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Smoothies are salvation for working mother

by Brian Clarey

There is a connection, of course, between what we eat and how we feel, an association that the fast-food industry spends billions trying to disavow.

But there is also synthesis between what we do and how we feel, and anyone who has ever gotten a warm fuzzy after doing something nice for somebody knows this to be true.

Smoothie Central, tucked off Highway 68 near the airport, is an intersection of these truisms.

The shop is more or less a standard smoothie shop – fruity, healthful drinks made to order and eminently shippable. But the real story here is how current owner Michele Yussim came to be behind this counter.

“When my son was in the fourth grade he got sick,” she recalls – the boy was eventually diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder, depression and motor ticks, a form of Tourette’s syndrome.

This was in 1994, back when Michele, a single mom, was a part of the regular workaday business world, but her son’s illness, with attendant doctor visits and emergencies, made her job situation precarious.

“They don’t want to hear you have to leave all of a sudden,” she says.

She always wanted to own her own business, and she had her eye on the smoothie shop as long as 10 years ago.

“But I couldn’t get anyone to lend me the money,” she recalls.

She gave up on the dream and took a job at Office Max as a manager. That’s when she got the call.

“[The previous owners] decided they wanted to give it away to the first person who wanted it,” she says.

That’s right: give it away. Literally.

“They left me money in the cash register, paid my first month’s rent and then walked away. That was six years and four months ago.”

She splits ownership and some hours with her mother, who still holds another job, and her son has his good days and bad. But the smoothie shop is a dependable business in this corner of town.

“We get a lot of the radio people in here,” she says, referring to the cluster of Entercom stations in a building just across the street. “There’s a rumor going around over there that I put a little bit of crack cocaine in them.”

She doesn’t. But because the only implement is a blender, smoothies are less about technique than ingredients. Michele uses real fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, raw sugar, honey and all-natural supplements to bring out the salubrious properties of her drinks.

“A lot of other juice shops use frozen yogurt or sherbets,” she says. “Only two of [these smoothies] include ice cream, and I don’t even have sherbet on the property. I’m picky about the ingredients.”

The menu is pretty standard stuff: masterfully concocted, icy fruit drinks with designations like weight gain or high protein or immune boosting. The Peanut Craving tastes like a peanut butter and banana sandwich; the Bulk Gainer can be made with a strawberry, chocolate or vanilla base and has 1000 calories; Raspberry Surprise has as its “surprise” a dose of fiber.

Additives, an 50 or 75 cents per order, include bee pollen (a superfood high in “good” carbs and protein), antioxidants (which cancel out those nasty free radicals brought on by unclean living), creatine (a naturally occurring muscle builder), ginseng (an adaptogen, aphrodisiac and stimulant) and chromium (an metallic element that aids in the metabolization of sugars).

Michele makes me a Magical Peach Treat, with strawberry, papaya, fiber and soy protein. It is cold, smooth and good, the kind of good that makes the cells of your body thankful you aren’t eating French fries.

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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