Alumni Profiles

Head of Fast-Growing Restaurant Chain Lives the Sweet Life

Photo of Desi Saran
Rutgers alumnus Desi Saran started the Sweetberry Bowls chain of healthy fast-casual restaurants, which has 20 locations in seven states. (Photo by John O’Boyle)

The winding path that Desi Saran LC’07, RBS’15 traveled before launching Sweetberry Bowls a fast-casual restaurant chain with locations in seven states, will sound familiar to a lot of entrepreneurs. “Before I got into restaurants, I had a web development company, an e-commerce company, two apparel companies, and a magazine company,” Saran says. “I was a typical entrepreneur in that it took a while to figure out what I’m good at.”

He also received some encouraging nudges from a bunch of health-conscious beachgoers and the 2015 judges of the Rutgers Business School Business Plan Competition. Before Saran, 34, created Sweetberry Bowls, he was a partner in Playa Bowls, a national chain of cafés serving acai fruit bowls, oatmeal parfaits, and smoothies. That business started as a humble beach stand in Belmar, New Jersey. Winning first place in the business plan competition provided Saran and his partners $20,000 in seed money, enabling them to move off the sandy sidewalk into a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

“Winning had a huge impact on our success,” says Saran, who grew up in Old Bridge, New Jersey, and now lives in Edgewater, New Jersey. As successful as Playa Bowls was, though, Saran allowed his partners to buy him out in 2017. But his hunger for staying in the rapidly growing healthy fast-casual dining industry prompted him to launch Sweetberry Bowls, which offers customizable salads, wraps, and poke in addition to acai bowls.

“It was always my goal to bring healthy food to local communities,” says Saran. “I envisioned building a worldwide brand to build that platform.”

Sweetberry Bowls now has 20 locations. The first opened in Fort Myers, Florida, in December 2017. By the end of 2018, others had sprouted in states including Virginia and Illinois; 13 are in New Jersey. Saran, who has surrounded himself with fellow Rutgers graduates on his executive team—chief financial officer Ryan Quiros RC’10, vice president of marketing Sean Azari RC’09, and director of operations Ian Bullard RBS’17—expects growth to continue. In 2018, the business generated $2 million in sales. This year, Saran is projecting more than $4 million. If he reaches that goal, Sweetberry Bowls may outgrow its headquarters in the apartment he shares with Azari. “For now,” he says, “it works.”