Behind the Counter with Dan Goddard, Co-Founder of Backyard Bowls
There are few things more enjoyable that eating a bowl of something deliciously sweet with a spoon. Yes, this includes ice cream, (we would never downplay the importance of ice cream) but it also includes the sweet, frozen creations that Backyard Bowls has been blending up (LOUDLY, I might add) since 2008.
The acai bowl was born in Brazil, adopted by Hawaii, and can now be found everywhere from Los Angeles to New York. Before now, acai bowls were predominantly enjoyed on the Hawaiian islands, satisfying local surfers who were looking for a healthy, filling breakfast that didn’t weigh them down. Sprinkled with additions like coconut flakes, pineapple, berries, banana slices, and granola, these bowls are a surge of superfoods that offer benefits ranging from glowing skin to supporting weight loss.
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Backyard Bowls is widely credited with bringing the acai craze to the mainland. It begins with the story of friends Dan Goddard and Pete Heth, two surfers whose travels led them to Hawaii. During their time living on Oahu they feel in love with acai berry. Without any background in the industry, they knew their calling was to open up a restaurant that would feature these healthful purple berries. They moved back to the mainland and set up shop in Santa Barbara, where they became an instant favorite.
Backyard Bowls never jumped on the “green” train… they were born on it. While many other restaurants were struggling to make their businesses eco-friendly, Pete and Dan put environmental responsibility in their mission statement. By providing their customers with sustainably sourced food that bolsters both health and environmental balance, the founders created an oasis in Santa Barbara where you could get all the feels thinking about your meal.
Are these bowls good for you? Naturally. (Pun intended). But enough about that — how do they taste? One bite and you’ll be convinced that these are not your average acai blends. These impossibly delicious spoonfuls taste exactly as they look: bright, bold, tropical… you can feel the sunshine that made each berry in every bite.
The interior of Backyard Bowls reflects its casual, honest, earthy vibe. Exposed brick, wooden tables, and handwritten menu boards are made even more inviting by the genuine smiles behind the counter. At the Beverly Hills location, attached to the prep counter, is a giant box where two staff members had stepped inside to don sound-blocking headphones and blend up some super-fruits, fresh to order. This box, dubbed the “DJ Blender Booth,” is a necessary component to the comfort level of dine-in guests. Without this plexiglass protection, Backyard Bowls would sound less like a retreat and more like a lawnmower.
When I met with Dan, we sat down at one of the communal tables lining the exposed brick wall at the Beverly Hills location. Dan is one of those guys where the moment you meet him, you’re convinced that you’ve been friends forever. Friendly, approachable, and by the looks of his tan, way more committed to surfing than I’ll ever be. So I pulled up a bench, sat down with my old friend, and we talked about what makes Backyard Bowls unique, what makes it a local favorite, and what inspired him to take a leap and ultimately start one of Los Angeles’ most addictive habits: the acai bowl.
Interview with Dan Goddard of Backyard Bowls
How did you come up with the idea for Backyard Bowls?
I was living in Hawaii, and there were a number of places there were serving acai bowls. Bowls were really popular. It’s a part of the culture out there. With my crew, it was definitely part of our lifestyle, eating acai bowls for a light meal. We fell in love with the product, but what we noticed was that everywhere that served them was either a juice bar or a cafe or a restaurant whose main focus was something else. They would have a bowl on the side of the menu. At the time, it was a novel idea when we said “let’s create a concept that focuses on the bowl.” So, it was my partner, Pete and I, it was while we were both in Hawaii that we hatched this idea to open a restaurant focused on bowls and bring it to Santa Barbara where we had both gone to school.
Why choose the name Backyard Bowls?
[Laughs] It’s a little bit cheesy, but what it is, Backyard is the name of a surf spot that Pete and I surfed all the time while in Oahu. Beyond that, it obviously has other great connotations. It says a bit about who we are, the vibe that we are going for. Natural, organic environment. To feel hospitable and accommodating as if people were in their own backyard.
Tell me about the ingredients you source. What is important to you?
Sourcing is another thing that really separates us. From day one, it’s one of the reasons that we opened. We care about healthy food, and food that is not just good for your body but good for the environment, the production of which doesn’t ruin it. Organic, sustainable, local, it’s been at the core of our sourcing process since day one and it’s something that we’ve gotten better and better at as time has gone on. It’s something we are going to continue to get better and better at.
How is Backyard Bowls unique from other acai bowl concepts in Los Angeles?
When we started, there were no other acai bowl places in Southern California. A lot of the places that came soon after us, they really drew inspiration from what we did at our original stores in Santa Barbara.
We’ve continued to evolve since opening, what you see us doing here today is entirely different from what anyone else is making. In the beginning, it was just an acai bowl. Acai was always the prominent ingredients in the blended base. That has evolved considerably over the years. You look at our menu now and it’s expanded. Since you’re doing acai bowls, you might as well do smoothies, and we offer a couple hot cereals like oatmeal. We’ve ventured into savory foods like grain bowls and salads.
Tell me more about the “blending chamber.”
You look around you, you’re not going to see a blending chamber anywhere else. That was one of our ideas that we came up with for L.A. It has a remedy for the fact that our stores are loud, our blenders are really loud. Also… it makes it fun!
What are the three most popular items on the menu?
The Island Bowl has been a bestseller since day one. For obvious reasons. It’s a classic acai bowl, it’s fruity, it’s sweet, it’s delicious, somewhat addicting… people love it. Now, the Powerbowl is the only one that competes with that in the acai bowl category. It’s packed with protein so it’s got some protein powder, some peanut butter, some awesome almonds chopped on top, that would probably be my favorite of the acai bowls. The Arroz Verde grain bowl is also pretty fantastic. The grain bowls are the newest component to our menu, one that we launched about eight months ago. It’s a portion that we are going further and further into.
What are your three favorite items on the menu?
The Powerbowl, the Arroz Verde, and probably Mama’s Oatmeal. If you like oatmeal at all, you’re gonna love it. It’s really delicious. The way we came up with it was “how do you make oatmeal as good as it couple possibly be?” So it has steelcut oats, homemade cashew milk, freshly roasted local almonds, and local berry jam with bananas. It’s pretty perfect.
We call it Mama’s Oatmeal because of the jam that we use on top of it. We source it from a place called Mama’s Preserves — you’ve probably seen it at the Farmers’ Markets around [Los Angeles]. It’s one of the things that makes it really delicious.
What do you love most about owning Backyard Bowls?
Getting to use your time and your efforts to promote things that you think are worth promoting. Getting to serve healthy food, promote a lighter footprint, and increasing our positive impact.
What’s the one thing you want people to remember about Backyard Bowls?
Hopefully their meal will speak for itself. We really want everyone’s experience here to be memorable for its own reasons. To be that they had really delicious food in a fun, comfortable environment, food that they can feel good about eating.
You can visit Backyard Bowls from 7:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday, and 8:00am to 7:00pm Saturday & Sunday. From their gingery Green Bowl to their rich Mama’s Oatmeal, you’ll enjoy a meal that is good for the bod, good for the soul, and good for the earth. The variety of bowls can be distracting, but don’t forget about their smoothies! If you’re on the go, grab a colorful Pitaya Smoothie, packed full of this antioxidant-rich superfood. If you’re looking for a delicious way to infuse more Vitamin E and Fiber in your life, the Avocado Smoothie is calling your name. We can feel your environmental footprint getting lighter already.
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