Acai Bowls Return to Lazy Hummingbird “Coffee Shop”

by on July 1, 2014 · 1 comment

in Health, Ocean Beach

Lazy Hummingbird owner Danielle Eder shows off one of her acai bowls at the coffee shop on Santa Monica Avenue.

Wrong standard had been applied to the coffee shop by over-zealous health inspector

By Matthew Wood

The acai bowls are back at the ‘Bird, and there is much rejoicing in OB.

For nearly a month, the coffee shop that shares a storefront with the OB Business Center on Santa Monica Avenue had to shut down the popular bowls and other food production because of what owner Danielle Eder calls an overzealous inspector.

“For the last three years, we’ve been getting A’s,” Eder said of health inspection reviews of the coffee shop, which just celebrated its third anniversary.

“They change the rules every day. There are so many exceptions to them, especially with food carts.”

She said the inspector – who she declined to name – had a problem with the way they were preparing some of their food and shut them down just before Memorial Day.

“We are not allowed to slice or prepare anything,” said Danielle Casterline, a barista who has worked at the shop for nearly the entire three years it has been open. She took up the cause of making sure the ‘Bird was compliant, no matter what rules were thrown at them.

Part of the problem is that the place is considered a “coffee cart” and not a “coffee shop,” even though they’re pretty stable in their storefront location. It basically meant they couldn’t cut anything at the time of purchase.

Casterline and Eder both shared stories of people actually breaking down in line when they found out the bowls weren’t available.

“It really hit me the first day when a mom and daughter came in,” Casterline said. “It was the daughter’s first time here. I think she was in from Chicago. The mom had been raving and raving about our bowls and she said that was the first thing she did when she got off the plane. She was so sad when she found out we couldn’t sell them. It broke my heart. I didn’t want that to happen.”

So she hit the books and read up on what the food cart laws actually said.

“I think it was a lack of communication,” Casterline said. “I studied San Diego’s food cart manual. I found out that the information we were told was correct, but not correct. We could serve acai, but we could not have a knife on that counter at all. So if we pre-slice or prepare ahead of time, we can still serve.”

That means a bit of a tweak to the recipe. Fresh bananas are gone from the top of the bowls, but they have added blackberries and blueberries to the mix.

Eder said she never meant to skirt the law, and never had problems before.

“The rules we’re supposed to follow, I wanted to follow them,” she said.

Now, you may be thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s just an acai bowl. Everyone in the neighborhood makes them. Well, if you haven’t tried them at the ‘Bird, you are missing out. I did a comparison of every bowl in OB last year, and the Hummingbird’s were easily the best.

One of the reasons is that Eder is kind of a pioneer in the business. She learned about acai bowls – a frozen concoction made with the superfruit found in the Amazon, mashed together with other fruits and mixed with milk or juice, then served with a combination of fresh fruit, granola, nuts and honey, depending on where you get them – when she visited Brazil eight years ago.

She brought an idea of the recipe back and started serving them at Tiki Port, where she worked as a barista before opening up the ‘Bird.

“I knew I couldn’t duplicate the way they did it, but I wanted to make them proud,” Eder said.

While unable to confirm if she actually was the first to start serving acai bowls in OB, she has to be a pioneer. The attention to detail is noticeable.

“We use hemp granola. It’s so expensive. I don’t even know how much it costs,” she said with a laugh.

Eder estimates they sold 4,000 bowls in the three months before getting shut down. She said that number has been much lower since they were allowed to start selling again, but expects it to return to similar levels once word gets out that they are back.

In the end, she is looking at the whole ordeal as a blessing. They are now serving a number of “grab ‘n go” pastries and sandwich wraps and have plans to add more.

“We want to do more gluten-free stuff. We amped up our orders from Peace Pie,” Eder said.

She wants the shop to be as big a part of the community as possible. They already have live music at least once a week and focus work from local artists. But Eder has even bigger plans.

“I really want to do more kids classes like craft classes,” she said. “OB just oozes talent. … I really want to do a movie night. All these things that people want, that’s what a coffee shop is all about. That’s why I love coffee so much. It goes hand in hand with the community.”

There are still some hiccups – it looks like the breakfast paninis they made won’t be coming back – but both Danielles (there are actually three who work at the shop) are confident in their little shop.

“There’s still a bit of a transition. It’ll all pay off,” Casterline said. “People are happy, and that’s what we we’re striving for.”

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