Brooke Gagliano said it came as a shock.
“I never thought I would be starting a franchise after college,” the 25-year-old said.
But Gagliano, founder of Frutta Bowls — a multimillion-dollar açai bowl franchise headquartered in Freehold — said she could not be happier with her decision to bring a concept she learned about on the West Coast back to New Jersey.
After graduating from Drew University in Madison with a degree in business and a wealth of experience in health, wellness and athletics, Gagliano decided she would train clients in exercise and nutrition.
Fate, however, had other plans for her in February 2016, when she decided to visit friends in Santa Barbara, California.
“It was like a whole other world out there,” Gagliano said. “Everyone was fit and healthy, and instead of all the hot dog trucks you see out here in New Jersey, there were smoothie trucks — and an açai bowl concept on every corner.”
Gagliano said she didn’t know how to correctly pronounce açai, let alone understand the berry’s nutritional benefits.
“But as soon as I had a bowl, I called my family and said, ‘I’m opening my own place,’” she said.
The creation of the company was a family affair.
Upon returning home, Gagliano said she worked with her sister to mock up logos; with her mother to create the name (“Frutta” means “fruit” in Italian); and with her father to license and build the business.
“Then, a family friend of ours owned a strip mall in Howell, so I said, if this concept worked there, it would work anywhere,” she said.
She would open her first store within 30 days.
“It was a crazy process, creating the recipes, the menus and the store design, but I knew I wanted to be open before summer because it would be busier than in the winter,” Gagliano said.
Every day, she said, she would work at the store to finalize the layout and construction.
“Then, I’d go home, work on the recipes and, in the evening, would return to the store to work with a point-of-sale company that was in a completely different time zone,” Gagliano said.
The first Frutta Bowls location officially opened in May 2016.
“When I first opened, I would try everything that I possibly could, and made a lot of mistakes,” Gagliano said. “For example, my smoothie recipes were not very good in the beginning, but I kept figuring out new ways to make them delicious.”
Her menu finally has been perfected, she said — but it’s never complete.
Frutta Bowls sells bowls consisting of frozen bases (açai berry and banana; pitaya or kale with pineapple, banana and almond milk; and a combination), granola, fresh fruit, and wet and dry toppings.
The Frutta Bowl ($10), for example, includes organic açai berry and banana, granola, strawberries, pineapples, kiwis, Nutella, peanut butter, honey and coconut flakes.
“When I first discovered the açai bowl, I learned that other companies were adding unhealthy ingredients to the base, like juices or sugars,” Gagliano said. “Our bases are all-natural.”
Frutta Bowls also serves smoothies, protein shakes and oatmeal bowls.
“When a customer orders an oatmeal bowl, we put hot oatmeal on top of the frozen base so that it melts as you are eating it,” Gagliano said.
Frutta Bowls also offers gluten-, soy- and dairy-free options, as well as an allergy-free station at which to prepare such bowls.
The recipes and the concept have generated a lot of interest.
“When we first opened, a lot of people were asking if we were a franchise, but we weren’t — we were our own concept,” Gagliano said. “However, because we got so many requests, we decided to go ahead with the idea.”
Gagliano owned Frutta Bowls less than one year before she began franchising the concept in February 2017.
Yet, by March of that same year, Gagliano was opening her second corporate location in Freehold while two franchisees were opening theirs.
Frutta Bowls has since become a nationwide sensation.
To date, Gagliano has sold nearly 100 Frutta Bowls units and maintains four corporate stores.
“Meeting and working with franchisees every day is awesome,” she said. “If we had remained corporate-owned, we wouldn’t be meeting with all of these people who believe in us as a company and want to help us expand.”
Corporate currently employs eight, while each store requires between 20 and 30 employees, Gagliano said.
To begin, there is a $20,000 franchise fee, 6 percent royalties and a 1 percent marketing fee.
But, depending on the location and store build, Gagliano estimated each franchisee’s total investment ranges between $150,000 and $350,000.
“We are priced as one of the lowest franchises in the market because we want to grow quickly,” Gagliano said. “But, we’ve actually slowed down the selling process to catch up.
“We want to make sure that we are properly executing all of our stores, but, then again, the quicker we execute, the easier it will be to open the next 48 stores by the end of the summer.”
Frutta Bowls currently has 22 locations and will be opening 11 more over the next two months in nine different states.
Gagliano is not afraid of the growth — she is just disappointed that she doesn’t get to visit with out-of-state franchisees as often.
“It’s a different relationship, I feel, being able to meet and have conversations with our New Jersey franchisees,” she said.
She also is not afraid of continuing to make mistakes.
“I have tested a bunch of products that we were looking to launch this summer, and 75 percent have failed,” she said. “But we are as transparent as possible with our franchisees, letting them know what we are testing and what products we ultimately hope to create.”
Gagliano said she also hopes to be the first to market for newer products.
“The açai company we work with has been awesome about keeping us in the loop regarding new fruits and products from Brazil that will hit the U.S. soon,” she said. “Açai is popular now, but what will the next fruit craze be?”
Gagliano is eager to find out. In fact, she is thrilled to try to become the biggest açai bowl franchise in the U.S.
“If you have a passion, pursue it,” she said. “Never did I think I would be doing this, but now, I can’t picture doing anything else.”
All in the family
Brooke Gagliano, founder of Frutta Bowls, said she could not do it alone.
Her father is a partner in the franchise while also running his own construction business.
Her mother, a hairdresser, constantly helps Gagliano with recipes and new ideas.
And Gagliano said her siblings all have contributed, too.
“The support of my family and friends helped so much in creating this business,” she said. “I also reached out to local business owners for advice before beginning my own.”
The advice she keeps closest to her heart is to make the Frutta family as big as possible.
“It starts in corporate with the partners: myself, my dad, my brother-in-law and a family friend,” Gagliano said. “The way the four of us treat each other is how we want to treat all of our franchisees and their employees.”
New Jersey locations
- Colts Neck
- New Brunswick
- North Brunswick
- Toms River
- Jersey City
- Long Beach Island
To connect with Brooke Gagliano, contact Lee Groeger at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-263-5481