December 22, 2020 – Crashing waves. Soft sand. Towering mountains. Lush rainforests. This is Maresias, an idyllic beach on Brazil’s southern shores. The popular surf spot and tourist destination is about a three-hour drive from São Paulo.
“It’s gorgeous,” says Jade Vucina.
Born and raised here on the Central Coast, Vucina moved to the shores of Maresias after graduating from Pacific Grove High School. “I wanted a change of scenery and I have a lot of family and friends down there,” she recalls. “We had property on the beach and decided that would be my move.”
Vucina called the surf and sand of Maresias home for eight years, connecting to nature, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and enjoying many açaí bowls by the beach. Now, she’s bringing a taste of this tropical paradise to downtown Monterey with the opening of Terra Superfoods.
Terra Superfoods actually got its start three years ago at the Alvarado Street farmers’ market, when the concept was known as Jade’s Açaí. “When I moved back from Brazil, I couldn’t find any good açaí bowls—at least not the same quality you’ll find in Brazil.”
For centuries, açaí has been a staple in the diet of Indigenous peoples around the Amazon. The berries are ground into a pulp and can be mixed into smoothies or eaten on its own with a variety of toppings. The deep purple berries are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, making them popular picks for athletes.
The 2000s saw açaí explode in popularity in the United States. Açaí gained a foothold first in health-conscious surf-centric towns across Hawaii and California. Eventually, the masses began to embrace the berry bowls, which were often sweetened for a more mainstream palate.
Vucina recalls how flavor, texture and consistency fell short compared to the bowls she’d had in Brazil. She wanted to bring the more traditional taste she’d so fondly enjoyed the past eight years to Monterey alongside a new commitment to supporting community and sustainability.
“I had almost zero background in restaurants when I opened [at the farmers’ market] on Alvarado Street,” she recalls. That didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream. “I’m a quick learner and the best way to learn is by doing, making mistakes and relearning.” Her eclectic resume included work in retail (“I actually opened a surf shop in Brazil and it’s still there!”), teaching English as a second language, a desk job (“It’s not for me! I need something fast-paced”) and beach lifeguard, so she eagerly dove into something new.
Vucina started small with a booth at the farmers market. “We didn’t have a name for it, just a banner that said ‘açaí bowls.’” Eventually, she expanded the concept from a farmers market stand to a catering business serving music festivals all over California.
She began pursuing a brick-and-mortar location after she took part in CSUMB’s Startup Monterey Bay challenge. It was a last-minute decision to participate and she expected it to be more of a learning opportunity than a source of funding.
Vucina was surprised when she became a finalist in the Venture Division. Her pitch was well received—until she shared a slide showcasing her brand’s vision to invest profits back into the community and in support of environmental causes. “Most didn’t like that slide,” she says, laughing. “From an investor standpoint, it would equate to less return on investment. Many told me afterwards that I shouldn’t be focusing on giving back, I should be focusing on giving investors the best return on their dollar.”
That didn’t sit well with Vucina, who opted to pursue self funding for her venture. She picked up extra shifts at local restaurants and bars, earning not just money for the business, but valuable expertise in hospitality.
Vucina’s passion caught the attention of Dr. Tammé Shinshuri, a business philanthropist on the judging panel for the startup challenge.
Shinshuri invited Vucina to pitch to her foundation and connected Vucina to her Oracles of Truth Academy, which seeks to provide jobs for people in low-income communities, welfare recipients, those who are housing insecure and those who were previously incarcerated. The academy will pay trainees to work at Terra Superfoods for a provisional period, Vucina will then be able to decide whether to offer full-time employment.
“This is a great program because it helps businesses get going while providing jobs to those who really need one in our community,” says Vucina. “It’s a win-win all around.”
She’s also working with Rancho Cielo to provide jobs for at-risk members of the community.
Vucina signed the lease for Terra Superfoods in November, 2019, well before the coronavirus pandemic, but didn’t take occupancy until July. Navigating permits and construction during the pandemic has been challenging, of course, and she’s been patient with delays.
She describes the new brick-and-mortar location in downtown Monterey—between Ike’s Sandwiches and Trader Joe’s—as a “build-it-yourself health foods restaurant.” The concept will focus on quick-service, plant-rich options.
Vucina credits her time in Brazil with inspiring an attention to sustainability and a plant-based diet.
“My environmental awareness started there,” she says. Vucina saw firsthand the decimation of the Amazon. Never a big meat eater, she found herself eating more salads, fresh juices and açaí bowls. “I started learning more about meat and what it’s doing to your body and to the environment, and it was the right decision for me to not eat meat.”
Terra Superfoods will offer a menu of cold-pressed juices, smoothie bowls, grain bowls and wraps. Everything is vegan, with the exception of local Big Sur honey as an add-on. But Vucina emphasizes all are welcome here, regardless of their preferences. “You don’t have to be a vegan to come eat here. It’s for everyone,” she says. “My goal is for people to have more fresh, healthy options readily accessible.”
Açaí will be the centerpiece of the menu, celebrating Vucina’s Brazilian heritage. “It brings me back home to Brazil and you can choose whatever toppings you’d like to add with none of those extra add-on fees, as long as it fits in the bowl.”
But there will be savory selections too. Vucina teases a Mexican-inspired quinoa bowl made with local produce and housemade dressings packed with flavor.
Terra Superfoods has final inspections lined up this week, with a goal of opening just ahead of the new year. In the meantime, follow @terrasuperfoods on Facebook and Instagram for updates as the shop prepares to open.
Terra Superfoods • 570 Munras Avenue, Suite 50, Monterey • instagram.com/terrasuperfoods