Just Bee Acai opens storefront in Illini Union

Just+Bee+Acai+owner%2C+Emma+Curcuru%2C+poses+with+her+parents+in+front+of+the+camper+that+would+soon+be+their+food+truck.+The+business+will+be+opening+their+store+in+the+Illini+Union+on+Friday.+

Photo courtesy of Emma Curcuru

Just Bee Acai owner, Emma Curcuru, poses with her parents in front of the camper that would soon be their food truck. The business will be opening their store in the Illini Union on Friday.

By Kylie Corral, Staff Writer

During those warm summer days on campus, it’s common to see a line of students form for the Just BEE Açaí food truck.

What has been a popular food truck spot for açaí bowls on campus since 2019 is now getting a storefront in the Illini Union, and the grand opening is this weekend. 

Just BEE Açaí was founded by University alumna Emma Curcuru during the fall of 2019. She said starting the business was a spontaneous move since she had originally planned on being a teacher after college.

But she said after going through a period of reflection and spirituality, she decided starting a business was the right move.

“I became more rooted in my faith, spent a lot of time rediscovering myself and ultimately went through a journey of new beginnings,” Curcuru said. “What was born out of that journey is what you now know as Just BEE Açaí.”

She said the idea for an açaí bowl place actually came after the idea for a food truck. Curcuru said she had visited Hawaii earlier in 2019 and thought the Central Illinois area could use a place that offers açaí. 

“While thinking about what C-U needed, it hit me – açaí,” she said. “I knew everyone who had ever had an açaí bowl like myself had to be craving them when back home, and those who hadn’t ever had one needed to.”

Just BEE Açaí’s mission, she said, is to make clean, wholesome foods that are full of bright colors, fun textures and delicious flavors, while being a convenient option for those on-the-go. 

The storefront opening comes during a pandemic, which, like many local businesses, Curcuru said hit Just BEE Açaí pretty hard. 

But she said when the pandemic first hit, she was full of entrepreneurial energy, which made navigating a business during COVID-19 a lot easier.

Instead of offering the normal in-person service, she closed the food truck for four months in 2020 and focused only on delivering at-home açaí kits to customers’ homes every Friday. 

She said they received overwhelming support from the community.

“We are so grateful for how people responded to this idea and continued to show up each week to support us,” she said. “It kept our entire team busy during months when most people were just sitting at home.”

But now Just BEE Açaí is putting most of their attention to their grand opening this weekend.

Curcuru said even though the store hasn’t officially opened yet, it is still being received very well among customers.

“People are excited for us and excited for themselves since their favorite açaí will now be available more regularly,” she said.

Kristin Reinbold, Just BEE Açaí co-owner and Curcuru’s mom, said the storefront isn’t only exciting for customers, but for Reinbold and her family, too. 

She said that when her daughter came to Reinbold and her husband with the idea to start a food truck, they weren’t exactly sure if it was going to succeed but that they were going to do anything they could to help.

“(We) were willing to be there to not only support but also to help build the business,” Reinbold said. “Her dad physically rebuilt every inch of the Shasta. It was truly a labor of love.”

That truck is now receiving a storefront, which though wasn’t initially in the plans when Just BEE Açaí started, seemed to be a logical move as the business began to grow, Reinbold said.

“We realized quickly that it was something we had to pursue,” Reinbold said. “Seeing people stand out in the snow and rain was really hard. Even for us it was challenging in tough weather.”

In 2020, the business was presented with the opportunity to move into the space that used to be occupied by Auntie Anne’s, and flash forward to two years later, the store is having its grand opening.

Reinbold said that though she tries not to think past the grand opening, she’s confident the storefront will succeed. But the main focus isn’t how many profits they make but the joy they’re able to pass onto others, she said.

“I love that we are doing something that brings people joy and brings people together,” Reinbold said.“Customer service is always number one to all of us on the team. I believe that it is what sets us apart from other businesses, and this is something that we will always want to obtain.”

Curcuru echos that sentiment and adds that she is grateful for all the support from those who followed her on this journey and who continue to support Just BEE Açaí today.

“What started out as a Shasta camper food truck traveling all over Central Illinois has now become a brick-and-mortar on the University of Illinois campus,” Curcuru said. “We are grateful and excited for the journey that lies ahead.”

The grand opening of Just BEE Açaí will take place at the Illini Union Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and  Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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