HOWARD – January 29 was a grim, gloomy, good-for-nothing day by all accounts.
It was the day before the historic winter snap, when temperatures stayed below zero all day and wind chills dipped as low as -35 degrees. As the snow and wind began to move in on that bleak Tuesday morning, temperatures steadily fell.
But inside one Howard shop, the attitude of one woman warmed the room.
Her name is Jennifer Grassbaugh and she is the owner of LakeFit Nutrition, located at 22021 Coshocton Ave., one of several shops inside the strip mall that neighbors Apple Valley's main entrance.
Grassbaugh opened the business Jan. 7, but her contagious spirit is already luring in customers.
“Each week we are making more and more shakes, every day,” said Grassbaugh, who paused frequently to greet customers as they came in from the cold. “So I think it’s going really, really well.”
LakeFit sells an extensive array of meal replacement shakes – 120 different flavors in total – including everything from banana/caramel to berry/pina colada. All shakes contain 24 grams of protein and are under 240 calories. They are low in sugar and fat but high in vitamins and minerals, Grassbaugh explained.
“It’s definitely a meal replacement,” she said. “It fills you up, keeps you full longer.”
LakeFit is one of three nearby nutrition studios that are affiliated with Herbalife, a global nutrition and weight management company that supplies the protein supplements used in every local shake. There are two FitMix Nutritional Studios, one in downtown Mount Vernon and one in Johnstown, and both offer an identical menu to LakeFit's (pricing included).
“It’s not a franchise, so anyone that’s a distributor with Herbalife can open up a club,” Grassbaugh said. “But at least as far as the ones in this area, like the FitMix downtown and then the FitMix in Johnstown, we all just kind of work together.”
Before Grassbaugh started LakeFit, she was a customer of the Mount Vernon FitMix. Through conversations with fellow customers, she quickly realized the need for a nutrition studio in eastern Knox County.
“There were a lot of people from Apple Valley and from Danville that just really weren’t able to make it to the store – just the convenience factor,” Grassbaugh said. “So I just really felt like there was a need right in this location.”
The nine-year Howard resident pondered several locations for her shop, including Gambier and Apple Valley. Eventually, she decided on the Coshocton Ave. location for its convenience (it faces one of the county’s main thoroughfares) and feel.
In addition to being a shake shop, LakeFit also doubles as a fitness studio. The spacious, hardwood interior is home to slow-flow adult yoga classes on Mondays and Thursdays, as well as kids yoga on Wednesdays. Zumba classes, which offer a high-intensity cardio experience, take place on Saturday mornings. And in February, a class called ‘Re-Fit’ – which includes a mix of dancing and meditation – began on Thursdays following yoga.
The fitness classes are taught by professional instructors, Grassbaugh said, but they are low-pressure and open to all. They are a natural extension of the shop’s nutritional emphasis, something Grassbaugh was eager to develop after starting the business.
“It’s for everybody and every body, so you can kind of adapt it to whatever your need is,” she said. “There are women that maybe don’t have a lot of mobility and they can literally come sit in their chair and do the exercises, maybe just arms or legs. And it still does get the heartbeat up and keeps people moving.
“So just come as you are, there’s no judgement. It’s just fun. It’s just a way to get healthy.”
The shop is open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fitness classes are held after work hours.
Just weeks after opening, Grassbaugh said the shop has already attracted daily customers. They range from young to old and come in at all hours of the work day – although there seem to be rushes early in the morning, at lunch and after school lets out.
Grassbaugh chose to open the shop in the winter so she and her staff could take time to feel things out before the prime summer months. But even in the brutal cold, customers still flocked to the store for shakes that late-January morning.
“People are so excited,” Grassbaugh beamed. “Like, they are all coming in, thanking us for opening. So I think there definitely was a need because the feedback has been really, really positive.”
A personal passion
While Grassbaugh has long been a proponent of healthy living, recent family experiences turned her passion personal.
