Just BEE Açaí celebrates one-year anniversary

Current+Just+BEE+A%C3%A7a%C3%AD+owner+Kristin+Reinbold+%28pictured+in+white%29+with+her+husband%2C+Norman+Reinbold%2C+and+two+employees+at+the+store+front.+The+store+in+located+inside+the+Illini+Union.

Faith

Current Just BEE Açaí owner Kristin Reinbold (pictured in white) with her husband, Norman Reinbold, and two employees at the store front. The store in located inside the Illini Union.

By Faith Allendorf, Managing Editor for Reporting

Just on the inside of the Illini Union’s Quad-side entrance sits a small restaurant that brings a coastal fruity treat to the Midwest.  

For over a year now, Just BEE Açaí has served açaí bowls as well as various loaded toasts to anyone who stops by. The family-run restaurant opened its Union storefront on Jan. 6, 2022, and on Saturday, the restaurant officially celebrated its first birthday. 

But before the celebration and the Union storefront, Just BEE Açaí started as a food truck owned by University alum Emma Curcuru and run by her and a couple of family members. 

Norman Reinbold, Curcuru’s father who handles the store’s “mechanical stuff,” explained how his daughter founded Just BEE Açaí. He said that she got the idea after visiting Hawaii, which is where açaí bowls are extremely popular.

“She just felt like it was something that Central Illinois was missing,” he said. “It’s more of a coastal food that you find along the coastal areas, tropical areas, but not so much in the Midwest.” 

After going through a period of reflection and spirituality as well as her Hawaii visit, Curcuru decided she wanted to start a business. She also wanted to try something else besides teaching, which is what Curcuru was planning to do at the time.

“She was ready to try something different besides teaching, and (the food truck) just seemed like a good opportunity,” Reinbold said. 

Curcuru’s parents helped her build the food truck, which was a small white and yellow camper. In August 2019, Curcuru opened the business. The food truck would park in various places around Champaign-Urbana — specifically on the University campus. 

And in less than a year after opening, the small business had “huge, huge lines,” according to Kristin Reinbold, Curcuru’s mother and current owner of Just BEE Açaí.

“I mean, we’re talking about within the first six months,” she said. 

In March 2020 (pre-pandemic), Kristin Reinbold said that the business started looking at storefront spaces and that the family really wanted a “student location.” Since the food truck was mainly on campus, the family aimed to make the storefront location the same way. 

“We wanted to keep it somewhere (students) could walk to … and they don’t need a car to get to like, downtown too,” she said. 

Soon, the business began an application process for a space within the Union. The space the family was interested in used to be an Auntie Ann’s storefront. 

However, the process was pushed back due to the start of the pandemic in March 2020. It wasn’t until October 2021 that Just BEE Açaí signed the contract and officially became part of the Union. 

In January 2022, the Union storefront opened. Both Kristin and Norman Reinbold ran the storefront, while their daughter helped. 

Kristin Reinbold said working with the Union has been great, for it helps keep the money put into the store stay in Champaign-Urbana.

“We don’t pay rent — we pay commission, and all of that money goes right back into the student union,” she said. “It’s really good to know that the money is not just going to some corporate person, and its going to be put in good use.” 

Later in March 2022, Curcuru and her husband moved to Idaho, and the storefront was fully in the Reinbolds’ hands. 

Now, Kristin Reinbold runs the space. She said she quit her nursing job to help.

“We just didn’t really want it to be gone,” Kristin Reinbold said. “We decided to talk it over because we felt like it’d be such a loss for the community.”

The original food truck is also still in operation, for Curcuru and her husband took it with them when they moved. Just BEE Açaí is now running in Boise, Idaho. 

But Just BEE Açaí’s mobile operation isn’t over yet. The couple said there are plans to open another food truck this spring. For them, a food truck would help serve the off-campus community better, especially in sessions where the storefront is closed like during University breaks.

“A mobile unit gives us the ability to serve like in Mahomet, Monticello — places where we live and places we’ve done a lot of business in in the past,” Norman Reinbold said.

The couple said that besides looking forward to the mobile unit, they are also excited to continue working with students. One of the best parts about running Just BEE Açaí over the last year is the interactions they have gotten to have and the relationships they have built with students. 

“The students have just been so nice and just so friendly and so appreciative,” Kristin Reinbold said. “They’re just great to work with every day.”

 

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