business started in 2018 with a trailer turned food truck at local events and eventually at Hershey Park after the two decided to take a chance on business over dinner.
“We had both been on vacations and had tried acai bowls. I don’t know whose idea it was at first because we had both tried these, but we knew we had something,” Snider said.
Health food was trending three years ago when the two decided to take a shot. They found what they consider the best acai berries they can find, which is the base for the sweet concoction.
The bowls are made from crushed acai berries, which are considered a superfood, from Brazil.
“The berries are smashed into a pulp and made into an ice cream-like product,” Snider said. “Then it is topped with all types of fresh fruit, peanut butter and my grandmother’s granola. It’s like a frozen sorbet.”
The two knew the product was good but were faced with how to sell it when restaurants were closing left and right. Social media, they said, got the word out and loyal customers showed up.
Most orders were received online. “Before COVID, we didn’t have this,” Snider said. “We created a drive through during COVID and were able to deliver to customers curbside.”
The two look at the challenges they faced as a blessing. “This allowed us to focus on how to order supplies and how to get people to come see us,” Ferderbar said. “We became a destination instead of a tourist attraction.”
The food truck now lives permanently at Hershey Park. The two said they also have stands at Lancaster Central Market, Market at the Wilbur in Lititz, a stand at Hershey Park as well as the truck and will soon be opening a stand at the Fairgrounds Farmers Market in Reading. Future plans include franchising, they said.