Health food enthusiasts—no bowls about it! Baya Bar made its debut in Rockaway this past Saturday, and with its filling açaí bowls, smoothies, protein shakes, cold-pressed juices and toasts—the restaurant has already gone viral in a couple days. However, despite facing the looming possibility of beach closures due to groin construction, co-owner Robert Sestito is confident that locals and DFD (down-for-the-day) tourists, will be exclaiming, “Vaya a Baya Bar!”
Whether you’re walking or driving down the beach side of 116th Street, you can’t miss the new eatery with its colorful awning and palm tree conspicuously standing on the sidewalk. Walk inside and be immediately transported to a whimsical tropical vibe and a menu board that will have you salivating. From five varieties each of açaí, pitaya and coconut bowls; 10 protein shakes, (including the Beach 74th Street, curated by co-owner, Matt Zarello, who you guessed it—lived on Beach 74th); eight smoothies; 10 cold-pressed juices; five toasts, (including the decadent Nutella with strawberry and banana) and even three kinds of booster shots—the offerings are endless, not to mention healthfully ideal to fuel up after an intense workout at Orangetheory Fitness next door.
The fast-growing restaurant franchise’s Rockaway location is co-owned by Rockaway resident, Sestito, and his partners, Zarello and Mike Veccia. When asked what piqued his interest in bringing Baya Bar to Rockaway, Sestito shared, “I originally worked in healthcare as an MRI tech for Hospital for Special Surgery, but from a young age, I always wanted to open up a health food restaurant, and I fell in love with Baya Bar. Founder and CEO, Bill Loesch, opened the first Baya Bar in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 2016, and after trying it, I immediately knew the restaurant would totally kill it in Rockaway. So, I left my job, and with tremendous support and encouragement from family, and the Baya Bar family, my partners and I were able to realize our dream of opening Baya Bar right here in Rockaway.
“We reached out to the franchise’s owners, who are now my partners, and they made it happen in an ideal location right here on Beach 116th Street, where we can bring a healthy food option to Rockaway, steps away from the ocean, as they weren’t many out here.”
Baya Bar was founded by Bill Loesch, a former Wall Street executive, who wanted to start a new chapter in his career. He noted how açaí and smoothie bowl restaurants were taking the West Coast by storm and were moving east. Loesch took a leap, quit his job, and began months of research and development on the relatively new concept for Brooklyn and Staten Island. After six months building the store and testing products, in December of 2016, Loesch opened the first Baya Bar in Bay Ridge. Fast forward to 2022, Baya Bar now has 21 restaurants located in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, Long Island, and even in the states of Nevada and Louisiana.
Loesch came up with the genius idea of making Baya Bar a franchise. The CEO saw the franchise system as a channel to create opportunities for other entrepreneurs. Loesch says, “I believe in this very strongly. I want to give this opportunity to other entrepreneurs. There are plenty of people struggling, people who don’t love the 9 to 5 grind. I want to help other hardworking people build their own business. They may not know how to do it, but they can follow our process. We can help change lives.”
For Sestito, leaving his career in the healthcare industry to open Baya Bar was indeed life-changing, as he not only changed his career trajectory, but also moved to Rockaway. “I’m originally from Dyker Heights and moved to Belle Harbor seven years ago. I would visit my friends here, and just fell in love with the town,” he said. “The neighborhood is great for families, and the locals are nice and very warm.”
According to Sestito, it took over a year and a half for Baya Bar to open its doors in Rockaway, due to delays with getting permits because of Covid backups. However, he’s over the moon with last Saturday’s opening, which was a success with folks already becoming returning customers. For example, Belle Harbor residents, Karen Erhard and Marie Ricco have already been to the restaurant thrice. Ricco said, “Baya Bar is a great option to fuel up on a healthy snack after a grueling workout at our gym, Orangetheory. I already have a favorite, the Bella Nutella açaí bowl, which is packed with bananas, strawberries, granola, coconut and drizzled with Nutella.”
If you didn’t post it, did you really eat it? Baya Bar’s popularity is driven by social media. With 30,000 followers on the franchise Instagram, there is a selfie wall inside the restaurant, where customers can take photos and post their latest treat.
Also, feeling under the weather? Get a two-ounce shot of their boosters—Immune Booster, Flu Shot or 24-Hour Cure, all infused with varying combinations of lemon, ginger, turmeric, honey, cayenne pepper, garlic, orange and apple cider vinegar. Plus, if you’re looking to detox, try the restaurant’s signature organic cold-pressed juice one-, three- or five-day cleanse.
So, yes, no bowls about it—Baya Bar is making healthy eating go viral, putting Rockaway on the map for high quality, healthy food options.
Baya Bar, located at 133 Beach 116th Street, is open weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The healthy foodie spot offers delivery via GrubHub, Seamless, UberEats, and Doordash. And who doesn’t love a discount? To get five percent off your order, download the Baya Bar app on Google Play or the Apple App store. For more info, visit @baya_bar on Instagram or website: thebayabar.com
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