Grassbaugh is a mother of two children, a seven-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. Both dealt with health obstacles early in their lives.
Her daughter developed medical allergies early on, which meant she was unable to take antibiotics. Instead, the family turned to an all-natural lifestyle designed to prevent sickness and infections. As it turns out, it did just that.
A few years later, Grassbaugh’s son was diagnosed with asthma. It became so severe that modern medicine wouldn’t heal it. Grassbaugh and her husband tried antibiotics and steroids, but nothing seemed to work. In fact, medication often made things worse.
So they went back to their roots and found all-natural alternatives, Grassbaugh said, which allowed his asthma to come under control. They have not reverted to the medication since.
While Grassbaugh believes an all-natural lifestyle can prevent – and often work better than – the use of pharmaceuticals, she has nothing against the medical industry. Doctors and nurses are essential, she says. Rather, she believes in a healthy balance of nutrition and medication.
“I think there is a very, very happy medium (where) you can combine them both,” she said. “I actually come from the medical field, I worked in the medical field for a lot of years. But I think there are definitely lifestyle and health choices that you can make maybe before you go to that step.”
Ever since her family found answers through all-natural living, Grassbaugh has encouraged others to do the same. She served as a certified health coach for years before opening LakeFit, and saw clients routinely benefit from such a lifestyle.
Despite the proven end result, however, Grassbaugh said her ideas are typically met with speculation.
She believes there are many obstacles that keep people from living healthy. Cost is the most prevalent.
“The feedback that I get from a lot of people is, they can’t afford to eat healthy and they can’t afford to go to gyms or have major exercise routines,” Grassbaugh said. “And I just really want people to know and realize that you can.”
To combat this fear, Grassbaugh offers vitamin-rich meal replacement shakes for $7. Every shake also comes with a complimentary herbal tea, which helps clear the digestive system and boost metabolism. There is also a rewards program that applies to all three regional shop locations – Howard, Mount Vernon and Johnstown – where, after purchasing 14 shakes, customers get the next one free.
LakeFit also offers discounts on exercise classes; they cost $5 per session, but if a customer purchases a shake at the time of their class, the class is free. Customers can also purchase a $45 punch-card, which will get them into 30 classes.
“My goal was 100 percent to keep it affordable,” Grassbaugh said.
The other complaint Grassbaugh hears frequently is that eating healthy doesn’t taste good. She said several first-time customers were caught off-guard by LakeFit’s flavorful menu, which was carefully curated by Mount Vernon FitMix co-owner Brandon Britton.
“We have 10 or 11 different protein bases that we use, and those are all kind of flavored differently. And then with the other little extra mixes and sugar-free syrups that we can use, it just allows us to create so many recipes,” Grassbaugh said.
“There’s something for the coffee lover, the chocolate lover, the caramel lover. There’s really, really something for everybody.”
Making an impact
LakeFit opened just over a month ago, but Grassbaugh said she has already seen the positive effects of daily nutrition on some of her customers.
“It’s weight-loss success, it’s cardiovascular success,” she said. “People are just… their health is improving.”
Grassbaugh said attendance at fitness classes has picked up since the beginning, as more people have become aware of the after-hours sessions.
Grassbaugh plans to expand LakeFit's marketing efforts soon by launching a website. Currently, all promotion is done through the store’s Facebook page.
But on this dreary, frigid Tuesday morning, she was only concerned about making visitors feel warm. As the song “Happy” by Pharrell played in the background, she described her ideal store atmosphere – one of contagious positivity.
“Just spread joy, spread love, definitely health and wellness. I think a positive attitude goes a long way for your whole well-being,” Grassbaugh said. “Like, even if you’re having a bad day or your body’s not feeling so great, if your mind is in a good place, it just really carries throughout everything. And I think that’s contagious, from person to person.”
As the next customer walked in, Grassbaugh greeted them. They smiled and greeted her back.
In a way, Grassbaugh’s daily mission – making her community healthier and happier – was already complete.