Pictured above: Glen Johnson (left) and Nick Crouch (right)
In the competitive landscape of the fast-casual dining industry, one small business stands out as a shining example of success — Tropical Smoothie Cafe. What started as a simple smoothie joint in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1997, has blossomed into a nationwide sensation, captivating the taste buds of health-conscious consumers across the United States.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe was founded by Eric and Delora Jenrich with humble beginnings. The idea was born in 1993 on a beach in Destin.
“They often describe the first location as nothing more than founder Eric Jenrich selling smoothies on a beach down in Florida,” said Glen Johnson, DYNE Hospitality Group franchisee for Tropical Smoothie in Arkansas.
From its inception, the founders had a clear vision — to offer an alternative to traditional fast food that wouldn’t compromise on taste or nutrition. Tropical Smoothie distinguished itself by crafting a menu of fresh, nutritious smoothies made from real fruits, vegetables and high-quality ingredients.
“As Tropical Smoothie started franchising locations, it led to expanding their smoothies. One of the most unique things about Tropical Smoothie is that all smoothies are made-to-order with real, fresh fruit — none of it is prepackaged,” Johnson said.
With a continued focus on health and flavor, Tropical Smoothie Cafe expanded the ingredients that went into their smoothies before expanding into healthy food items as well. In the early 2000s, the brand started to gain popularity and began expansion through franchising. The company’s approach resonated with consumers beyond Florida seeking healthier dining options.
“Originally, I think it was just sandwiches, and then we added on wraps and then flatbreads and then salads and quesadillas. Over the period of 10 to 20 years, we turned into the brand that we are today,” Johnson said.
This focus on health and flavor set the company apart from the saturated market of greasy fast-food chains. Today, the brand has 1,312 active locations, including 55 cafes in 23 Arkansas cities, making it one of the largest smoothie chains in the country.
Tropical Smoothie grew steadily over the past two decades, expanding across the U.S. and developing a bigger menu to cater to different tastes and dietary preferences.
“In addition to serving up great-tasting, nutritious food and smoothies, we like to give people the option to have lots of flexibility in what they order,” Johnson said.
Johnson and his business partner, Nick Crouch, oversee the largest Tropical Smoothie franchise in the country through DYNE Hospitality Group, with more than 100 locations across the South. Johnson, who lives in Little Rock with his family, started his business career in real estate at age 16 and has extensive experience in the retail, oil and gas and private equity industries. Crouch, meanwhile, lives with his family in St. Augustine, Fla., and brings more than 20 years of experience in restaurants to the team.
“I’ve been here for 14 years, and the brand has really changed a lot since I got started in 2011,” Johnson said. “One of the biggest changes has been that we’ve focused on convenience and adding a drive-through. In 2010, 2011, there weren’t really many healthy, quick options out there. If you were busy and on the go, or you got off at a highway exit, there really weren’t many healthy options, so that’s probably one of the biggest changes, making it easier for guests to choose a healthy option.”
For Johnson, the franchise and brand share values that elevate each.
“One of our values is that relationships rule, and so we prioritize relationships with our team and the relationships with our guests, and we really want to focus on hospitality and creating that unique experience with every customer that walks in the door,” he said.
Despite its growth, Tropical Smoothie Cafe remains embedded in its core values, and roughly 70 percent of new locations are opened by existing operators like DYNE. This year alone, the brand has opened 90 new cafes.
The brand stands out in another way — Tropical Smoothie Cafe only owns the original location. Headquartered in Atlanta, the brand works with nearly 300 individual franchisees to help the business grow in cities across the country.
Johnson is excited for the future and what lies around the bend.
“Tropical Smoothie’s very innovative. We’re always out there looking for a new smoothie, or a recipe that we can experiment with, a new food item or new product. There’s a lot that we have in the pipeline that we’re going to be rolling out, sharing with our guests that we’re testing in different markets to see what consumers think,” he said. “So, I think menu innovation is one of the biggest things that we’re doing currently to expand the Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand.”
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