Isabella Wiicox, left, and Joni Wiilcox, right, are the co-founders and namesakes of the new Jona-Bells cafe. | Stephanie Claytor, LkldNow

A new cafe offering Brazilian acai bowls has opened on Lakeland’s north side. Jona-Bells opened on April 18. Along with acai bowls, it serves coffee, pitaya bowls, cold-pressed juice, freshly-squeezed orange juice and assorted baked goods such as muffins, danishes, quesitos and pan de bono, which are made in-house. 

The cafe is located at 3135 Knight Station Rd. near the intersection of Gib-Galloway Road. 

It’s a family affair run by Joni Wilcox, 25, and her sister, Isabella, both Lakeland natives who graduated from Lake Gibson High School. 

“I decided to open the cafe because I wanted to bring something new to North Lakeland that this side of town did not have,” said Joni Wilcox, adding that the family’s experience visiting Tea Largo inspired them to open a similar cafe north of I-4. 

Jona-Bells is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sisters hope to expand the hours and days the cafe is open when they’re able to hire more employees. 

“I am very excited that we are open. It’s something new, so I was very nervous… I am ready to see how we can grow… It means everything to me,” Wilcox said. “All of our juices are freshly-squeezed or pressed every morning with no added ingredients.” 

A Jona-Bells acai bowl with blueberries, strawberries, banana, granola and Nutella. | Stephanie Claytor, LkldNow

The cafe also offers matcha, nitro cold brew, batch brew and a wide variety of espresso drinks. The cafe’s bowls are made from authentic acai, which they purchase from Brazil, Wilcox explained. The acai bowls typically include soft-served acai, a purple berry found in the Amazon rainforest, along with bananas, strawberries, blueberries, granola and Nutella. 

“It is high in antioxidants. It has a lot of health benefits,” Wilcox said. 

Wilcox said her father, David, first tasted acai more than a decade ago while participating in a jiu jitsu tournament in Brazil, and he was hooked. Wilcox, who also practices jiu jitsu, tasted acai in 2020 for the first time and thought the taste was “amazing.” 

After trying different versions of acai bowls around Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland, they decided to open a cafe. Around the same time, their former jiu jitsu instructor moved back to Brazil and connected them with an acai farmer there. 

“My family has never done anything like this before, but we have a passion for coffee and acai.”

joni wilcox, co-founder of jona-bells cafe

According to Wilcox, the building the cafe is housed in – formerly occupied by Lakeland Discount Beverage – was abandoned when they found it. They thought it would be the perfect place to open a cafe. 

“There’s nothing like this around here,” Wilcox said. 

In March of 2021, the sisters’ father bought the building for $195,000, according to county property records. The family spent two years completely remodeling the inside.  

“My family has never done anything like this before, but we have a passion for coffee and acai,” Wilcox said, adding it was a challenge figuring out how to open a cafe as well as perfecting their recipes. 

Wilcox isn’t new to the food service industry. She worked as a server at MOJO Federal Swine and Spirits for three years and was a bartender at Streamsong Resort for a year before opening the cafe, she said. 

“I’ve always loved the food service industry and I love being around people and making new connections,” Wilcox said. 

 “This world is so full of junk food … I wanted to offer people something that is good for their mind, body and soul.”

joni wilcox, co-founder of jona-bells cafe

Wilcox wanted to open a restaurant, but her dad convinced her the cafe serving healthy foods and coffee was the better option. 

“This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that not a lot of people get a chance to do,” Wilcox said through tears. “Especially my dad, trusting both of us, it’s awesome. I love it … I’m very thankful. I’m very blessed. We both are.”

With a brightly-colored, oil-painted mural on the wall, Wilcox believes her cafe’s beautiful artwork and welcoming atmosphere also sets it apart from other cafes in town. 

“I decided to make healthy options because this world is so full of junk food and I wanted to offer people something that is good for their mind, body and soul. I also love to eat healthy and wanted to share with our community to help everyone learn the benefits of what eating healthy can do for you,” Wilcox explained. 

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the acai berry comes from an acai palm tree. It has been a longtime food source for indigenous people living in the Amazon region. According to NIH, “a preliminary study suggested that eating acai fruit pulp might reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels in people who are overweight.” 

Studies in labs have also shown that a juice blend of acai produces an antioxidant effect in people. The organization cautions against drinking unprocessed acai juice and stated not much is known about its impact to those who are pregnant or lactating. 

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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1 Comment

  1. Sounds delicious! So exciting for the sisters! Wishing your business a success!

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