When Josh Willingham opened his first Vitality Bowls in Frisco, Texas, in 2017, it was a dream come true—after spending 20 years in the world of banking, he was ready to own and grow his own business. And while two decades in the finance sector may not be a traditional path to franchising is the restaurant space, Vitality Bowls is no ordinary brand, says Willingham.
“The first time I tried an açaí bowl from Vitality Bowls, I fell in love with the brand immediately,” Willngham says. “The food is that good. The first time you try it, if you’re a health food junkie like me, you can’t believe how good it tastes. And then I started digging in and doing the research and found they were super transparent with their menu and ingredients—everything was real, clean, with no hidden sugar or preservatives—and that aligned with my own goals. I wanted to bring that to my community in Frisco to give everybody a chance to eat a little healthier.”
This is exactly what Vitality Bowls looks for in a franchisee: A person who is passionate about the brand and wants to grow a better-for-you concept that serves delicious food. Uriah Blum, vice president of business operations at Vitality Bowls, says the brand’s popularity is owed to the fact that they have found operators like Willingham, who are all in on the brand’s authentic story.
The story? When Tara and Roy Gilad’s daughter developed severe food allergies early in life, the couple noticed a lack of restaurants that could reliably accommodate her needs. They took matters into their own hands and developed Vitality Bowls, a superfood cafe that now, a full decade later, serves wraps, toasts, and grain bowls in addition to the brand’s core menu offerings: açaí bowls, smoothies, and salads. Those things have attracted fervent interest from people interested in franchising who, like Willingham, are passionate about growing a business that serves clean, healthy food.
“What I love most about this company is that we get such a diverse group of franchise partners,” Blum says. “We love collaborating with our franchisees and getting their opinions and ideas. A lot of them aren’t restaurant people, but they have that passion and this brand really resonates with them. They’re all in and have the personality to back that up. They are willing to self-promote and be social and embed themselves in the community and we’ve been fortunate to find people capable of doing that.”
One of the reasons Vitality Bowls has no problem partnering with franchisees who have no restaurant experience is because of its airtight training process and support system. Willingham recalls visiting the corporate headquarters in the Bay Area and learning how to run a store to make sure it was something he was capable of. Then, from site selection to a few weeks after opening day, the process was so thorough that he never felt like he didn’t have the information or support he would need to run a store. To this day, that support continues with a dedicated operations manager who helps Willingham address anything that comes up.
Willingham was also impressed with the fact that members of the corporate team had their boots on the ground when the brand recently launched a new savory menu, with a list of options that have been a hit with customers. Most Vitality Bowls locations are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the new menu—which includes everything from grain bowls to wellness wraps—is helping the brand pad its already-impressive AUV numbers by further developing the breakfast and dinner dayparts.
Willingham is one of the many franchisees excited about the future of Vitality Bowls, which now boasts almost 80 units across the country. There are 43 more stores either in the site selection or construction phase, and the brand plans to open about 20 units per year. Blum says Vitality Bowls is taking the growth phase slow and steady, not wanting to compromise the integrity of its product. It also allows the brand to be selective in who it chooses to partner with.
“One of the things operators really love about working with us is that we won’t be compromising the integrity of our product,” Blum says. “Our mission is to always serve the highest quality ingredients and never cut corners in that process. We are growing thoughtfully so that our brand standards remain as high as they are.”
For more on franchising with Vitality Bowls, visit the company’s website.