Something new and different is taking over the former Iron Bird Cafe in downtown Fresno.
Rio Açai Bowls opens Friday, July 1, introducing many Fresnans to a new food, along with some familiar goodies.
It’s the third location for the Bakersfield business and the first in Fresno at 1915 Fulton St. at the Iron Bird Lofts. It’s a high-profile location that has been home to a couple of flops, but let’s talk about the food first.
Rio Açai Bowls sells pastries, coffee, juices, smoothies and poke – the raw fish served with sauces and seasonings usually served in bowls – but specializes in açai bowls. That’s pronounced “Ah-sigh-EE” (but don’t worry, people mispronounce it all the time, and the owners don’t mind).
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Açai is a dark purple berry grown in South America and Brazil – hence the Rio in the name.
At this cafe, it’s made into a sorbet that is organic, vegan and dairy- and GMO-free.
We are passionate about downtown.
Sophia Cummings, Rio Açai Bowls
It’s served in a bowl with a whole slew of toppings to choose from: granola, strawberries, flax seed, peanut butter, chocolate chips, Nutella, honey, chocolate whey protein powder and more.
Bowls cost between $6 and $12.
They can be eaten for any meal: “Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, ‘linner,’ brunch,” says owner Sophia Cummings, who runs the business with her husband, Justin.
The berries are often called a “super food” and are praised for antioxidants that help with everything from weight loss to erectile disfunction and arthritis. Some health professionals view the super food label skeptically, and the Mayo Clinic notes that many claims about açai haven’t been proven. But it’s certainly safe to eat in moderation, the trustworthy organization notes.
Some of the pastries are vegan and all are gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, have no added sugars or preservatives and all fit into the Paleo diet. (The Paleo açai bowl does, too.) The pastries include cobblers, cookies, brownies, lemon bars and more (and you may be seeing more of this company in Fresno; they’re hoping to sell at farmers markets).
Rio Açai Bowls has free Wi-Fi for people who want to linger.
Sophia and Justin Cummings fell into running the business in a story that stretches back to third grade.
That’s when they were in the same class together and Justin had a crush on Sophia as they were growing up in the small city of Wasco near Bakersfield.
Nothing came of it – they were 8 or 9, after all – and the pair went their separate ways, and each had a family of their own.
Fast-forward a few years and the pair reconnected in a judo class. Justin, a former UPS driver, and Sophia, a former teacher, eventually got married. They each brought children from previous relationships to their family and had their own children, too, for a total of seven kids ranging from 18 months to 17 years old.
Açai bowls were popular in the judo, jiujitsu and kickboxing world they moved in, and the couple started selling them from a food cart. They eventually opened their first location in a former See’s Candy building in downtown Bakersfield in September, and then alongside another in northwest Bakersfield.
And they are overachievers: In addition to running the three locations and parenting seven kids, Sophia is also working on her real estate license and Justin has a cinematography business doing videos for high-end homes for sale.
They’re renting a loft behind the business to stay over when needed.
The space Rio Açai Bowls is in has been home to two Iron Bird Cafes that failed. The first Iron Bird Cafe lasted about three years before closing. It was followed by a second Iron Bird, run by the owner of Teazer World Tea Market, which lasted 10 months before closing.
The couple acknowledges that there are naysayers and that the space comes with some baggage.
But, they say, the cafe required almost no investment and was ready to open. With Rio Açai Bowls’ simple menu and success in Bakersfield, they hope to make it where their predecessors couldn’t.
“We are passionate about downtown,” Sophia Cummings says, referring to both Bakersfield and Fresno.