By Vickie Lewis
It’s a proven fact that when we eat healthy foods, we generally feel better. We typically have more energy, and healthier foods just seem to sustain us for longer periods of time. Although most fast food establishments have attempted to integrate healthier options into their menus, very often the hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes win out over the salads and healthier choices. Well now, there’s a new local venue that offers exclusively fast, healthy options—Tropical Smoothie Café! Located in the new commercial development on Pinole Valley Road, Tropical Smoothie Café specializes in smoothies and fresh, healthy food options such as sandwiches, wraps, bowls and flatbreads. Although this restaurant opened in early April 2017, it’s possible that you like me, have driven down Pinole Valley Road numerous times and never noticed the café
Tropical Smoothie Café in Pinole is one of 610 such cafes across the United States. Most of stores are located east of the Mississippi River, where they are extremely popular with their customers. The Pinole location is one of only ten Tropical Smoothie Cafes in California, and its only northern counterpart is located in Rocklin. The original business started in the early 1990’s as a beach shack on the southern Florida peninsula which sold only smoothies. The success and popularity of that small business eventually gained the attention of corporate investors, and the first Tropical Smoothie Café franchise location was opened in 1997 in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1999, the menu was expanded to include food items, such as sandwiches and wraps. Now, nearly 20 years later, Tropical Smoothie Café’s menu includes a full range of smoothies—including superfood smoothies, classic smoothies, indulgent smoothies—as well as smoothie supplements that can be added for a nominal cost; in addition to the healthy food items previously mentioned. There is also a small (but mighty!) breakfast menu that is available all day, and a special kid’s menu.
Pinole franchise owner, Gary Wagner, explains that while TSC’s menu is not “health food”, it promotes a healthy lifestyle. The focus is serving products made from organic fresh fruits and vegetables which are delivered several times weekly from their distributor and/or are hand selected by Gary from local sources. This ensures that customers are served smoothies and food items made of only the highest quality and freshest ingredients. Tropical Smoothie Cafes across the country promote the same menu and serve the same high quality food smoothies so customers will enjoy a consistent experience. The nutritional values of all smoothies and food items are prominently posted near the checkout counter for easy customer reference.
As Gary educated me about Tropical Smoothie Café, I was especially intrigued with his story of becoming a TSC franchise owner. Gary is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has spent his career working on financials in the business industry, spending most of his time sitting behind a computer for hours each day. As his career in the white-collar industry matured, Gary began to reflect about his past, contemplating about when he had been happiest in his work life. He recalled his experiences as a younger man when he worked in the fast food locations such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, and realized that he enjoyed the energy that surrounds the food services industry—working with mostly young co-workers and providing good customer service experiences. So he decided to set about looking for a suitable franchise opportunity where he could re-engage in that which made him happiest. He researched many opportunities, and traveled throughout the United States to evaluate those which he found of interest. When Gary visited a Tropical Smoothie Café location for the first time, he really enjoyed the food quality, and knew he’d found something special. The next challenge was to find a suitable location for his new endeavor, which was a fairly lengthy process, especially since Tropical Smoothie Café is not widely franchised in California, and therefore is not well-known. The Pinole location was ultimately determined to be a suitable location and Gary’s aspiration became a reality! Gary considers owning and operating Tropical Smoothie Café his hobby, and spends most of his free time working there alongside his staff. He still periodically works as a corporate accounting consultant.
The bright, clean, and modern interior of the Tropical Smoothie Café is inviting and provides a casual and comfortable atmosphere. Plenty of table and counter seating is available, flanked by colorful metal chairs and high stools. Three-dimensional, beach-themed artwork adorns the walls—I especially like the one with the long wooden pier extending into the beautiful blue sea that hangs on the back wall, adding a dimension of depth to the interior of the café. Ample interior lighting supplements the natural lighting from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls at the front and on one side of the café. Large, colorful menu boards, featuring pictures of some of the delicious smoothies and food items, are prominently displayed behind the counter. Ceiling fans keep the air circulating and comfortable for guests who choose to dine in. All Tropical Smoothie Cafes across the nation feature identical decor to promote a consistent and familiar dining experience for customers regardless of the location they visit.
