FWB couple brings 'Fresh Culture' to downtown Fort Walton Beach

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Alex Bader and Kiara Tona are ready to put a name on their piece of paradise.

The 26-year-old owners of the cluster of food trucks tucked along Florida Place — Sunset Bowls, Coffee Ave, Rive Café and The Juice Box — have officially labeled the space Fresh Culture. The name not only acts as a point of reference (“Hey, meet me at Fresh Culture"), but also their mission statement for the future of their businesses and downtown Fort Walton Beach.

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Customers enjoy the outdoors as food trailers have become a popular stop in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

“We’re pursuing different ideas that aren’t as popular around here — trying to get away from regular fried food and trying to give a different vibe,” Bader said. “It’s cool to see people wanting to hang out here and students doing their homework here. It’s like, hey we’ve opened up a place where people can come and hang out with their families and spend time together.”

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The concept started with one food truck in July of 2018. It was supposed to be a weekend gig.

Alex Bader and Kiara Tona decided to open Sunset Bowls in downtown Fort Walton Beach in July 2018 after visiting Hawaii and being inspired by people's love of acai bowls. The single food truck has since grown to four, which serve a variety of food and beverages.

“We started with the acai one, which was kind of our baby,” Bader said. “We had just taken a trip to Hawaii and we saw a bunch of acai food trucks out there. When we came back, we were craving acai and there was nowhere to get that.”

“When we first talked about it, we were briefly like, hey why don’t we open this food truck?” Tona said. “This area needs it. We need it.”

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In a month, the truck was built out, Tona said. Sunset Bowls was so popular they decided to keep it open on weekdays.

Customers pick up food and beverages from the food trucks on Florida Place in downtown Fort Walton Beach. Alex Bader and Kiara Tona opened the first truck in the summer of 2018.

“We enjoyed being outdoors and healthy, fresh food,” Tona said. “We just want to be able to bring that to this community, so we jumped on it. The community loved it, so it just took off.”

They organically stumbled into the next phase of their concept.

“We were drinking coffee a lot,” Tona said. “We were like, ‘Man this goes really well together, coffee and acai.’ You can never have too many coffee shops, in my opinion.”

They opened Coffee Ave in December 2018. And with coffee came breakfast. Rive Café opened in September 2019.

The Juice Box, which offers fresh crepes and juices, opened post-coronavirus outbreak. It sits on the opposite side of the car wash as the other trucks and has an open seating area. Bader thinks people feel more comfortable being outdoors because they can more easily socially distance.

Food trucks aren’t their only side venture. Bader and Tona started their own coffee brand, Uncommon Roasters, roasting coffee from various origins such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil and El Salvador.

They also recently renovated what was formerly an automatic carwash and transformed it into a coffee roasting room and seating area. When they tore down the walls, they discovered intact brick walls underneath.

“We wanted to develop a space that would allow us the convenience to roast on site as well as be able to share that with our community,” Bader said. “Sometimes when we’re roasting, people are here to watch and ask questions and learn about coffee. It makes it a cool experience.”

“We work really well together,” Tona added. “We have a lot of similar ideas. That’s how this went up so quickly, because we have very similar taste and want the same thing for this area.”

Oh, and two of the carwash stalls actually are still functional.

“In the beginning, it helped us a lot,” Tona said. “People would wash their cars, see it and be like, ‘Oh I’m going to get some coffee.’ It kind of worked.”

They get asked a lot if they are going to close during “off season,” Tona said. The answer is no; their space is for locals, too, she said.

And now that business has driven them to expand from one food truck to four — plus an indoor hangout space and a carwash or two — they see much potential in downtown Fort Walton Beach. Bader is from Palm Beach, where when people are downtown they feel like they’re in downtown, he said.

The Juice Box is the latest addition to the food truck businesses on Florida Place in downtown Fort Walton Beach. The Juice Box, which serves fresh juices and crepes, is tucked away on the north side of the car wash and has its own lawn and seating area.

“Honestly, we’re just wanting to keep coming up with ideas that bring new stuff downtown, new stuff for people to do and de-stress on their free time,” Bader said. “We’re hoping to work with the other businesses around, too, and be able to come up with ideas or festivals where the city will allow us to come together for stuff the city would like.”