Adaptability keeps business thriving

Central grad, entrepreneur switches to online model during early months of pandemic

Series: Flattening the curve | Story 14

The world's greatest inventions are born of necessity. For Hinsdale Central High School alum Sophia Karbowski, that need was for a quick and healthy snack.

Karbowski was studying entrepreneurial management at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth when she became frustrated with the lack of dining options on campus. Coupling her entrepreneurial spirit with her need for nutrition, Rollin' n Bowlin' was born.

Acai bowls - frozen puree made from acai berries topped with granola and fruit - were popular among her classmates from California, but they didn't exist in Texas. Karbowski and her friend and classmate Austin Patry decided to change that by providing acai bowls and smoothies via a small food truck.

"We definitely found something that Ft. Worth didn't have and that the students wanted," said Karbowski, who wasn't the only one to notice the popularity of this new food choice. It wasn't long before the food company on campus offered Rollin' n Bowlin' a spot inside the campus gym's cafe.

One year after the launch of the food truck, Rollin' n Bowlin' opened on the TCU campus. In August 2019, the second store opened at Tulane University in New Orleans. Having made her way back to the Chicago area, the 2013 Hinsdale Central graduate and Hinsdale native opened stores at Loyola and University of Chicago Booth School of Business later that same year.

And then, 2020 happened.

When all four locations suddenly closed in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, plans to further expand the company's reach over the summer quickly turned to survival mode.

"It all happened so, so fast," Karbowski said. After one last rush from students hustling to use money left on their campus food plans, the campuses closed and Karbowski was left wondering how her thriving business would survive.

Rather than wait and hope for the best, Karbowski and Patry quickly switched gears, taking Rollin' n Bowlin' from campus cafes to customers' kitchens. Just a few months after their stores shut their doors, Karbowski and Patry launched an online storefront that ships ready-to-blend smoothies and bowls to the customer's home. Customers receive packets of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with customizable toppings, that can be quickly and easily turned into a healthy meal or snack.

"They're the exact same recipes we sold in our stores," Karbowski said.

Multiple packages were shipped between Karbowski's home in Chicago and Patry's home in Texas as the business partners perfected their shipping method for their new home delivery service.

"In the beginning we were getting boxes that were leaking. They had melted," Karbowski said. Eventually, the pair found just the right balance of insulation and dry ice needed for their products to arrive fully frozen and ready for the blender.

Produced at The Hatchery Chicago and available online, the packets are shipped out in packages of six, 12 or 24 via weekly or monthly subscription. Weekly six packs are the most popular, Karbowski said.

As colleges open for the fall semester, the traditional Rollin' n Bowlin' storefronts are back in business in Texas and New Orleans, while the two Illinois locations remain closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But thanks to Karbowski's quick pivot to online sales, fans of her frozen treats can keep their freezers stocked with healthy options. One day soon Karbowski hopes that shoppers everywhere will have access to her products at their local grocery. Rollin' n Bowlin' products are offered in a small number of grocery stores and soon will be added to the options at Kramer Foods in Hinsdale.

Now a successful business developer and owner, Karbowski happened upon her career as an entrepreneur by accident. While studying abroad in Spain, she mistakenly signed up for a management class rather than a marketing class. To make the class count toward a degree, she switched her major to entrepreneurial management.

"It ended up being beyond perfect for me," said Karbowski, who now realizes she always possessed the qualities of an entrepreneur. Along with being resourceful, independent and capable of putting together a plan, it is Karbowski's ability to adapt that has made her business a success through the toughest of times.

While placing Rollin' n Bowlin' products in more and more grocery store freezers, Karbowski continues working to expand the number of on-campus stores. Meanwhile, she plans to grow the menu of healthy grab-and-go options available to busy, health-conscious students, whether it's on campus, at the grocery store or on their doorstep.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean