For those dedicated to the cool, tart, and healthy Brazilian craze that is açaí, this spring brings good news: The popular açaí bowl franchise SoBol has arrived in Westhampton Beach, just in time for summer. Franchise owner Jason Mazzarone opened his first açaí restaurant, Açaí Café, in 2012. Mr. Mazzarone, who has a background in culinary arts and kitchens, teamed with Jim Kalomiris and the two franchised the idea. SoBol now boasts 32 East Coast locations, 21 of which are on Long Island.
In Westhampton Beach, 25-year-old Conor Billings is poised to become SoBol’s youngest franchise owner in partner with his father, Fred Billings. For Conor Billings, the store will be the realization of a long-simmering dream.
“I had the vision of taking it out [east],” said Mr. Billings, who grew up in Brookhaven but spent summers in Montauk. “I wanted to start off with what I thought would be the perfect spot.”
Originally committed to opening a storefront in Montauk, Conor Billings felt stymied by steep prices and a lack of retail availability in the hamlet. He began looking further west. Finally, one day, he came across a new development on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach.
“As soon as I took a ride down there, I saw the whole new development with the CVS and everything,” he said.
The building underwent a massive build-out and is now outfitted with dark bead board counters, neutral walls, and lots of wood accents. There are also specialized features like a surfboard and a wall decoration in the shape of Long Island. It’s a decidedly Montauk aesthetic.
Conor Billings came to know the Brazilian health food bowls as a result of a personal journey. Faced, in high school, with a series of maladies that doctors treated medically but not systemically, he began searching for more comprehensive options to improve his health. Research led Mr. Billings to organics, and the switch in his diet staved off headaches, indigestion, and fatigue. Subsequently, he decided to pursue working with health-driven food trends.
“I want to help myself and I want to help other people,” he said. “I’m helping myself and I’m providing help to other people in a very satisfying way.”
Food service work, it turns out, is a family business. Mr. Billings’ father and SoBol partner Fred Billings opened East Islip’s Irish Coffee Pub in 1983, a restaurant that also serves as a catering hall and event space. Conor Billings saw this industry first-hand from a young age.
“I was already interested in service,” he said of the experience, “but the whole restaurant deal is very stressful. I was very interested in where foods were coming from. I wanted to stay in the realm of health foods.”
In addition to the regular menu, which is determined by the franchise and which includes açaí bowls, pitaya (or dragonfruit) bowls, smoothies, and green bowls—all of which are vegan—Conor Billings will also offer retail items from local purveyors. His goal is to represent the local community, while simultaneously upholding the standards set by the franchise. He will have additional local vendors represented in the future. For now, he will carry the cold brew coffees of Sail Away, a Long Island-based company.
Mr. Billings hopes to expand his interaction with the community, too.
“We’re definitely trying to capture [the interest of] the locals. I want to get involved with the schools and the local sports team. The açaí is the perfect fuel for athletes,” said Mr. Billings who is currently in the process of talking to the East Hampton YMCA in hopes of collaborating on one of their summer camp programs.
If the program comes to pass, parents and their children will be able to order camp meals a day in advance, and SoBol will drive the orders out to East Hampton for kids to enjoy at lunchtime. Besides hiring a driver to deliver food to the YMCA, SoBol will work in tandem with Uber Eats and Door Dash offering local customers home delivery.
SoBol is at 87 Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach. Conor Billings is the store’s general manager, while Fred Billings performs the duties of a director of operations. Like other spaces within the franchise, the store is open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The phone number is 631-248-4400 and the store’s Instagram handle is @sobol_whb.