Zoe Topaz, '21, Jillian Wolfson, '21, and Ali Quadrozzi, '21, order smoothie bowls on Sept. 19, 2019 at Playa Bowls, located on East Third Street. The popular New Jersey chain opened a South Bethlehem location in early September. (Shana Lichaw/B&W Staff)

Popular NJ chain Playa Bowls serves up sweet treats in South Bethlehem

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Playa Bowls, the popular New Jersey chain famous for its acai bowls, has become a hit with Lehigh students after opening a South Bethlehem location on Sept. 15.

Owner Jim Dale spends his summers at the Jersey Shore, which is how he became familiar with the Playa Bowls chain.

“I am a customer of Playa Bowls down at the shore,” Dale said. “I saw how they have been opening a lot of stores and wondered if they were franchising.”

After connecting with Playa Bowls’ original owners and speaking with them multiple times, Dale learned that they had just started to franchise the chain.

Dale found a vacant store just off of Lehigh’s campus on 310 E. Third St. As a Lehigh Valley native himself, he thought it would be the perfect spot to open a Playa Bowls store.

“There are a ton of schools near by,” Dale said. “You have colleges like Lehigh, Muhlenberg, DeSales, Lafayette and different high schools just like the Charter School for Performing Arts down the street. It’s the right spot for what we offer at Playa Bowls.”

A new location of the popular smoothie spot Playa Bowls opened in South Bethlehem in early September. Their van provides an alternative seating option outside the busy storefront. (Shana Lichaw/B&W Staff)

As a father of a current Lehigh student, Dale knew this centrally located store would be a perfect spot for students around the Lehigh Valley to visit and try the smoothie bowls.

“The atmosphere makes it feel like you’re getting away from campus,” Patrece Savino, ’20, said.

Savino, who was not familiar with the chain before it came to town, enjoys having Playa Bowls down the street as a nice break away from campus. After visiting for a second time, she knows it will become a place she frequents.

Although Dale said the customer demographic of Playa Bowls is primarily girls and women between the ages of 10 and 25, he is looking to cater to the male population as well.

“Everyone likes it, even guys like it,” Dale said. “When I bring leftover bowls to my son’s fraternity after a long day, the boys come rushing out in hopes of getting one before anyone else.”

Like Savino, Gregory Cheng, ’20, and Jordan Cutler, ’19, had never heard of Playa Bowls before visiting the new South Bethlehem location.

“I saw a bunch of pictures on Snapchat, and it looked really good,” Cutler said.

Liv Kelly, ’19, knew Playa Bowls from her summer trips to the shore and was ecstatic to hear about the opening of the newest location near Lehigh’s campus.

“I haven’t been too many times before the Bethlehem location opened — maybe three or four times — but I love it,” Kelly said. “It’s definitely going to be a place I go to a lot throughout the year.”

Those familiar with other locations of the Playa Bowls chain won’t see a difference in menu options. Dale said the names of the smoothie bowls vary depending on the loaction, but the menus throughout all the stores are the same.

Though the store feels like a summer beach getaway, the menu will change frequently based on seasonal ingredients to give customers a reason to come even during colder winter days.

“We offer things like pumpkin spice coffee for the fall, and we are planning to even add on oatmeal bowls for the winter time,” Dale said.

A happy hour promotion from 3-5 p.m. every Monday through Friday offers 20 percent off any bowl on the menu when customers present their student IDs. Playa Bowls also offers a loyalty card to all customers.

Dale has considered the idea of expanding Playa Bowls to other cities in Pennsylvania but has yet to decide where.

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