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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Healthy Drive-Thru With Farm Fresh Bowls

Jan 02, 2015 01:16AM ● By Brandi Barnett

Fresh Food Fast

January 2015
By Fache Desrochers
Photos: Kelli Avila

Like a road trip on Route 66 on the Fourth of July, or a great pair of jeans, the drive-thru is a classic American institution. The delight of leaning through one’s car window and exchanging a handful of crumpled bills and cup-holder change for a bag of deep-fried deliciousness never gets old. Or does it? Sure, the convenience of a drive-thru can’t be beat, and their menus serve up fast answers to people’s cravings for sodium and saturated fat. But for everyone who knows the bliss of biting into a quick roadside carb-fest, equally familiar is that blah feeling that comes almost immediately after: that vaguely regrettable sense of having overindulged, but still feeling empty. Which leaves one wondering: can there be such a thing as a healthy drive-thru? One that serves up taste, nutrition and convenience all at once?

For Kristen Degroot-Vaz, the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” Raised in a family that viewed food as an opportunity to come together over fresh ingredients, simple preparation and shared partaking, Degroot-Vaz has long known that what people eat is always worth considering, even (and perhaps especially) in the quick-fix confines of a drive-thru meal. “The idea behind the concept ‒ in addition to being local and preservative-free ‒ is that it’s a healthy drive-thru, which doesn’t really exist yet,” says Degroot-Vaz. “But why shouldn’t it? If you eat something fresh and balanced, you will notice that you’re moving, you’re energized and you’re focused, because that’s just how our bodies were created. That’s how we’re made to work.”

Degroot-Vaz has an educational background in agricultural business and culinary nutrition. Combined with her further culinary school instruction and ambitious experience in the Beverly Hills food industry, Degroot-Vaz seems positively destined to help pioneer this new branch of the drive-thru paradigm, while championing the use of local ingredients. “After I moved home, it took us about a year to come up with this concept,” says Degroot-Vaz. “My cousin Jacque is my business partner, and she has always loved acai bowls.” For the uninitiated, an acai bowl is basically what breakfast dreams are made of: a healthy, thick, acai berry-based smoothie topped with fresh fruit, granola, nuts and honey. It tastes like a dessert, yet delivers a payload of vitamins and antioxidants which keep the body full and happy for hours. Although acai (a berry native to Brazil) has been enjoying popularity in the United States for several years, the cousins quickly realized that the good news hadn’t fully reached the Valley. And thus, they arrived at the idea for Farm Fresh Bowls.

But true to her nutritionist education, Degroot-Vaz was eager to reinvent the wheel when it came to breakfast bowls, and elevate their health potential even further. “We have a few simple rules that we follow,” says Degroot-Vaz. “Only natural ingredients, using as many local ingredients as we can source, and keeping each bowl nutritionally balanced between food groups and portions.” And Degroot-Vaz thoroughly stands by her creed. The organic acai juice and fresh frozen fruit of the bowls are blended with Greek yogurt to balance the fructose and supply protein. This is then topped with house-made granola, fresh fruit, almonds and honey – all locally sourced. And if that weren’t enough to send a person racing for their Visalia location on Cypress Avenue, the Farm Fresh Bowls menu also boasts a seasonally-rotating selection of hot, savory bowls (such as Pinda Chicken and Brisket Barbacoa), as well as natural smoothies, homemade snacks and a selection of carefully-brewed coffees and teas.

As Farm Fresh Bowls looks to the future, big goals are what crowd the horizon. The desired plan is to do five California stores in five years, and then see where that expansion leads. This spring will see the first of these new stores realized, as Farm Fresh Bowls brings its vision to Fresno. A new location will be opening at Campus Pointe, on Shaw and Chestnut. “It’s right in front of Palazzo, where all the students live,” enthuses Degroot-Vaz. “It’s a fun project, and we’re hoping to use a lot of Fresno State-produced ingredients.”

When it comes to the domain of fast food in the Valley, Farm Fresh Bowls is an undeniable step forward. But in the good-natured, practical mind of Degroot-Vaz, her establishment is simply providing an accessible outlet for the natural riches that the Central Valley has been producing for generations. “This is an agricultural capital,” Degroot-Vaz says with a grin. “So sourcing locally just makes amazing sense, both economically and nutritionally, and for anyone who believes in honest food.”


Farm Fresh Bowls • (559) 732-5600 •

Mon-Fri 6am-4pm • Sat 8am-1pm