WHEN Erin Oechslin and Brooke Weidlich launched Bungalow Bowls on 1054 Asbury about two years ago, they did not hedge their bets.
Both were teaching, and Erin was attending graduate school. They quit before the business even opened its doors, committed to working on the business full-time. It was scary, Brooke acknowledged.
“We figured we always had our teaching degrees,” said Erin. “We wanted to give this 100 percent.”
The spot projects a happy, hippie vibe, with the smoothie menu posted in the shape of a VW bus, quotes from Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendrix on the website and a painted surfboard in the window that says “This Must Be the Place.”
They serve bowls and smoothies. The smoothies are named for Ocean City streets – for instance, the Asbury Ave has acai, bananas, strawberries and almond milk – with most of them named for some of the best surfing breaks on the island.
On a sunny spring day, Erin and Brooke take some time off to talk bowls and business. They first tried acai bowls on a trip to California years ago. The acai berry comes from Central and South America. The berries are about an inch long, colored a deep reddish purple and come loaded with antioxidants. In recent years, the berry’s popularity in the United States has skyrocketed.
It’s the first of four bases for the bowls they sell, along with pitaya, green, and ocean. Ocean includes a base of a Blue Majik, an extract of spirulina, a kind of algae described as a superfood, along with bananas and pineapple. The green one has a base of spinach. The tropical fruit pitaya is also known as dragon fruit. Both of those are also mixed with bananas and pineapple to form the base to which other ingredients are added.
Each base contains a superfood, Brooke said.
“It depends on what benefits you’re looking for,” said Erin. Acai is great for the digestive tract, while pitaya benefits the immune system. The ocean bowl is great for muscle recovery and energy, she said, while the spinach-loaded green bowls are just good for you.
In the fall, she said, they add a few options like pumpkin or mango, with a peppermint version on the menu after that.
“We get to play around with them,” Erin said.
The bowls are almost all vegan, with the exception of those that contain Nutella or honey. Nutella includes milk, and many vegans avoid honey, although that distinction is far from universal. At Bungalow Bowls, there is an option to substitute plant-derived agave syrup where honey is an ingredient.
What you see is what you get, both women said. All the ingredients are there on the menu, they said, without any additional flavors, syrups or sweeteners. A couple of the smoothies could pass for a non-dairy milkshake, they said, with vanilla and chocolate options.
“You can make the bowls as healthy, healthy, healthy as you want them or you can make them like a dessert if that’s what you’re looking for,” Brooke said.
They worked out the smoothie recipes by trial and error.
“We were doing it in my parent’s kitchen for weeks on end. We had our friends trying different combinations,” Erin said. Once they had a recipe down and approved by their volunteer tasters, they would stick with it.
There are nine smoothies on the menu, and four menu options for each bowls base. They said they are flexible with the ingredients, accommodating almost any requests for the customers, but they don’t change the ingredients of the bases. That would throw off the texture too much.
There is also an oatmeal bowl on the menu.
The owners are also roommates and clearly close friends. They often finish each other’s sentences, or inject affirmations while the other speaks. They’ve been friends since they met as children in their hometown of Somers Point.
“Third grade on the blacktop. And we lived down the street from each other so it was inevitable,” Erin said.
Opening a business together can put a strain on any friendship, but they each say they’ve managed to do well together. Brooke said they were a little worried at first but they’ve remained friends through so many stages of their lives that this would just be one more.
“You kind of just, like, fall into your places,” Erin said. Each takes on the aspects of the business she feels most connected with or passionate about, and they work well together.
They both grew up coming to Ocean City, and they knew they wanted to open in town.
“Ocean City’s an insane place,” Brooke said. “I feel like there are not many places like it in the summer.”
Erin said Asbury Avenue is a great place to be.
“Even in the winter, it’s lively. They decorate for Christmas. It’s really nice,” she said. Bungalow Bowls is open all year.
The corner at 11th Street and Asbury has become an increasingly busy spot, especially since the opening of the Starbucks across the street. That’s brought more foot traffic to the area, and Erin and Brooke say it has helped their business. With renovations to the building underway as they prepared to open, coffee customers across the street saw the work and got curious.
“The process took longer than we anticipated, as a lot of things do,” Erin said. But that also gave time for interest to build in the new business.
Last summer, they opened a location on the Boardwalk across from the Music Pier.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen with that but hopefully we’re going to be open at least for takeout,” Erin said. In addition to the bowls, the spot offers a vegan soft serve.
“We’ll be doing new flavors every week,” Brooke said.
The note of uncertainty is over what emergency measures will remain in place through the summer after the extraordinary spring. The business was launched as a welcoming spot to hang out with your friends, or make some new ones while your smoothie or bowl gets completed.
With the emergency rules put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, they’ve had to make changes in the business. That’s included setting up online ordering, which they said has been a huge help.
On the spring afternoon when the interview took place, people collected their orders at the takeout window. Brooke and Erin said they will follow the guidelines of Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.
“If he lifts things, then maybe we’ll make some changes toward opening up slowly. We’re trying to follow all of the rules as best we can,” Brooke said.
“We put the lid on the bowl and we put it outside with your name on it,” said Erin. “We’re trying to keep our employees safe and keep everyone else safe.”
That includes trying to time the line to avoid people gathering outside. They both said they want to offer healthy food, and they are not willing to risk anyone’s well being while doing that.