Guy Keehner, who owns the beach-themed Springfield Acai Bowl with his wife Teresa, prepares an acai bowl called the Rio. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

A breakfast trend that’s been sweeping the nation has secured its spot in the Springfield market.

Acai bowls, pronounced (ah-sah-ee), are a popular smoothie bowl with a base of acai. Acai is a superfood that grows on the banks of the Amazon River. It has been a staple for Amazonian people for centuries and is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and omega fatty acids 3, 6 and 9.

In the 1970s it made its way out of the jungle into Rio and caught the attention of a martial arts trainer who popularized the fruit by feeding it to his athletes. He blended the acai with bananas, which added a hint of sweetness because the fruit is naturally low in sugar. Two California brothers on vacation in Rio fell in love with acai and brought it to America.  

The New Yorker wrote an in-depth article on the history of this fruit. According to that story, acai is one of the fastest-growing foods in US history. The purple-hued berry is pureed and frozen, then topped with a variety of items: fresh fruits, granola, chia seeds, shredded coconut, honey or a host of other toppings. 

Creativity is half the fun with this dish. That creativity is highlighted at Springfield Acai Bowls, which offers 21 different predesigned bowls, but you can also build your own. 

If you haven’t gotten in on the trend and want a taste, here are five spots in town where you can score an acai bowl (these aren’t the only options, but they are good ones).

Springfield Acai Bowl

In October 2021, Guy and Teresa Keehner moved to Springfield from Mississippi, where they had a food truck serving grilled cheese sandwiches. Acai bowls were popular in Mississippi, and they noticed a void in the Springfield market.

“So, we thought we’d go out on a limb and give it a shot,” Guy said.

They opened in July 2022 and quickly built a repeat customer base. The vibrant restaurant has a tropical feel and many bowls are named after destinations, including islands such as Aruba.

“Teresa and I love to travel,” Guy said. “From the time I retired in July until we started working on this in March, we went on five cruises. We did all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. I was in the Navy in my younger days. We’ve been around most of the world. We thought this would be a great theme with the fresh fruits and acai.” 

An acai bowl
(Photo: Springfield Acai Bowl)

What’s the best-selling bowl?

The Rio, which is appropriate because it’s a nod to where the modern acai bowl got its start. The Rio features the acai base topped with strawberries, sliced banana, blueberries, crunchy granola, shredded coconut, a dash of chia seeds and the customer’s choice of a drizzle (honey is the most popular). Other options include Nutella, peanut butter, almond butter, agave and chocolate syrup. 

Find them: 230 East Republic Rd. and on Facebook

Call: 417-419-1147

Abby’s Acai Company

One of the first to make the acai entrance in the Springfield market was Abby Voelker. Voelker was just a student at Evangel University when she opened her business in 2020 with her mom, Kayme.

Voelker was introduced to the treat on a trip to San Diego, where she fell in love with the breakfast fare.

So, she came back to Springfield, bought a food truck and started selling organic acai and overnight oats at Farmers Market of the Ozarks on Saturday mornings.

An acai bowl
(Photo: Abby’s Acai Company)

Voelker sells a staple bowl but also has a seasonal option on the menu and the good news is her all-time favorite is now available: The Valentine’s bowl. The acai in this bowl is covered with raspberries, strawberries, chia seeds, coconut and homemade dairy-free chocolate drizzle.

“It is our customers’ favorite by far,” she said. “They ask for it all year round.”

She will be a vendor at 14 Mill Market in Nixa when it opens.

Find them: at Farmers Market of the Ozarks, 2144 East Republic Rd. on Saturday mornings (check Facebook for times)

Call: 417-569-3066

Downtown Health Bar

Downtown Health Bar, in Springfield, opened in January of 2021 and added pure organic acai bowls that fall. They also have a location in Bolivar, Bowl Behavior, and both ventures boast the same menu.

“We have a wide variety of fruit and protein smoothies, as well as juice and Lotus Energy drinks. Our protein is powered through the 1st Phorm,” said Brandon Stockstill, who owns the businesses with his wife Brittny. 

People love the build-your-own-bowl option.

Brandon says a top-selling item is A Lil Nutty bowl. He describes it as three ice-cream-sized scoops of acai, topped with half a cup of honey almond granola and two tablespoons of peanut butter, with half of a sliced banana.

They also carry two other fruit sorbets: blue dream, which is a blend of coconut, pineapple and blue spirulina; and a dragon fruit sorbet. 

There are seasonal fruit sorbets, such as mango, coconut, and occasionally passion fruit.

An acai bowl
(Photo: Downtown Health Club)

Find them: 323 East Walnut St. and on Facebook

Call: 417-507-1778

Healthy Habit

Nicole Campbell took over ownership of the Healthy Habit in December, which specializes in meal replacement shakes, protein bowls, protein balls or oat bowls, protein coffees and loaded teas, where customers can add healthy options like probiotics, collagen, energy shots and more. There’s a new tea of the week with playful flavors, the most recent being dragonfruit, acai and orange.

They have one acai mixed berry bowl on the menu. For the base, the acai is mixed with other frozen berries and then topped with your choice of three toppings. Popular options include granola, peanut butter, almonds, pecans, coconut, honey, cinnamon, maple syrup or dehydrated berries. If you’re feeling a little decadent, you can add graham cracker crumbs, Oreo crumbs or whipped cream.

An acai bowl
(Photo: Healthy Habit)

Find them: 1323 West Sunshine St. and on Facebook

Call: 417-848-5436

The Press Coffee and Juice Bar

The Press Coffee and Juice Bar is so much more than a coffee or juice joint. Owned by Alice Oh, who’s known for her creativity and dedication to healthy fare. The Press makes fresh juices, fun fusion tacos, has gluten-free breakfast options and also serves smoothie bowls. One of those smoothie bowls is a popular acai bowl.

An acai bowl
(Photo: The Press Coffee and Juice Bar)

The Beauty Bowl is acai blended with frozen mixed berries, banana and almond milk. That mixture is then topped with granola, coconut flakes, chia seeds, raw honey and a smattering of mixed berries. If you prefer a different sweetener, maple syrup or dark brown sugar are available. Oh sources local ingredients when possible, such as honey and locally roasted coffee beans.

Find them: 2710 South Glenstone Ave. and on Facebook

Call: 417-771-5950

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin