How did Sweetberry Bowls get started, and what was your inspiration?
After successfully exiting another restaurant concept in 2017, I knew that I wanted to continue my mission of bringing healthy foods to local communities. So, I launched Sweetberry.
Originally, Sweetberry was an açai bowl concept, because I saw a huge demand and opportunity in that space. Over time, we expanded our menu to include smoothies, salads, wraps, and poke bowls.
From my previous concept, I saw how offering delicious and healthy food could change people’s lives. Customers would love eating my products, and then tell me how eating healthy has helped them lose weight — or just been a positive thing in their life. I knew that the world was shifting towards healthier food, and I wanted to take part in that movement.
Have you worked in the food industry before? What brought you here?
Prior to my previous concept, I worked at Big Ed’s BBQ as a busboy when I was 16 years old. It was a fun job with friends from high school. During my twenties, I was a serial entrepreneur. I started everything from apparel brands, web agencies, to magazines. If you asked me if I would end up scaling restaurant chains, I would say you were crazy. With my first concept, myself and two partners had no real restaurant experience. For some reason, the restaurant business clicked with me and I was able to successfully scale two companies.
Any surprises or key findings?
There have been a ton of learning experiences, and I continue to learn every single day. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to never sell yourself short.
I would never have thought I would be where I am today, but I continued to believe in myself and push the boundaries.
This has been an extremely hard path, but I am now accustomed to understanding that every day will be a new challenge. Being open-minded and learning problem-solving skills has helped me tremendously. There are so many scenarios where things that you do not expect will happen, and you must have the skill and bandwidth to navigate through rough waters.
This isn’t the first time you’ve started a company. What’s the number one skill you think entrepreneurs need to succeed?
I believe that the most successful entrepreneurs are resilient and possess an undying belief in themselves which helps them always move forward. When it comes down to it, success is just built on the foundation of never giving up or quitting. Every successful entrepreneur I ever met has had multiple failures, before any successful venture.
I am no different. I once partnered with a good friend to start a magazine called the Gold Coast Digest. It was an add-on to this existing magazine, The Digest. The market we chose did not work and this put a lot of stress on my friendship with my partner. I walked away from this, and we are still good friends, but I think that successful entrepreneurs must have a strong mental capacity, and must be able to always believe in themselves.
What’s been the biggest challenge when founding Sweetberry Bowls?
The biggest challenge has been being able to adapt to running a fast-growing Company. With my previous concept, we opened two locations our first year, then 5-6 the second year, and really started to scale in our third year. When I started Sweetberry, we hit the ground running and opened 12 locations our first year and 8 the second year. We ran on fumes, hustled, and built a brand from scratch with limited resources. We are still living that “startup” mentality by growing fast, but this year we decided to slow it down a bit to make sure we get all of our ducks in a row.
What’s one thing you want to learn more about?
I have a fascination with artificial intelligence. I believe that the world will become more efficient with the use of AI, and we are seeing it more and more in the business world. I try to implement AI when I can into Sweetberry. We recently just deployed our customer service chatbot that is powered by Google AI. I also have my entire house — from lights to cameras to locks — all automated through Siri or Alexa. I geek out about this stuff.
What is your superpower?
I believe that my superpower is my problem solving ability. I think over the past five years, I really have engulfed myself into my career, and now I am leading a company. When it comes down to it, all problems come to me, and there is no one else to turn to at times. This means I must be able to think quickly under pressure and solve issues at any time. These problems can occur whenever, so I must always be ready. I like to think that entrepreneurship is just one giant puzzle. Every day, the puzzle changes and evolves, so our thinking must evolve as well.
What’s your kryptonite?
I love food, all types of food. I live junk food and fast food, even though I own a health food brand. I am a big fan of McDonald’s and I have no shame in it!
What do you geek out about?
I have been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for 10 years now, and I just earned the rank of brown belt recently. I fell in love with BJJ because it is like human chess, and when you are sparring against someone, you are using more of your mind for strategy against your opponent. Because of my long history with martial arts, I am a die-hard UFC fan and can geek out about it. I can tell you fighter stats, where they train, height, weight class, and win/loss history, and rankings. In fact, I have made friends with a lot of fighters over the years, and I train with some professional fighters.
I also enjoy traveling, and I like to travel as much as I can. Prior to my career in restaurants, I would travel outside the country often to places like Thailand, Cuba, and Costa Rica. I use to work for a startup called Lean Startup Machine, and we would host entrepreneurship workshops all over the world. I got to travel to cool places like Cyprus and Saudi Arabia.
As far as my favorite apps, I have been using Notion now for everything as my personal knowledge board and business wiki. I document as much as possible and it has made my life easier with its simple functionality. Pocket is an app I have been using forever which helps me save articles I want to read later. Although sometimes I save articles and never get around to reading them!
I also use Sideline for a separate business phone number. Now I can call and text from that number and keep my business and personal life separate. I can also text from the web which is a game changer. And I also love WhatsApp for communicating with friends and colleagues.
Who is someone that has changed your life and why?
My father. He lives a simple life, working in finance. When I graduated from Rutgers University with an MBA in finance, he encouraged me to apply for corporate finance positions. When I decided to sell smoothies on the beach, he was a bit confused but continued to support me. Years later, I made the crazy decision to start another company, and he has helped and supported me every step of the way through the good and bad. He created a life for me so that I could pursue anything that I wanted.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Almost exactly 5 years ago, I entered my first restaurant venture. After failing with many other ventures, I made the decision to go all in and work my butt off that summer. It paid off, as my first restaurant venture took off and we opened a dozen stores over three years.
I don’t think I was really prepared for how hard I was going to work, and the road ahead of me. If I could give myself advice, it would be to prepare myself for the long game and to work hard and smart.