By TIM KELLY
Life hasn’t always been smooth for South Jersey’s smoothie king.
But with research, consultation with friends who worked in the food service industry and lots of hard work, Joe Wallash has grown a small, one-person operated stand in the corner of a coffee shop into arguably the area’s top acai bowls and smoothie operation, Playa Bowls.
Wallash, 44, took his original operation, which he called “Smoothie Shack,” and grew it to seven thriving Playa Bowl locations with an eighth soon to come.
Locally, Playa Bowls has two Ocean City shops at 744 Boardwalk and 1324 Boardwalk, and one in Sea Isle City at 33 42nd Street. He also has locations in Stone Harbor at 261 96th Street, Wildwood at 3800 Boardwalk, 307 Beach Avenue in Cape May and in Cherry Hill at 2010 Route 70. The newest location, currently under construction, will be in Marlton at 300 Route 73.
Back in 2012, the former pharmaceutical salesman, who was doing quite well in that field, decided it was time to re-evaluate his life after a business restructuring resulted in a layoff, his second.
“It was time for a change,” he said. “I liked the business, I liked (his boss), I liked the product and the company. But after my second layoff, it was time to try something different. I wanted to try starting my own business. I was married and had a young son. I needed to find something I could work at to achieve stability.”
Wallash went to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, taking with him a legal pad and an open mind. At the top of the pad, he wrote “Joe’s Life” and began the work of looking into other fields.
Following much online research and consultation, “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” he recalled. “The acai bowls and smoothie business was virtually untapped in South Jersey. I’m not good in the kitchen and I’m certainly not a chef. But this was something I understood and believed I could handle.”
According to Wikipedia, “acai na tigela,” or “acai in the bowl” is a popular Brazilian dessert created by mashing up berries, fruit of the palm trees and other healthy fruits and foods. The palm berries are tart and have a creamy texture, which, combined with sweeter fruits, makes a tasty and healthy snack.
They can also be made with shrimp, fish and other seafood. The combination of an acai bowl and smoothie possibilities are almost unlimited. Benefits, besides the taste, include low sugar content, vitamins and healthy energy boosting properties. Plus, they are filling.
“Eat one of these, and you’re full for three or four hours, but without feeling weighted down,” said Wallash, a surfer and former fitness trainer. “They keep you light on your feet and ready for activity.”
The bowls, containing calcium, protein, iron and fiber, are considered to be a “super food” in Brazil. They also provide 10 times the antioxidants of red grapes, according to health food websites.
In addition to the bowls, acai is a great base ingredient for smoothies, a “bowl in a glass” or large cup, perfect to consume on a Boardwalk stroll or during a trip to the beach or gym.
In an era of healthy meals growing in popularity and with convenient foods always in demand, Wallash thought the idea would be a winner in South Jersey beach towns and elsewhere. He was right. The Smoothie Shack was an immediate hit. Then, Wallash was approached by Playa Bowls, a national powerhouse in the acai bowl market, offering the chance to open local franchises.
The rest is acai bowl and smoothie history.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Wallash said he was ahead of the curve, already offering remote ordering and contactless delivery.
“When all of the (COVID protocols) were being announced, we were already well-practiced in doing them,” he explained.
In the decade following his first smoothie stand, Wallash expanded his family, as well as his business. Son Landon is now 12 and preparing to attend Ocean City High School. Wallash and his wife, Samantha, also have a 6-year-old daughter, Sophie.
Though successful in his career switch, it hasn’t all been about profit. Wallash has an extensive community service branch to his Playa Bowls enterprise. He’s created “pop-up” smoothie and bowl stands at numerous local sports contests and other events and then donated the proceeds to community organizations where he operates.
“I’m fortunate to be doing something I love,” he said. “It’s only right to give back to the people who responded and made us successful.”