From temporary stand to Hannibal sensation, Hula Bowls now offers scholarships to high school seniors

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Kendel Locke, 20, stands in front of the Hannibal Hula Bowls site at 6467 Veterans Road, which will open on May 18. | Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. — Kendel Locke, owner and founder of Hula Bowls, said she would not miss the grand reopening of the Hannibal location for anything.

And she meant it.

When Locke, 20, graduates from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor of science in business administration focusing on marketing with a minor in entrepreneurship on May 18, she will be more than 600 miles away. She will be opening the door to the public for the first time at the new building for Hannibal’s Hula Bowls.

Almost one year to date of Hula Bowls’ first opening, it’s been a whirlwind of a year for Locke. What started as a temporary resume-building business plan in a portable building with borrowed refrigerators and freezers became one of the hottest summer spots in Hannibal.

A permanent Hula Bowls location in Hannibal will be joined by a second location in the three-bay development now under construction at 3000 Broadway in Quincy, Ill. The building in Hannibal will be in the same location at 6467 Veterans Road.

Hula Bowls are allergy-friendly and customizable smoothie bowls with toppings such as granola, coconut, fresh fruits and peanut butter. The sorbet-like base is blended with acai super fruits from the Amazon rainforest and are gluten free, dairy free, organic and contain no added sugars.

The business started as a way for Locke to build her resume in hopes to get into a competitive graduate program. 

“On average, all of the other applicants had three to four years of field-related business work experience and I had two years experience working in a coffee shop and four summers as a lifeguard,” she said.  “I needed to figure something out.” 

Locke decided to open a temporary business the summer before she applied for the program. She debated other ideas such as a lotus or coffee shop but landed on a concept that would be new to Hannibal.

Locke opened Hula Bowls in Hannibal on May 20, 2023. A soft opening the night before proved busy enough that on top of the two employees she hired, she also enlisted her mother and siblings to join the opening day crew.

A line began to form a half hour before Hula Bowls was scheduled to open at 8 a.m. on opening day. They sold the first Hula bowl at 7:30 a.m.

“It was a crazy day. We were supposed to close at 4 p.m., but it was 7:30 at night when we finally went out and barricaded the entrance so no more cars came through,” Locke said. “We were exhausted. It was a lot of work. It really was. But at the same time, I knew what I was getting into, so it’s not something you’ll ever hear me complain about.”

After hiring 10 more employees, Hula Bowls grew into more than a summer project. It became Locke’s baby that she raised from the ground up. When the end of the summer approached, she wasn’t sure she could let it go.

Her employees, and the community, seemed to feel the same way.

“I was having such a good time and my employees were too. They were saying, ‘We don’t want you to leave. Like, we want to keep working here.’ And people kept saying they wanted me to keep it open, and then proved it by coming in every day,” she said. “I decided at the beginning of August to keep it going, and that’s when I started making plans to reopen again.”

Locke returned to college and continued to remotely run the business from Knoxville. Each weekend, she made the nine-hour drive home. Hula Bowls remained open until the end of October before closing for the winter, as the portable building had no heat.

Hula Bowls now will open in the same location in Hannibal for year-round service in a newly constructed building with 15 employees and a manager, Katy Rindom. Locke said Rindom was among the first hired at the original Hula Bowls.

“(Katy) is just so great with people, whether it’s employees or customers. I know she cares as much about the success of Hula Bowls as much as I do, so I will have no trouble leaving her with it,” she said.

Locke will manage the Quincy location, accompanied by 18 employees, when it opens on June 1. She looks forward to training a brand new crew.

Locke said family and friends have been a great source of help, along with support from the Hannibal School District. 

When opening her portable shed, Locke said Derek Greening’s class from Hannibal Career and Technical Center got to work.

“His class did a lot of labor, like hooking up electricity, and it was awesome. It was a good experience for them, and it was absolutely helpful to me,” she said.

Steven Schellenberger’s class also helped draft an architectural plan for the building, providing her with a CAD plan that helped her with layout. 

As for her graduate program, Locke never did apply — but it doesn’t mean she won’t. As a 20-year-old entrepreneur soon to be holding down two locations and more than 30 employees, it seems the world might be her oyster.

Locke has established the Hula Bowls Scholarship for Young Entrepreneurs to help local graduates find the same success.

The scholarship will support entrepreneurial-minded Hannibal High School seniors who submit a business idea and plan for possible selection of $1,000 start-up capital for their own business. The scholarship will recur each spring for Hannibal seniors, with the possibility of expanding to other schools in the future.

Locke said any interested students can apply through their Hannibal High School counselor.

The Hula Bowls corporation was officially born on April 6, 2023, when the business became an LLC. Locke later discovered that the date was meant to be.

“I just found out this year that April 6 is National Acai Day,” she said. “I love when things come full circle like that.”

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