There was a time that it was hard to come by a smoothie at all on the island. That was until Laura Jankowski realized that the East Coast and smoothies may mix together very well.
“I’ve been with the brand since 2004,” Jankowski said, calling herself an “old-timer” of the brand.
Jankowski was a late-in-life college student, starting her college to career path in her late thirties. At the same time, she was helping her husband find a career to set his eyes on. He had always gravitated towards the restaurant world and Jankowski was looking for the perfect fit for him.
“After doing a lot of online research, I was trying to find something that would be beneficial to Long Island, that didn’t already exist here,” Jankowski said. “I didn’t want to just get into something everyone else was doing. At that point in time, this is going back a lot of years, the thing that kept popping up as something trendy… was smoothies.”
Smoothies at the time, Jankowski said, was more of a West Coast trend. The closest one could find to an on-the-go smoothie, she added, was a 7/11 “Slurpie.”
“I knew on Long Island that it’s very cold here,” Jankowski said. “So it wasn’t something that would work here… So I was looking for smoothies, that I liked the idea of, but what about smoothies and food? And the only concept that showed was Tropical Smoothie, which I never heard of.”
The closest Tropical Smoothie at the time was a franchise in Virginia, where her sister lived. When Jankowski asked her sister if she knew of the franchise, her sister said her children practically lived there, going every day after school. So, Jankowski decided to pay her sister and that Tropical Smoothie a visit.
“They probably thought I was crazy because I ordered everything on the menu,” Jankowski said. “I have everything on this round table. I took a bite of this and a sip of that and they said ‘you’re going to eat all that’ and I said ‘no, I’m just tasting it. I just want to know.’ I actually fell in love with the brand during that visit because what I liked about it was the two concepts in one; the food and the smoothies, and everything was made to order. I’m a picky eater so I like being able to put in and take out what I don’t like.”
She called her husband from there and said “I found what we are going to do.”
The Jankowskis opened their first franchise in East Northport in 2006 and they had to work hard to get the store to be noticed.
“It was a lot of guerrilla marketing at that point,” Jankowski said. “It was a lot of knocking on doors and bringing samples to just get people to try us. That was the beginning of it and as the brand began growing on Long Island, at the time I just started my career in 2003, I ended up resigning from that after eight years to focus only on Tropical Smoothie. I was the area developer, helping all the cafés open and then we got to the point where we had 17 to 18 stores on Long Island.”
Later in the game, as the brand continued to grow on Long Island, Jankowski decided to focus on just her franchises. This job, she said, is one that takes energy and effort from waking to sleeping. But Jankowski said, she has an excellent team she can count on.
She currently owns seven franchises, including the Tropical Smoothie at 365 Jericho Turnpike in Syosset. When the Syosset Jericho Tribune sat down with Jankowski on June 17, she was in the process of opening a location in Melville and planned on opening five more throughout the year.
When asked if she believed she was responsible for bringing Tropical Smoothie to Long Island, Jankowski said she was.
“It was a huge leap of faith,” Jankowski said. “I truly believed the brand was on the right track. It was less than 300 stores nationally than. We have 1,100 stores now. It’s really, really grown. It’s a big-boy brand now. It excites me when I see people walking around with a Tropical Smoothie cup, I know a little piece of that was because I opened the first store on Long Island.”
And the focus on Jankowski’s mission is not only growing her own personal business, it’s about supporting and helping others.
Her stores donates thousands of smoothies to local sport teams and she makes large donations to various non-profits, including in the past Camp Sunshine, a retreat for families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
“For 11 years, 10 of those years, myself and my family would go and volunteer at Camp Sunshine for the Tropical Smoothie week,” Jankowski said. “It is life changing. You go there, and I feel like you get more out of it than the families do, because you see them going through traumatic experiences with a child who has a life-threatening illness to come and be united for that week. It’s amazing.”
The new national charity for Tropical Smoothie is No Kid Hungry. “We’re very excited to be partnering with them,” Jankowski said.
Even on Flip Flop Day, when customers can walk in with flip flips to get a free smoothie, Jankowski’s stores took the opportunity to use the increased volume of people in the store to fund-raise for No Kid Hungry.
“I think [the franchise] is going to keep going in the direction it’s going,” Jankowski said. “When we opened Riverhead it was a perfect example. Without any marketing, people were coming in as soon as we unlocked the door. People want Tropical Smoothie in their community.”