By Lauren Lippert
The man with curly brown hair pulled back in a low bun is dancing to the light jazz music while taking customers’ orders. On top of his head, blocking his face from the sun is a denim-blue bucket hat with a neon pink flower stitched to the front. He is dressed in battered brown sandals, a half unbuttoned black-and-white floral shirt, unprescribed clear glasses, classic denim shorts that show a tattoo on his left thigh, and his signature purple crystal necklace. As he greets customers, his eyes begin to squint and wrinkles outline the corners of his eyes. Under his mask, Danté Musa is smiling.
Musa is one half of the duo that helps run Naturally Sweet, a popular food truck selling freshly made acai bowls, smoothies, and coffee at a farmers’ market in downtown Phoenix on Saturday mornings. He is more than just someone who takes orders, though. He takes the time to ask about your life and, quite possibly, that’s one of the reasons a lot of customers keep coming back.
“Oh heyyy Devonnn, do you want your usual?” Musa asks, dragging his y’s and n’s as he reaches for his notepad and pen, preparing to write down the order.
The woman named Devon responds with a “yes, please,” Musa asks, “For the coffee, agave, and nut-milk, right? And for the bowl bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, and Love Crunch granola?”
For the past two years, Devon Greene, a college student, has been a Naturally Sweet loyal customer. To her, Musa is “more than just someone who takes your order and moves on. He talks to you. If you have a pet with you, he plays with it.” Or he might just ask about it.
“How’s your dog, Guido doing?” Musa asks as he enters her order on his iPad.
“Oh, he’s good, still learning to adapt to his new home, but good,” Devon replies with a smile.
The whole exchange takes five to 10 minutes. Musa takes his time even as more people join the line, eager to place their own orders and have a chance to talk with him.
It was Musa’s friend, Alex Garner, who created Naturally Sweet out of what was originally an ice cream truck called Cools Ice Cream, launched in 2013. Garner, 23, made the switch after being inspired by Mojo Bowls, an acai bowl food trailer located at the Mesa Farmers Market and Flea.
Garner initially started selling smoothies, chocolate-covered strawberries and bananas, and granola bars. In 2015, he enlisted Musa’s help and shifted to acai bowls.
Musa and Garner first met in 2010 through mutual friends and bonded over conspiracy theories. Some years later, Musa decided to sell everything he owned and venture to Costa Rica. After six weeks, he came back to the United States wanting a new start, and that start was with Garner and his food truck.
With its mostly black and white intricate designs with some pops of color, the truck can be seen from a distance. There is a hanging-out area outside and a table where customers place their orders, which are both decorated with green plants and imitation flowers. Wind chimes line the green canopy tent where customers wait patiently for their food.
Musa started his own entrepreneurial career in the fashion industry in 2010 and he’s still at it. Currently, he’s a part of a clothing company called AG Scrubs that is designed to reduce infection in the medical space through the use of hygienic fabric and, he said, is built to save people’s lives. He is also a musician and, as such, a member of a band called Kettle, where he sings and is a multi-instrumentalist, playing the trumpet and guitar.
His work with Naturally Sweet first started as a way to make extra money. It still is, but it’s also more than that. Musa refers to it as “Sweettopia,” and sees the truck and the farmers market itself as space where people can just be happy and be themselves.
“I do my best to bring that positive, joyful, maybe a little eclectic, that I like to be at the market,” he said. He calls himself “Mr. Bubble Pop” and explains it’s because sometimes it’s hard to maintain his energy level, but he soon finds himself feeding off of his customers.
“The overall vibration has just been what it is for so long that it has become so much more than just me,” Musa said.
A draw to Musa is the way he presents himself to customers. He’s always dressed in style. It’s not just the reggae and soft jazz playing from the speakers that create a calming effect. It’s also his personal touch that seemingly keeps people coming back.
Musa says he can’t take full credit as to why customers keep returning, but to him, it’s because Naturally Sweet is “arguably the best in town when it comes to acai bowls.”
Garner’s attention to detail helps keep the Naturally Sweet business running. Behind the scenes, Garner pre-makes his acai base, carefully measuring out the ingredients before the start of his shift so that when customers start to show up, all he has to do is add the toppings.
He tastes the coffee before putting it up for sale to ensure that its flavors are up to par. Musa says that Garner is a Scorpio and that makes him a very particular guy. He emits laid-back energy, but in an I-can-still-get-my-work-done type of way.
“It’s Alex’s care and attention to detail, along with his genuine passion for wanting to deliver a great product that creates the experience, so every time you know that bowl is going to be lit and every time you drink that coffee it’s going to be fire because it’s the same dude making it,” Musa said. Later, he called his friend “the heart and soul of Naturally Sweet.”
Prior to COVID19, the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market wasn’t the only place where Naturally Sweet could be spotted. Garner and Musa would bring their carefree vibes and good food to the headquarters of the tech company Go Daddy in Tempe and occasionally to a Cross Fit training center.
Like most businesses, Naturally Sweet was negatively impacted by the pandemic. Garner was hoping to put more money into the business to redo the design of the truck and open a Naturally Sweet cafe built on his own property in Phoenix. He has been forced to put that on hold, but one thing is for certain.
Wherever the truck is, Musa hopes to be there, sharing love with every order.