When Erica Downey decided to get serious about her health five years ago, she began making shakes and smoothies to supplement her usual fast-food diet. Little did she know her knack for mixing would become her full-time business. Stepping out on what she calls ‘a leap of faith,’ the Memphis native decided to cofound Soul Nutrition, a boutique smoothie bar located in Cordova. Downey, along with her partner Kevin Frazier, hosted their grand opening celebration, June 15 with more than 300 eager attendees.
Since opening its doors, the boutique smoothie bar has garnered rave reviews and repeat customers, who praise its soulful atmosphere and unique approach to wellness. When you step into Soul Nutrition, you automatically notice that you’re in a different type of smoothie shop. A mix of soul music gently plays in the background, as a team of friendly smoothie masters greet you from behind the counter. The menu features a variety of flavors including Strawberry Cupcake, Blueberry Muffin, and Lemon Pound Cake. A selection of refreshing energy teas is also available.
The aura at Soul Nutrition is both energetic and tranquil, and it’s no accident. Downey says she knew ‘soul’ would be in the name of her business and was intentional in ensuring that it was reflected in everything from décor to music.
We spoke with the “wellnesspreneur” about her journey to cofounding Soul Nutrition, and why she believes her smoothie shop is the best alternative to fast-food.
What prompted you to launch Soul Nutrition?
I started making shakes about five years ago and had gotten to the point where it was over 350 people that I was helping to lose weight using a protein-based meal replacement powder. Once it got to the point where hundreds of strangers were coming into my home, I knew it was time to expand. Not to mention, I was working in corporate America, with three children, and was traveling a lot; so I wanted to do something that didn’t require me to be away from home so much. Because I was already making shakes, while also hosting workout sessions at Shelby Farms, I decided to get a storefront and do it at a larger scale.
What was the process like to start the business, from idea to inception?
It was a four-month process. I know it’s kind of short, but once we decided to go for it, I prayed over it and we moved forward. I took a few classes in Chicago and then came back ready to open the business. I’ve been making smoothies and helping people for so long, that it was an easy fit. And the team of people working with me, we’ve known each other for years so it was an easier transition.
What makes Soul Nutrition smoothies unique?
Our products are low in sugar and high in protein. Plus, you get all of the nutrients and vitamins you need in a meal because we use a meal replacement powder. There are 24 nutrients and vitamins. We have over 100 items on the menu, as of July 1, so there’s something for everyone. Plus, they’re good. Each one of our smoothies and teas is carefully crafted and tested over and over to make sure people actually like it. I don’t want anything on the menu that’s just okay. People can tell we took our time with each product.
We also have energy teas that give people an extra boost. One of the teas we will be offering soon is a hangover cure tea for people who go out Friday nights and need a boost of electrolytes that next Saturday morning.
How did your wellness journey begin?
Five years ago the ambulance had to come to my home. I had acid reflux and thyroid disease. Everything was so toxic in my system that my doctor told me that I had to make some serious changes. I was a burger, french fry, fast-food girl. I felt horrible and never had energy. When I got introduced to the brand I use for smoothies, my life changed. So while I don’t consider myself a ‘fit’ girl, I am focused on being healthy. I’ve lost 35 pounds since I started on my health journey and began making smoothies.
What was the first smoothie you made?
Maple Pecan Cinnamon Roll was the first one I made. Because I love pancakes, I wanted to make something that reminded me of them. And people loved it. It’s one of our top sellers.
Let’s talk about the name, Soul Nutrition. What’s the inspiration behind the name?
We knew that “soul” would be a part of the name because I knew I wanted this to be an inner thing as well. You can do a lot of gimmick diets or even go to the gym and work on your physical, but it’s equally as important to work on your inner self. I also wanted soul in the name because I love music. And when I think about Memphis, I think about music and good vibes. That’s what we want people to feel when they come into our location. We don’t want health to be boring; we want it to be fun.
What’s been the most surprising or exciting thing that’s happened since opening?
The reviews have been so inspiring. There was one that stood out to me. A lady wrote telling her story about the energy she had after trying one of our teas for the first time. She wrote, “When I left your shop I had energy for my 3-year-old and was able to do the things I needed to do.” It definitely made me emotional because I’m happy to know that people can come into my shop and it’s not just another place that wants your money. It’s a place that can actually help you.
You mentioned that this is only the beginning. What’s next for Soul Nutrition?
Within the next few weeks, we will be launching a fitness component with a trainer who will come in two days a week, and on another day of the week, we will partner with different trainers. We want to offer different classes like Zumba and dance. We will also continue with our Shelby Farms workout classes. They are Saturdays at 9:30 AM and Mondays at 6:30 PM.
Overall, my end goal is to come up with a nonprofit with the hashtag, #getmemphisfit to help people learn how to lead healthier lifestyles with things that they can do at home.