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  • The menu board at Tropical Smoothie Café.

On March 8 last year, Susan and Tim Nats celebrated the opening of Tropical Smoothie in Highlands Ranch. A week later, they were furloughing employees and worrying whether the new business venture would survive the first year.

“Things happen and you expect delays, but we have had one thing after another,” Susan said.

The longtime Highlands Ranch couple said as their four children have grown older, they wanted something different, which led to them investing in a franchise.

With athletic children, the couple said they were always getting smoothies after competition. One day it was jokingly put out to buy a smoothie franchise, which led to them discovering Tropical Smoothie.

The franchise, located near UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital at 1485 Park Central Drive, was supposed to open in the summer of 2019. However, some construction delays pushed grand-opening plans to the spring of 2020.

With opening plans on track in February 2020, Tim said they had hired and trained 30 employees. They were excited, he said. The store opened with a sigh of relief on March 8. Susan noted that it was exactly one week before the State of Colorado ordered strict shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We watched neighboring businesses close down,” Tim said. “We watched this center turn into a ghost town. Luckily, we had a business that was all about cook, serve and take out.”

Susan said they had employees who feared working because news of the pandemic had them and their parents concerned about being in public. Before long, the couple had to cut most of the staff, cut hours of operation and rely on their four children to pitch in and help.

One employee who made it the entire year is 18-year-old Ben Roth. Roth said at the beginning he had to take a month off but was glad to get back to work.

“Everyone here has been great,” he said. “I have really learned how to prioritize better and improve my social skills in talking to people during all of this. I definitely got a different perspective working behind the counter during a year of a pandemic.”

Susan said with two children in high school and two in college, all of them shifted to remote learning, which allowed them to work.

The family of six started working as a team, which Susan said gave all of them a sense of purpose.

“You can only watch so many movies and play so many video games,” she said. “It felt good to just be a place to provide people with a break and a choice to come in and get some healthy options.”

On days where the business earned $500, Susan said she breathed a sigh of relief just to know they broke even that day.

Tim said as the pandemic restrictions continued, they started working to just stay open.

“We didn’t get any grand-opening celebration,” he said. “We didn’t get to do any of the early marketing to promote our new business.” He added that they promoted menu items for their healthy qualities.

Tim said to get some word-of-mouth advertising going, they started donating samples to Highlands Ranch Hospital, schools, police and community programs that were still operational.

With a background in computer software, Tim said he knew opening the franchise would be a leap, but with in the unforeseen challenges in 2020, it has been a tough year.

Business is starting to increase, Susan said, noting they feel like the worst is behind them.

“But we are still stunted, and it is going to take some time,” she added. “Our goal in 2021 is to see explosive growth.”

The menu at Tropical Smoothie features a variety of fruit smoothies and healthy lunch options, including flatbreads, quesadillas and salads. Tim said one of the most popular menu items is the Dragon Fruit Smoothie.

To learn more about the Tropical Smoothie location in Highlands Ranch, visit the website at locations.tropicalsmoothiecafe.com/co/highlands-ranch/1485-park-central-drive.