The fruit of his labors

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UES native, 21, brings the exotic pitaya to New York City


  • Max Alcobi in front of his Lexington Avenue shop. Photo: Michele Bengualid

On vacation in Aruba, Max Alcobi was introduced to a pitaya bowl at a local beach shack. He was immediately captivated by the pitaya, also known as dragon fruit, because of its vibrant pink color and refreshingly light taste. As a business student at Northeastern University, he traveled to Europe, Los Angeles and other coastal cities in the U.S. to explore local juice cultures. “I came back to New York and was trying to find a place that predominantly made smoothie bowls and there was no such thing.... I saw a gap in the market,” he explained.

The fruits of his labor is Loco Coco, which opened last month at 835 Lexington Avenue, near 64th Street. The literal translation of the moniker is “crazy coconut.” At the store, the coconut represents Alcobi’s commitment to sustainability, as his smoothie bowls are served in refurbished coconut shells from sustainable farms in Taiwan and Bangladesh.

When asked about bestselling items on the menu, he noted the Enter the Dragon Fruit bowl, which is pitaya with fresh basil, lemon, pineapple and strawberry topped with granola, grapes, pineapple and strawberries. Their most popular smoothie is the Loco Loco, which contains acai, blueberries, banana and activated coconut charcoal.

How did you get the idea for Loco Coco?

About four years ago, my family and I were on vacation in Aruba ... and a new beach shack opened up which served pitaya bowls and acai bowls. And we were very familiar with acai bowls, but had never seen a dragon fruit bowl, which is pitaya.... And then we came back to New York and tried to seek out a pitaya bowl. There were a couple of places, mainly restaurants and cafes, that served a sit-down version of a pitaya bowl. The idea kind of settled in our mind, but we weren’t actively thinking about doing anything.

What made you decide to open the store?

My father does real estate, and he had a satellite office of his brokerage in the physical location where Loco Coco is right now. And I was about to come up finishing up Northeastern and I was thinking that it would be a great idea to change what he had in there because it wasn’t the most beneficial to his business. It wasn’t hurting it, but we weren’t per se promoting it correctly. You know, the real estate world, especially brokerages, went predominately online. Most people look for their apartments, houses and stores through something like StreetEasy or Zillow. And the actual retail part of the brokerage was kind of fizzling out as most retail companies.... It’s mainly just food establishments coming up in the retail environment in New York City. So we were brainstorming ideas, my family and I, and my sister actually was the one who brought up the idea of, “Hey, remember those acai and pitaya bowls? That would be kind of cool.”

What are the health benefits of pitaya and acai?

Pitaya is a very water-dense fruit and in turn, it’s very low in sugar. And the pitaya itself has a ton of black seeds inside which add to its fibrous profile. It’s very high in fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. And on top of that, it has an enormous amount of Vitamin C. So because it encompasses that many nutrients and health benefits, the health world calls it a superfruit or a superfood. Now, acai is somewhat similar to the pitaya. It does contain antioxidants and fiber, but also has heart healthy fats, like omega-3s. But in general, the acai is a lot higher in antioxidants and has a lot of B-12 in it, which gives you a lot of energy.

Your minor is sustainable business practices. How do you practice sustainability?

So before I got the name, I was looking for an idea of how I could couple my passion for sustainability with my drive for entrepreneurship and my teachings in finance. I was sitting around with my friends and girlfriend, brainstorming, “What can I put anything in — maybe a fruit, vegetable, gourd- that would be completely biodegradable and compostable, but at the same time looking amazing and also be able to translate the mission and the product that I want to serve to my customers?” So these coconut bowls come from a couple of different sustainable farms which actually use the entire coconut in every way possible. From taking it down from the tree, grinding down the actual husk, making it into a dust that they use for construction. They then cut open the coconut, take the meat and water out, and use it for themselves for whatever type of nutritional value they need from it. When they saw open the top, they actually grind down that top half of the coconut for me and form it into a spoon. So each coconut bowl has its own paired spoon that came from that actual coconut. Now we don’t actually know which one is paired to which, but we do know that they come from the same batch. And on top of that, they poke a hole into the tree and let the sap ooze out and use that as a lacquer to coat the bowls. So the bowls are completely dishwasher safe. But if someone chose not to keep it, they could just recycle it or put it into their compost because it’s completely biodegradable.

What are your plans?

My future plan with the brand is to definitely bring it to a couple of up-and-coming, gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City. We’re targeting places like the Lower East Side. We’re even looking at places like the South Bronx, which is extraordinarily gentrifying, or East Harlem. But we also want to go into well-established neighborhoods like SoHo, Little Italy or NoHo, which would be very cool. I definitely do want to bring this to a point where I can go to different coastal cities- they don’t even need to be coastal- but mainly people who are health conscious and active in the fitness world in America. In places where smoothie bowls and fresh, vegan superfood options are not readily available. We’re thinking of going up to Boston, maybe Philadelphia, Charlotte, Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Austin. So we’re really branching out and doing our due diligence on all the options.

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