Before bursting into health buff’s lexicons and Instagram feeds, açaí—pronounced “AHH-sigh-ee” —enjoyed a constrained yet celebrated existence in Brazil’s Amazon River basin. For centuries, the purply superfruit queen quietly reigned as a local dinner staple, until two biological surfer brothers decided 1999 was high tide for a U.S. introduction. Although açaí has graced American grocery aisles for two decades now, it didn’t receive much Southern hospitality until recently. Cory Dill, owner of City Bowls, knew the trendy folks of Vestavia Hills and its surrounding communities wouldn’t be stoked if they knew what they were missing out on.
The City Bowls experience is kind of like an ice cream social for the health-conscious. The shop’s pureed açaí-, pitaya- (also known as dragon fruit) and spinach-based bowls are a far cry from a sundae, save for being a sweet treat. Anyone who pigeonholes City Bowls as a dessert destination is in the dark, Dill insists. “They may look like desserts, but they’re very filling,” he says. “Our Powerhouse Bowl is a meal replacement, but people don’t understand that until they eat one.”
If this former gym owner and competitive athlete can get his post-workout fill from a superfruit bowl, anyone can. Dill first stumbled across açaí bowls in Miami while traveling for CrossFit competitions. Eventually, he decided to ditch the gym for two-a-days in Alabama’s inaugural açaí bowl truck, which hit the streets last April. “You can’t beat coming to work happy. It’s fun, and it’s different. I love getting to see new faces every day,” Dill says, beaming.
In crafting City Bowls’ menu, Dill forged a new outlet for his creativity, formerly channeled into CrossFit programming and workout choreography. After a month of toying with fruity flavor combinations, he was poised to be the Magic City’s açaí hype man. When he first unleashed his brainchildren on greater Birmingham, he knew he’d have to make a hard sell. Getting locals excited about his exotic offerings with perplexing pronunciations was no piece of Lane cake. “I was on the phone all day, every day, just trying to book venues. Selling people on our product was difficult enough because they look at it and see a bowl of fruit,” he says.
Armed with a go-getter’s work ethic, the self-described “good ole boy from Hueytown” achieved sweet success in six months, no college degree necessary. “I don’t come from money, at all,” he says. “I had to bust my butt to get stuff done. I learned my work ethic from my parents, who always had jobs.”
Now, the family gets together at dinnertime to put in the hours. Dill’s mother is a regular fixture on the food truck, and his sister pitches in at the brick and mortar, which opened in April of this year. Befitting its nutritional focus, City Bowls scored a spot within the Healthy Way community alongside notable tenants such as GNC, athletic apparel store Fleet Feet, Publix, and the behemoth Life Time Fitness (arguably the largest private athletic facility in Alabama).
City Bowls quickly evolved from an Instagram hotspot for smartphone-wielding teen girls into a reliable joint for anyone to enjoy a refreshing repast. Ironically, the clientele diversified as a result of its soaring social media presence. Açaí is having a heyday in the ‘Ham. “[Our customer base] has totally flipped since we opened the store. The age range has greatly increased. I think it helped to have people of that age constantly posting about [the bowls] on social media,” Dill admits, grateful for the free advertising.
Around lunchtime on a typical weekday, a healthy blend of professionals, families and teens line the buoyant blue wall across from the assembly line, deliberating whether it’s a Vulcan Bowl or Blazer Bowl kind of day. Sunlight saturates the space, which Magic City Woodworks and local architects animated from Dill’s original sketch. While he is in the process of expanding the City Bowls truck franchise, he’s happy to call Vestavia Hills his immobile home.
“I keep my head down, keep hammering forward, and everything is still rocking and rolling,” he humbly concludes.
Where to Grab a Bowl
- The Vestavia Hills location off Healthy Way.
- Wherever the food truck is parked. Check the calendar on Facebook for details.
- A Birmingham Barons game (twice a month during family nights)
- UAB Hospital (on Thursdays)
- Your next event. Custom bowls are available for catering.
How to Build a Bowl
- Choose a base: açaí or pitaya
- Choose: granola or no granola
- Choose two fruits: bananas, blueberries, kiwi, pineapple, strawberries
- Choose one topping: bee pollen, cacao nibs, chia seeds, coconut flakes, honey, Nutella, peanut butter