The SoBol Health Eatery Opens in Bed-Stuy


SoBol Cafe opened its first açaí (ah-saah-ee) bowl eatery in Bedford-Stuyvesant with Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy (D-Bedford Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights), on behalf of Borough President Eric Adams, handing joint owners Paul Roberson, Ainsworth ‘Tony’ Robinson and Ahmed Jerome a city citation at the ribbon cutting on Wednesday, November 11, for promoting healthy eating in the neighborhood. 

The location, at 531 Nostrand Avenue, will be the growing Long Island brand’s first Brooklyn operation and its fifth location in the New York City area. This comes at a time in the city where economic and health security is paramount to surviving the impacts of the COVID-19 and social justice crises this year.

“There’s nothing more exciting than opening a new business, especially during this particular time. This economic downturn has seen so many businesses go under and not return. Taking this leap means there’s hope means that we can move towards a true recovery and resiliency that include our small businesses. Thank you for your investment in this community,” said Cornegy.

SoBol Owners Paul Roberson (Left) Tony Robinson (middle) and Ahmed Jerome (Right). Contributed Photo.

Roberson, who is from East Flatbush, said that no matter what environment you find yourself in launching a business is hard and challenging, but having the support of a known franchise helps. He said this year specifically online ordering has become a huge proponent of the business. The strip on Nostrand Avenue where they are located doesn’t allow for outdoor dining, so the eatery is primarily take-out.

SoBol focuses on offering açaí bowls and all-natural smoothies using fresh fruit from local farms. When The SoBol franchise initially opened its doors in 2014, açaí was a heart-healthy, Vitamin C boosting, antioxidant-rich super food, and according to market research, has only grown in its popularity. 

“It kind of looks like blueberries but if you were to eat it straight off the branch it’d have more of a bitter taste,” said Roberson, “It’s one of the healthiest things you could eat.”

Açaí is a berry-like fruit native to palm trees in Brazil, and are said to have vast health benefits, some of which are “in improving cardiovascular health, anticancer properties, and lowering the risks of common cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”

It’s no secret that access to resources and equitable opportunities are not evenly distributed throughout the boroughs, said the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOMH) pre-COVID community profile of Bedstuy, especially in neighborhoods with residents of color.

The community profile concluded in 2018 that the leading causes of premature deaths in Bedstuy were lung, breast (among women), and colorectal cancers, and heart disease; which residents die of before 65 at a higher rate than the rest of the city. The neighborhood’s adults are diagnosed with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension at an average rate compared to citywide rates. 

While COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, the pandemic highlighted Black and Brown communities vulnerable to these general health inequities. Some experts at the National Institutes of Health have written that “the high rate of consumption of diets high in saturated fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates–collectively called Western diet worldwide–contribute to the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and could place these populations at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 pathology and mortality.”

“We do offer a healthy alternative to what’s offered in the area,” said Roberson. “I’m very health conscious. I’m a vegetarian and exercise daily.” 

Community leader Tahirah Moore, who used to work in the Mayor’s Office, said, “Congratulations to AJ and his team. Thank you so much. At a time when people are talking about closing down and moving out you moved in and you opened up and you are giving birth in the midst of a pandemic. That speaks volumes not only in our district but in our city. I want to thank you for being visionaries. I want to thank you for pursuing your dreams in spite of the odds and I pray others are encouraged. Thanks for encouraging our community. Thank you for your service and thank you for giving us healthy food options.” 

“This is truly a full-circle experience for me,” said Operations Manager Ahmed Jerome. “This is the very neighborhood I was raised, educated, launched my career and now opened a business and providing jobs in.”

 The trio hopes to open a second franchise location in Williamsburg in 2021.