Nissa Wecks felt so passionately about her good health and athletic performance, she left her job as a Manitou Springs High School teacher to start a new, nutrient-rich business in downtown Colorado Springs.
Ola Juice Bar plans to infuse its customers’ veins with juices, smoothies and food packed with vitality and good nutrition.
Located at 27 E. Kiowa St., Ola will open as soon as the state health inspector gives Wecks the green light, possibly mid-month, she said.
Getting to the point of opening the doors has been much easier than Wecks expected. She and her husband, Mike Buth, kept hearing about little support for small businesses, she said.
“I was curious about the process,” Wecks said. So they satisfied their curiosity and desire to spread the idea of a healthy lifestyle by opening the business.
She started researching the startup venture last summer, after her fourth year teaching journalism and English at Manitou. During the just-finished school year, Wecks used her students and fellow faculty members as guinea pigs for her nutrient-packed juice recipes.
A favorite surprised her: beet juice. Also, pineapple and strawberry were among the more popular flavors, she said. Another high-demand variety was kale.
Ola will offer a large variety of salads — fruit and vegetable — as well as rice bowls, wraps and sandwiches.
“We’re also really pushing the athletic lifestyle,” Wecks said, referring to recipes that help maintain vitality and help athletes recover faster after workouts. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables help lessen the effects of aging, she said.
Ola will offer items less-stressful to the body than traditional diets, Wecks said. Whereas it might take days to digest a diet comprised of sugar, diets containing plant-based foods digest more quickly and easily, she added.
Ola’s menu is vegan, 90 percent gluten-free, 90 percent organic, 90 percent raw, “and we use locally grown produce and local business as much as possible,” Wecks said.
“Ola is a way of life. We believe that individuals can own their health, and choosing nutrient-dense, easily digestible nutriment is a necessary step in taking control.”
Eating Ola foods will also help the earth, she said.
“We studied nutrient-to-land, -water, -fossil fuel and -carbon emission when putting together the menu,” Wecks said. Local produce impacts the environment far less, she added.
They also bought and are using recycled equipment, saving them $4,000 with equipment purchases comprising most of their small-business loan. In addition, to minimize environmental impact, they will compost the restaurant’s waste, Wecks said.
What she found for business support in the past year belied the rumors she’d heard.
“We have brilliant resources here,” Wecks said.
The Small Business Development Center, with its classes and volunteers helped Wecks immeasurably. The SBDC offered specialists in accounting, law, marketing, QuickBooks, web design, “any aspect of starting a business,” Wecks said. “Consulting for free.”
Upcoming courses, as listed in the SBDC’s website, www.coloradosbdc.org/coloradosprings, include Twitter in Social Media and government contracting — how to get a meeting with a federal decision-maker.
Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank, consults at the SBDC and sits on its board as well.
“I’ve been told the process is easy,” to start a new business, Roberts said. She’s also heard it would be easier if the city had a one-stop shop for business and sales tax licenses.
“The easier we make it to start a business, the better our economy is,” Roberts said.
The SBDC has 25 volunteer consultants, all experts in their field, Roberts said. Someone thinking about starting a business would normally have to pay an hourly wage for these specialties, but not at the SBDC, she said.
“The counseling aspect is so important,” Roberts emphasized. “New business owners need it.”
The SBDC also offers the Leading Edge program, a four-month business course one night a week, with the end result of students writing a business plan, Roberts said. The next course starts in the fall.
“With Nissa and her husband, they had a well thought-out business plan, and a Plan B, which is really important,” Roberts said. “They were well-prepared. Nissa and her husband were ready to go.”
Along the way, Wecks heard about Terry Zarsky, business services librarian at Pikes Peak Library District, through a friend.
“She was a godsend,” Wecks said. “She is so smart.”
Zarsky exposed Wecks to extensive business databases, one-on-one consulting and different business courses. Information from PPLD’s databases helped Wecks with marketing and more.
The Reference USA database contains information about 23 million businesses in the United States and Canada, said Information Specialist Julie Speidel. It offers lifestyle and consumer data on more than 60 market segments, she said.
“It’s nice — if you’re selling bicycles, you can look at the demographics of your customers, what they like to eat and do,” Speidel said. With information obtained from the Census, the database can offer information specific to certain intersections or Zip codes, Speidel said. This database and more can be accessed with a library card from home.
“All of this is free with a library card,” said Zarsky.
Zarsky first recommended that people take her course, Minding Your Business, which teaches all aspects of business and how to start one. In addition to Reference USA, the Businessdecision database allows a user to search demographics by specific addresses.
“If I’m looking for people who camp, I can find the people spending the most money on that,” Zarsky said.
The library also offers learn-on-demand courses, which contain tutorials on Microsoft programs, including Outlook, Microsoft Office, Excel and QuickBooks.
Wecks listed Roberts as a primary resource, saying, “She is a wealth of knowledge.”
“I was struggling to get a loan, and I made the mistake of going to the larger banks,” Wecks said. But when she went to the smaller Pikes Peak National Bank, she was pleasantly surprised. She was approved for a $30,000 loan.
It’s common bank policy to not give business loans unless a business has been viable for two or three years, and that’s “not very helpful,” for startups, said Roberts.
Bank personnel meet with many newcomers to business, Roberts said. The bank reviews business plans and completes an entire valuation of the customers’ business development. If the bank cannot help the customers new to business, it will refer them to the Colorado Enterprise Fund or Accion, an alternative lender.
“It’s always good when you’re saying, ‘We can’t help you,’ to give options,” Roberts said, “especially if it’s a viable business.”
Ola is a Hawaiian word that means health and life. An acronym, Ola also means a way of life. Wecks and Buth became familiar with the term when they lived in Hawaii.
Both of their daughters, Emma Buth, 16, and Estelle Buth, 13, were born in Hawaii. Both plan to help at the restaurant this summer, said Estelle.
They’ll be supported by some of Wecks’ former Manitou students, no doubt. As she puts it, “A lot of my students are very engaged.”