Not surprisingly, Tropical Smoothie Café does a robust smoothie business. All smoothies are one size (BIG) measuring a full 24 ounces. The prices range from $6.29 for Classic Smoothies to $6.99 for Specialty and Superfood Smoothies. For an additional $1.00, customers can request the addition of supplements, such as vitamin C-immune complex or vitamin B-12, various proteins, or a fat burner. Also available for an additional $1.00 are fresh add-ins such as a spinach and kale super pack, peanut butter, chia sees, and several other options. The menu boards (and the available paper menus) list the individual ingredients for each smoothie. Modifications to remove selected ingredients or to substitute others are allowable for no additional charge. All smoothies are made with turbinado sugar (i.e., made from sugar cane extract) unless otherwise noted or requested (Splenda substitute is available). TSC’s signature smoothie (and the most popular) is the Island Green, which is made with spinach, kale, mango, pineapple and banana. Another very popular choice is the Avcoloda, which is made with avocado, pineapple, spinach, kale, coconut and lime. Gary described the flavor of this smoothie as a Pina Colada without the alcohol!
During my visit, I was treated to one of TSC’s Limited Time Offerings (LTO)—a Green Apple Matcha smoothie. LTO’s are offered several times a year featuring specialties and seasonal options. Gary made my smoothie, which included kale, spinach, basil, apples, lime and banana. I must admit that I was a little dubious about this combination of ingredients, but was open to trying something new. It was delicious! I did not taste the spinach or kale at all, and the fruit flavors blended together were very tasty. I could detect just the slightest hint of the basil, but it enhanced the flavor of the smoothie, which was a pleasant combination of sweetness and tartness. I enjoyed this smoothie so much that on a subsequent visit, I ordered it again. I also had the opportunity to try another of the superfood smoothies during my visit—the Orange Ginger Glow. This healthy concoction is made of mango, fresh ginger, green apple, pineapple, carrot and orange juice. Based on reviews, this is a favorite of many customers; however, this blend of flavors was not as pleasing to me. I enjoy the taste of ginger, which was evident but not overpowering. It was less sweet than the Green Apple Matcha, and so not quite as appealing; but I will admit that the flavor of it grew on me as I continued to drink it. Gary’s personal favorite is the Chia Banana Boost, made with roasted bananas, chia seeds, almonds, whole grain oats, cinnamon, dates and coconut, with a choice of either peanut butter or strawberries. Gary explained that the roasted bananas enhance the flavor of this smoothie because when roasted, the sugars of the fruit bubble up providing a more intense taste. A guest and I returned soon after this review, and I tried this smoothie with the strawberries and found it to be quite delicious, boasting a lovely fruity flavor with a hint of cinnamon. During that visit, my guest opted for a specialty smoothie, the Peanut Butter Cup, made with peanut butter, banana and chocolate. This smoothie was thick and decadent, and had a luscious and delicious flavor—a perfect treat! When my daughter visited TSC, she ordered the Bahama Mama, a specialty smoothie made with strawberries, pineapple, white chocolate and coconut. She loved the taste of this smoothie, and said that the fruits were a perfect combination of flavors that together blended together to taste like a virgin Pina Colada. She liked the Bahama Mama so much the first time that she ordered it again on her second visit!
