Fifth BLEND Smoothie and Salad Bar Opens in Beacon

By Jennifer L. Warren

BEACON – Alaina James knows all about the frustration connected to not being able to find healthy, energizing food and drinks around anywhere.

The 33 year old, Newburgh Free Academy 2005 graduate and standout sprinter vividly recalls both her and her teammates fruitlessly searching for places to grab a healthy, fresh smoothie, salad, anything nutritious, after a challenging workout, burning calories on the track, desperately needing to refuel.

“There was absolutely nothing available where you could get something healthy and fresh, even a real apple or carrot juice or protein shake, not even a bottled one,” explained James, who opted for fruit over junk food as a teen. “Since it was so hard, I knew it just had to be the same for others as well.”

The seed for the need was planted. Its blossoming came when it collided with James’ lifelong passion for living a healthy lifestyle, desire to pursue entrepreneurship as well as the available fiscal resources. A 2010 John Jay college graduate with a major in criminal justice, who also pursued a nursing degree with a strong desire to help people, James could not escape her holistic calling and the limitless growth it afforded. So, at age 24, when most of her peers were purchasing new vehicles, James decided to put her funds toward something different: The rent fees at 357 Old Forge Road in her hometown of New Windsor. In 2014, the area would finally have that elusive, healthy eating locale James and so many others could only dream of: BLEND, a smoothie and salad bar (and much more) was born.

A grassroots, family run business, BLEND immediately became a healthy eating alternative, fully embraced by the community. Offering numerous choices, customers have the opportunity to create their own meals and drinks, including such options as: salads, wraps, parfaits, fruit cups, acai bowls and avocado toast. Patrons not only rave about the yummy appeal of the food, but are grateful for its easy access and other priceless intangibles.

“Many places similar to us only offer one thing, such as a specialty in salads or smoothies,” said co-owner James, who refers to her business as ‘healthy, fast food.’ “However, we are unique in that we have a whole assortment of healthy offerings, all under one roof.” She added, “Also, now we are adding more convenience: You can call ahead and order on-line.”

It’s a spot that houses other appealing features as well. Prioritizing making eating healthy fun, the store features plenty of bright lighting; a friendly, smiling staff; hip music playing throughout the morning and afternoon, casual stools and funky counter space, and there is even an alluring, neon sign reading, “Cool as a cucumber,” on one of the side walls.

The inaugural New Windsor location was so well received that four other locations have since emerged, including most recently, in September of this year, one on Beacon’s Main Street. With residences already in Middletown, Mohegan Lake and also recently popping up this spring in Monroe, thoughts of opening another in the budding Dutchess County nearby locale has been on James’ radar for some time.

“I really love Beacon; it gives me that New York City feel and is very health conscious with open-minded people,” said James as she took in the busy Main Street view from the newest location. “The look of it, with its mountains and surrounding beauty, as well as active people, really appealed to me.”

So far, things are going well at the Beacon site; surrounding businesses have welcomed in James and her staff, and there is a steady flow of customer traffic. As with Monroe, it’s an especially unique challenge to open a business during a Pandemic; however, the offerings of BLEND are in many ways ideal, so many seeking to now strengthen their immune systems, equipping themselves to be prepared for the virus, having quick and easy access to home grown wheatgrass, fresh ginger and Echinacea shots or drink additions could not have been better timed. The societal shifting, proactive dynamic is exciting to James, and something she wants to foster as much as possible.

“We are not only serving people food and drinks, but trying to educate them on things like sweetness not having to come from sugar but can be great from fruits,” said James, who is continually seeking partnerships like the one she has with The Boys and Girls Club of Newburgh, where kids have learned carrots and hummus make tasty snacks and green colored drinks can be delicious. “We ultimately want to make the surrounding communities we are in better by raising awareness about taking care of yourself and how nutrition is one way to do that; it’s really so rewarding making that long-term kind of difference.”

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