Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Fresh ingredients, inspired by global wellness, served at new Castle Street restaurant

Coco Pipa, a globally infused smoothie and salad shop, is open on Castle Street. (Port City Daily/Jalyn Baldwin)

WILMINGTON — Travels to Maine, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Southeast Asia have inspired a couple to open a new hub for wellness and fresh flavorful foods near downtown.

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Isaac Bol and Lizzy Fowler own Coco Pipa, a new smoothie shop and restaurant situated at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Castle Street. The menu features made-to-order smoothies, açaí bowls and salads, all crafted with fresh ingredients, never frozen. 

“We see this as just like an extension of everything that people have been so kind to teach us; we can just share it with everyone else,” Fowler told Port City Daily Monday. 

Blended with coconut water, the smoothies resemble more juice-like beverages than traditional thick concoctions. As well, every item on the menu can be prepared vegan.

The couple emphasized that incorporating coconut water is integral to their menu, adopted from time spent in Costa Rica. It’s abundant in the Central American country from coconut trees growing everywhere. Fowler touts its nutritional benefits, which include high potassium and electrolytes.

“It was what was around, but also it helped their bodies,” she said. “It provides nourishment for everyone and no one’s gonna tell you that you can’t cut it down or that you can’t have it or that you have to pay for it.”

The duo prioritizes accessible nutrition by setting prices thoughtfully. They discussed personal experiences with health and wellness, noting it often feels segmented or tailored to specific groups based on factors like social class, race or financial means.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve realized is that nutrition has no color,” Bol said. “You know, it’s one of those things where, when food is medicine, everyone around the community has started to recognize that — so, you know, coming in here, you’ll see so much diversity.” 

Bol, who was born in Ethiopia, shared how fresh fruit was always easily attainable during his upbringing. He recalled climbing mango and other fruit trees in youth.

“When I first came to the United States, the concept of buying fruit was crazy,” he said. 

They expressed concern that in 2024, healthy eating is often perceived as expensive due to inflation. However, it doesn’t have to be the case.

“Yeah, things are expensive,” Fowler said, “but you can choose how much you want to make off of it. And you can choose to be reasonable.” 

“We don’t look at food as a dollar sign,” Bol added. “We don’t want people to come in here and be like, ‘OK, well, I have to make a trade off between this $11 smoothie and a $17 salad; I can’t get both.’”

Classic smoothies cost $5 for a small and $6 for a large, while customized blends with additional ingredients are priced $7 to $8. Salads are $9 and açai bowls are $10.

Isaac Bol and Lizzy Fowler own Coco Pipa, a new smoothie shop and restaurant situated at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Castle Street. (Port City Daily/Jalyn Baldwin)

The couple aspires for the shop to be a tranquil place for their customers. The smoothie bar is made of wood-fired bamboo that the couple harvested from a friend’s yard in Fayetteville and prepared themselves. Woven basket lights, collected during travels in Kenya, hang above the bar. They also installed a mosaic logo made from tiles sourced from Mexico.

“When you come in here, you’re certain that you’re going to get some good nurturing for your body to be able to just, like, take a minute for yourself and really enjoy the taste of everything,” Fowler said.

She leads creative direction, while Bol, leveraging his background in finance and business, manages operations. The two never initially intended to become business owners. They moved to Wilmington a year ago, seeking a home base reminiscent of the beach and tropical environment they enjoyed living in Costa Rica before their move. Neither Bol nor Fowler have been restaurateurs. 

“We were just living the things that we had learned while traveling — all of the things that people are taught with medicinal plants — and putting those in action in our life,” Fowler said. 

When 506 Castle St. — located in a strip of businesses beside the Rescue Mission of the Cape Fear — became available, they decided it would be a good opportunity to launch their own venture. Not to mention Castle Street, recognized as a historical district in Wilmington, once housed numerous Black-owned businesses in the mid-20th century. 

According to the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, places like Johnson’s Barbershop, which operated from 1948 to 1953, have now turned into other commercial properties. Yet, in the last two decades, the Castle Street District has seen an uptick in business, even gaining a moniker as an arts hub.

“We do not want to contribute to the gentrification of Castle Street,” Fowler said. “It’s obviously happening. Yeah, but that’s not us.”   

Bol sees the smoothie shop as an extension of its surrounding community. He wants Coco Pipa to be more than a money-making venture but also supportive of its clientele. Bol envisions developing a class aimed at educating youth about the nutritional value of food and what they put in their bodies. He also wants to promote financial literacy — teaching kids about how to manage or save money, even start a business.  

Bol and Fowler also reached out to nearby neighbors Kids Making It — a nonprofit youth woodworking program promoting resilience, engagement and achievement, with the kids keeping profits from handmade items — to create the wooden sign for the shop. The wall mural was created by local artist Nugget, featuring tropical symbols — waterfalls and rainforest animals — inspired by photos the couple shared from their journeys. 

The mural inside Coco Pippa from Art by Nugget. (Port City Daily/Jalyn Baldwin)

The couple plans to host events, too, such as alcohol-free concerts and spoken word poetry. 

The shop held its grand opening Saturday with local jazz musician Benny Hill. Roughly 300 attendees came throughout the day. Coco Pipa is open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, with extended hours on Sunday, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).

The couple already has plans to expand, including the completion of the outdoor space in the back, adjusting operating hours, organizing weekend events and eventually increasing the size of their team.

“I think for us, success is really bringing people in who don’t feel that they would have learned or have access to this type of food and bring that into their lives,” Bol added. 

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