Walking through the door at the new Refuge Smoothie Cafe, 2328 N. Farwell Ave., one's attention is immediately drawn to an orange-lettered motto on the blue wall above the front counter that reads, "To enjoy our lives and to help others enjoy theirs."
The phrase is Joshua Janis' mission statement for his own life and for his new smoothie business.
"I was kind of debating what life was all about and I created a mission statement for myself, something that I can just use as a general guideline for my life and what I was going to do," Janis said. "And that mission statement for my life was to enjoy my life and to help others enjoy theirs."
The first Refuge Smoothie Cafe opened last August on 736 N. Plankinton Ave., a location that is spacious enough for a "to-go" smoothie but not much else.
That's OK, because Janis’ smoothie cafe concept is a simple one, but with a brand of uniqueness that he hopes will resonate with the community. The new location on Farwell Avenue, which opened in November, is undeniably more spacious and welcoming.
Janis, who also owns Red Rock Saloon, 1227 N. Water St., and McGillycuddy’s Bar and Grill, 1135 N. Water St., says running a smoothie business is new to him, despite his experience in various roles in the hospitality industry.
"I want Refuge to be a translation of the person I’ve become," Janis said. "The bars and restaurants are fun but my idea of fun when I got into the bar industry was, ‘Let’s party,’ so that was me enjoying my life and helping others enjoy theirs. I still feel like those places do that but now I try to be a little bit healthier, so this is kind of an extension of me, not only a healthy body but also a healthy mind."
One of the most unique aspects of the cafe is the name of the smoothies, which are based on Wisconsinites who have helped improve the community in some notable way.
Refuge's best-selling smoothie is the Will Allen – named for the Growing Power founder – which blends ingredients such as kale, spinach, apples and mint into a surprisingly delectable (and healthy) drink. Janis said he sources spinach and kale from Allen’s farm during the summer months.
Manager Reid Bengsch says the tropical fruit smoothie named for Diane De La Santos – of "City on a Hill," which provides medical and social services to individuals, families and neighborhoods in Milwaukee – is starting to give the Will Allen a run for its money.
"We’re trying to improve the community just like those people do," Bengsch said.
Other names on the Refuge menu include Kathy Kuettner, Sal Dimiceli, Joe Herr, Meg Fay-Steinhardt, Tom Schiltz and Jordyn Schara.
Schara, who, at 15 years old, discovered that people’s old prescription medicines were ending up in landfills, leading to contamination, founded the Wisconsin Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal in North Freedom.
"She’s from the Appleton area," Janis said. "Because of her efforts, they developed a pill disposal (program) ... that’s used throughout the Midwest. It’s pretty cool."
Customers can also build their own smoothies from a range of ingredients, including apple, banana, blueberry, grape, green tea, honey, kale, mango, mint, orange, papaya, peach, pineapple, raspberry, spinach, strawberry, whey protein, soy protein, caffeine, multi-vitamins, a natural boost (b-vitamins), fiber, pro-biotic and ginseng.
"I’ve seen some pretty crazy combinations," Bengsch said.
Though Janis says he is focusing on establishing the smoothie brand before introducing other menu items, the cafes carry a range of baked goods from Wild Flour Bakery, cold-press juices and a variety of protein bars.
"We have some wraps that we’re working on and a couple different things like that," Bengsch said. "We’re making sure that we have a good consistency with our smoothies (first). That’s the main thing that we stress ... making sure that our smoothies are very consistent."
Bengsch says that it’s tough to bring people in during the cold weather but Janis believes Refuge can become viable year-round.
"Health isn’t seasonal," Janis said. "It’s more about building your brand, building your concept and making sure that the neighborhood knows about you and making it a part of their daily routine. If we’re able to do that, I think we’ll find success in the winter months."
So how is Refuge building its brand and making the cafes part of people’s daily routine? First, there's the "Energy Week" card. Customers purchase the card good for a smoothie a day for a week.
Refuge is also one of very few businesses in the city that have a "pay it forward" program, allowing customers to purchase a smoothie or a coffee for the next person that comes in or for someone who cannot afford to purchase one.
"We’re here to help people," Bengsch said. "We really believe in what we put out there will get back. If we can do a good thing in the community, hopefully we’ll get the community support."
Refuge hopes to build a clientele by resonating with the community.
"All these little things that are in the store hopefully, in some small way, make your day a little bit better, and because your day is better, you’re going to smile at somebody and make their day better," Janis said.
A full menu is available on the Refuge Smoothie Cafe website. The cafes are open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.