One Anchorage business specializes in a berry that most people have never heard of and probably don't even know how to say. Acai Alaska is a small shop bringing a healthy taste of aloha to the Last Frontier.
For CJ von Imhof and his wife Julia, the goal of their small shop in South Anchorage is to bring the fantasy of Hawaii to life in Alaska, at least for your taste buds.
While in Hawaii, some surfing buddies introduced CJ to what they called an Acai bowl. After the first bite, he says he was hooked.
When he came back to the Last Frontier, CJ von Imhof decided that Alaskans needed a taste of what had become a Hawaiian staple.
“We started making it, I actually made it for a bunch of friends at CH2 when I worked there, and then the next day they said, ‘Hey, make us some more of those.’ So I started doing that when I was working another job and that's when it really clicked in like hey, you know, we could start this up,” CJ von Imhof said.
Out of that, Acai Alaska was born.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy quitting a regular job to start a business selling fruit bowls. They're like, ‘You're going to go sell fruit what?’” von Imhof said.
The main dish is made from the Brazilian Acai berry mixed with dozens of other fruits and berries.
It was a learning experience for CJ and his wife, who had never owned a business.
“We had to figure out how to get the skin (of the kiwis) off the most efficiently,” he said.
They say it's an even bigger learning curve for customers who aren't quite sure what it is they're eating.
“We have to kind of educate them on the product, what it is. Is it a smoothie, what is this? So we have to walk them through, give them the history and the understanding,” Julia von Imhof said.
“I think it's easy to wrap your head around. As long as it tastes good, who cares what it is? I’m not even sure what it is. Still, I just know it tastes good,” said customer Scott Senner.
The von Imhofs say the concoctions give your body an important boost on some of the vitamins and minerals your body may not otherwise be getting, through what they call "superfoods."
“The nutritional value is off the charts as far as antioxidants and omegas and carbohydrates and the whole nine, the whole gambit,” Julia von Imhof said.
Serving up all these exotic berries and fruit doesn't come without challenges.
“Sometimes it's a challenge -- the fresh fruit toppings, the pomegranate, certain things are in and out of season. So a lot of time a lot of customers come in and they are like 'Aww, I need my macadamia nuts, where are they?' So it's been a little bit of a challenge to keep with the seasons,” CJ von Imhof said.
“Good health is not just for hippies. We like to look at it as preventative almost rather than waiting until you're not feeling well, just prevent it from coming,” Julia von Imhof said.
In addition to the Acai bowls, Acai Alaska also sells locally-made wheatgrass products, as well as a drink called mona vie, which is a highly concentrated mix of dozens of fruits and berries. They are all blended together with the skin and seeds included, because they say that's where 90 percent of the nutrients are.
The von Imhofs are hoping to move their store into Midtown soon and possibly get their products sold other places around town.