Rob Giuliani and his co-founder Abby Taylor, both Jersey Shore natives and longtime surfers, were inspired to launch Playa Bowls by chasing summer on trips to exotic surf towns. Each of these locales offered their own unique version of an acai or pitaya bowl. They decided to recreate their favorite recipes with their own twist at home at the Jersey Shore. Six years after making a deal to set up a makeshift pop up stand on the sidewalk in front the pizza shop they lived above, this fast growing business has 104 stores nationwide.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Rob Giuliani: Entrepreneurship means hard work, passion, drive, sacrifice and the ability to accept help by others. Accepting the fact that you can be wrong or fail at tasks, wake up the next day and take the positives out of the experience truly defines and entrepreneur.
How did your company come to be?
RG: Playa Bowls started as a side hustle that transpired into a full time hustle. It was started at a makeshift cart crafted out of Kmart patio furniture, a Marshalls Home Goods chalk board (menu board), a wooden box from an antique shop (our register), and two local New Jersey surfers with a lot of passion and drive. The first two months were frustrating as the ocean front pizzeria we were anchored to seemed to have a much bigger following than us as lines of people crowded our little cart waiting for their cheesesteak, pizza, and soda. At first, we thought we may have made a mistake emptying our bank accounts to buy the equipment and goods as people just breezed by us, but with some determination, minor tweaks, and full support from the community, things started to come together. Before we knew it, we had people lined up from about 40-50 people deep everyday waiting to get their delicious Acai bowl. That first summer, we knew we had lightning in a bottle and we better run with it.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
RG: We had to adapt daily and this is ongoing. Not only did we have to take our consumer behaviors into consideration, but also our employee’s health and safety as well. There came a time when we had to take a look in the mirror and realize that money isn’t everything, but more so the safety of our community. Having said that, we never closed the doors to our business throughout the pandemic, but as mentioned earlier, we had to adapt and change our business model to make sure consumers and employees were safe when entering our business. We developed ideas to distance employees while working together, limiting how many customers inside our store at once, and ideas for families that were quarantined on how to bring playa safely to their homes while making it fun for them. We have certainly learned a lot though a very tough time in our history that has only made us stronger as a company and a pillar in the community.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
RG: Hard to put my finger on one particular proudest moment as I have several of them every month with Playa Bowls, but if I had to pin down one it would be opening store 100 about three months ago during the pandemic and seeing the turnout of true Playa Bowls fans. We are now at store 104 with plans of store 120 opening by March 2021 marking the one year anniversary of the pandemic. My darkest moment has been watching the struggles of this country in the last year and not being able to truly enjoy the success of my brand with the people who have helped me build it, but I do know it will end and the celebration will be bigger than ever. Two key highs were winning the Rutgers business plan competition in 2015 and the EY entrepreneur of the year in 2019. There were so many cool and innovative brands competing against us in both, and to think that a smoothie shop that started at a cart on the side of the road was truly a high.
How is your company changing the landscape?
RG: We have changed the landscape of our industry by offering a “healthier” option to a younger generation. We are now seeing that all age groups were seeking to eat healthier, without going to the extremes. Playa Bowls has also created a very special and fun store inside where customers can escape the daily grind and eat a bowl at the “beach” for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
RG: Haha, I wouldn’t change a thing, and being naive when I first started was the advantage. Wouldn’t change a thing, and I still won’t.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
RG: Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that is true strength.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
RG: My small group of mentors which are very close friends, my family, and my fiancé who is my rock.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
RG: Success is being part of your community, developing and growing the people that work with and for you, and always being grateful to those who helped you get where you are at. Never changing who I am or pretending to be someone I am not.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
RG: Yes, it has made me realize that during difficult times, how important it is to keep your composure, stay calm, and help those around you as you never truly understand what people are going through.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
RG: I am the type of person that I love going into deals with partners and understanding their strengths and weaknesses and using that to make something successful. Choose your partners wisely, think it through, and structure the formal partnership to where both people are equally as happy.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
RG: I still set time aside for myself each day to either mountain bike, surf, snowboard, or go for a jog. Taking care of yourself physically is key.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
RG: Growing this company to communities all across this county to bring the health benefits of our products to all demographics as well as continuing the growth of my employees, franchises , and vendors.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
RG: Kind, giving, and loyal.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
RG: Yes, I have all types of mentors in my life that have gotten me to where I am at. From successful small business owners, to multi-millionaires, including people that have 0 business experience whatsoever. I have learned that its equally important know how to make key business deals, but also treating people fairly while doing so.
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