There are many good things to say about the Tropical Smoothie Café food menu, not the least of which is that with the purchase of any food item, you can add any smoothie for $3.99! I haven’t tried as many of the TSC food items as smoothies, but the items I have tried were really delicious. Every flatbread, sandwich, wrap or bowl comes with your choice of chips, whole fruit, a portion of kale/apple slaw or a cookie. You’ll find the chips and whole fruits displayed in baskets near the checkout counter. Fruits include oranges, apples, and bananas, and the chip selections appear to be the more healthy options—including such items as baked Lays or Sun Chips. Cookies are individually wrapped in cellophane bags and displayed on the counter, with several choices available, such as chocolate chip and snickerdoodles. The kale/apple slaw is a popular choice with customers who have tried it; Gary said that many have asked that it be available as a fresh entrée-sized salad. TSC currently offers two fresh salads in addition to the other items—Chicken Apple Spinach and Supergreen Caesar Chicken. The last section of the menu features three all-day breakfast options—the Southwest Wrap, Bacon, Egg & Cheese Wrap, and a Peanut Butter Banana Crunch Flatbread which also includes granola and honey. I am looking forward to trying this flatbread, as it sounds delicious, although it doesn’t look quite as appetizing as it sounds! The hearty combination of a TSC breakfast item and a healthy smoothie is sure to sustain you for most of the day for a total cost of under $10.
Among the customer favorites from the TSC food menu are the Baja Chicken Wrap and the Chipotle Chicken Club Flatbread. I had the opportunity to try the Chipotle Chicken Flatbread during my initial visit, and my daughter and I have eaten it again on two subsequent occasions.It is an excellent choice with a great flavor, made with fresh chicken, bacon, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo. Initially I expected the flatbread to actually be served “flat”; however, TSC’s flatbreads are served folded over, similar to a taco, which actually makes it easy to eat and/or share. The bread was soft and perfectly toasted, and was filled a generous serving of chicken and the other ingredients. The TSC Flatbreads are an excellent value, priced at $5.99. The only other item from the menu that I’ve tried is the Thai Chicken Wrap, which also had an excellent flavor, although it was slightly smaller than I anticipated it would be. But the combination of ingredients made for a delicious meal. Noteworthy is that TSC makes their own Thai peanut sauce which adds a bit of spiciness to this wrap/bowl. In fact, they make all of the sauces and salsas used in the various food items, including the roasted pineapple salsa used in the Caribbean Jerk Chicken Wrap or Bowl. TSC also has a unique option for vegetarians called “Beyond Meat”, which is a mix of various kinds of protein that looks and tastes like chicken! This option is available upon request at no extra charge. All food items are made fresh when ordered and may be eaten in or prepared “to go”. Orders may also be phoned in or placed using the Tropical Smoothie Café online app. TSC also has a Tropical Rewards app that awards frequent purchasers with $5 for every $55 spend-just another great reason to visit TSC and try their smoothies and food items.
At Tropical Smoothie Café in Pinole, Gary considers his customers to be family. He loves seeing the smiles on their faces when they take their first sip of a smoothie or take a bite of one of the savory food items offered. The café staff are like Gary’s “kids” as he hires a lot of young people to give them job experience and opportunities to develop skills that will benefit them in the future. Business is steadily growing at TSC, and on the day of my visit, I watched customers steadily stream in starting around 11:00 to purchase both food and smoothies. TSC opens every day at 7:00 AM, and while business usually doesn’t pick up until later in the day, Gary is hoping to build the early morning business, believing that customers will benefit from a healthy start to their day. Closing hours are currently 9:00 PM during the week, and 10:00 on weekends; however, winter closing hours may be reduced slightly.
I highly recommend adding Tropical Smoothie Café to you list of favorite places to stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or simply to try one of their scrumptious smoothies. First responders and military personnel always get 15% off their purchases, and local schools can also work with Gary and his team to run TSC fundraisers. Gary will work with school representatives to provide artwork and produce flyers to send home with students, and 20% of all sales on a designated day will go back to the school organization. Spring, summer, winter or fall, and whether it is night or day, there’s always a reason to visit the Tropical Smoothie Café!
1424 Pinole Valley Road, Pinole | (510) 417-2245 | tropicalsmoothiecafe.com
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 7:00 AM – 9:00 PM | Friday & Saturday 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM