One Question Quiz
The Soul Boul team (Photos; Facebook/Soul Boul)
The Soul Boul team (Photos; Facebook/Soul Boul)

BusinessOctober 6, 2018

Beach in summer, Bali in winter: How smoothie bowls gave two friends a dream lifestyle

The Soul Boul team (Photos; Facebook/Soul Boul)
The Soul Boul team (Photos; Facebook/Soul Boul)

Every week on The Primer we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to Alexandra Bell, co-founder of smoothie bowl business Soul Boul.

ONE: How did Soul Boul start and what was the inspiration behind it?

Stacey [Horton, co-founder] and I met at Otago University and through mutual friends. I was studying social sciences and Stacey was studying commerce. We were both interested in wholesome, nutritious food, as well as health/wellness and hospitality, and we both had similar ideas to how we would run a cafe ourselves.

The actual inspiration for Soul Boul came from a solo month-long holiday to Bali. I was amazed at all the incredible, healthy foods available there, which of course consisted of numerous smoothie bowls. I spent a considerable amount of time ‘conducting research’ taste-testing different recipes all throughout Bali. I drafted up a couple of business names and logo concepts and came back to New Zealand and asked Stace if she’d be keen to embark on Soul Boul with me. She said yes and Soul Boul was born!

TWO: Did you have any interest/experience in business or entrepreneurship prior to starting Soul Boul?

Stacey and I have both worked around six or seven years each in busy hospitality environments throughout high school and university. We realised we had a lot of things in common – that same sense of ‘quality control’, for example – that’s actually quite hard to find when it comes to starting a business with one of your best friends!

But other than that, neither of us have had any experience in opening a cafe on wheels before. We just had the vision in our minds of what we wanted to achieve and the go-getter attitude to do so. It’s easier said than done, but since there’s two of us, there’s an incredible sense of support when things got tough.

ALEXANDRA BELL & STACEY HORTON (Photos: Facebook/Soul Boul)

THREE: What made you choose to specialise in smoothie bowls?

All the Indonesian fresh fruits and amazing combinations of these superfoods that were so readily available over in Bali really got me thinking: there’s next to nothing like this back home in New Zealand! We saw a huge gap in the market for this kind of food, and thought we better jump on that before someone else does.

Our smoothie bowls contain lots of superfoods also, which makes it that much more interesting when we get to educate people about what goodness goes into their ‘Acai Bowl’. In addition to smoothie bowls, we also do organic coffee and vegan buddha bowls, which is like a Mexican nacho bowl with homemade guac, beetroot hummus, three bean chilli mix, nachos, edamame, carrot and cabbage.

FOUR: Smoothie bowls seem to be quite a recent invention, so what do you think is the main reason for their appeal? What makes them different from just regular smoothies?

Smoothie bowls are a lot of fun to eat. They look incredible (when executed properly), are thick like ice cream, and topped with delicious granola, chia seeds and fresh fruit. They also have that ‘Instagram’ appeal, which is that photogenic delicious pulling point. There’s nothing better than dope looking food that tastes even doper.

The whole food in a bowl concept is really catching on also – eating your smoothie with a spoon is just a real fun thing to do on a summer’s day in Mount Maunganui I reckon!

(Photos: Facebook/Soul Boul)

FIVE: Why did you choose to operate out of a food truck rather than a permanent location? What are the pros and cons of that?

The whole food truck concept was the initial dream. We wanted to have the flexibility and freedom to travel to our desired location, pop up, and serve our superfood goodness to everyone around the country. It’s why we chose to deck out a mobile truck rather than have a fixed place.

Pros would be flexibility and the freedom to travel. Not having to pay massive overheads (rent etc.) has really minimised our risk and just kept the whole thing fun.

However, there are always cons. We began to realise that people like to know where we are in advance and they like to have some routine, set opening hours etc. so they’re not always having to track us down. Being slightly seasonal and not in a fixed long-term location has made it hard to offer this, which is what we’re in the process of working on for next year.

SIX: How does the business handle operating on a seasonal basis? How many people do you employ?

Over the past years, we’ve predominately operated summer only. We landed a permanent six-week spot along Marine Parade in Mount Maunganui (opposite Leisure Island) last year from December to February and we’ll back this coming summer.

Last winter, Stacey and I went and lived in Bali for four months on an extended ‘research trip’. We lived for next to nothing in Canggu just travelling, chilling, eating and planning our upcoming summer. Bali is such an inspirational place for us, and while we were over there, we got logos printed to be made into Soul Boul dungarees and got coconut bowls made and engraved for us to sell as merchandise this coming summer.

In the off-season, we also rent our food truck out to businesses wanting to promote their brand. Last winter, Naked Local Soups rented our truck out for two weeks, driving from Auckland to Christchurch giving out free samples of their delicious soups.

This winter’s been a little different. Stacey decided to go on her OE to London and I’m studying postgrad at Te Wanaga O Aotearoa in small business ownership and project management using Soul Boul as my case study. I’m also doing part-time nannying throughout the week.

In terms of employees, we’re lucky to have an amazing group of friends and little sisters who help us out at gigs, festivals and busy times. At events like WOMAD for example, we need five or six people in the truck pumping out smoothie bowls, coffee and savoury bowls non-stop. It gets pretty hectic at times, but on a normal day, we can get away with two or three humans and Stacey and I are always working.

(Photos: Facebook/Soul Boul)

SEVEN: Do you have any other plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?

We’d love to franchise our little business out to other coastal towns around the North Island, like Raglan or the Coromandel. Even just getting a permanent spot in the Mount would be amazing! We always thought it would be cool to have four or five Soul Boul food trucks at different locations all around New Zealand run by a couple of young women entrepreneurs.

We do also have a long-term future goal to open our own cafe when the time is right and we’re completely ready to commit to a full-time location.

EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a New Zealand start-up or business that you really admire right now.

In my wider group of friends from Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, there have been some incredible startups emerge. The Babysitters Club was started by Georgia Meek and is an online agency for premium childcare professionals. Hara the Label was started by Allie Cameron and is a line of ethical lingerie made from bamboo materials. Allie now has over 56,000 followers on Instagram and has been involved with New York Fashion Week.

It’s really empowering and inspiring seeing all these new start-up businesses with an ethical business plan, where they are actively trying to improve and minimise their impact on the environment. Ultimately this shift towards sustainable living is the way of the future and is such a powerful movement in which consumers and businesses have an extremely important role to play.

Keep going!