When Dina Mitchell purchased the rights to open Tropical Smoothie Café stores in Southern Nevada back in 2000, she was hoping she might be able to open or franchise five stores. In those days, there were only 22 stores in the entire country and nothing west of Georgia. She had no idea that by the end of 2013, there would be nearly 30 stores in Southern Nevada alone.
The first of eight new Tropical Smoothie Cafés set to open this year made its debut on June 1 at the Stratosphere. In a couple months, the first-ever store in Pahrump will open on Highway 372. Two drive-thru stores in North Las Vegas and three in Henderson are also coming soon.
The Weekly tracked down the busy yet energetic Mitchell for a quick chat about the smoothie biz, expansion and celebrating summer in a charitable way.
What kind of work were you doing before you opened and franchised Tropical Smoothie Café? I don’t know if you have enough room in your article. Since I was a kid I’ve been acting my whole life. I did real estate, I had an auto detail shop, I [represented] a women’s clothing line, I had a radio show. But this is my baby, my passion. Everything I’ve done in my life lead to this without me knowing, and everything I’ve learned I can utilize and apply in my career now. I like to wear a lot of hats.
What made you think smoothies and healthy food could be a hit in Las Vegas? Being a 24-hour town, I knew there would always be a need for places for breakfast, and we needed something healthy here. I also really liked the name. I’m originally from California, so anything that reminds you of the tropics when you’re in the desert is a good idea.
You had pretty modest goals in the beginning. I did have a number [of stores] in mind, and we’ve far surpassed my goals. When I wrote up the beginnings of my business plan on scraps of paper in a hotel room, I thought: five stores in five years, that would be awesome! I didn’t know if anyone would believe in the brand as much as I did and want to build their own store. My real goal was to be happy with what I’m doing and to believe in what I do.
What have been some of the most memorable moments along the way? Definitely opening my very first store was one. Maybe I was a bit naive, and I definitely didn’t know as much as I know now, but Eastern and Horizon Ridge is not a location everyone would choose then. But it was the right move for me. I was working maybe 120 hours a week, just exhausted, and I had a customer thank me for opening the store here, saying they drove all the way from Summerlin. That was a goose-bump moment.
Last year you opened a very high profile location on the Strip at the Harmon Corner. I thought it was the first 24-hour Tropical Smoothie Café but it wasn’t, was it? No, the first to go 24 hours was on Warm Springs and Durango. I didn’t know if 24 hours would work, but it’s been great. It’s increased sales, the cost of labor went down, and brand recognition has increased because competition is minimal at that time.
The Harmon Corner store is kind of surreal for me. I was hanging out with friends at the Cosmopolitan and we looked over and saw that huge logo on the Strip, and my friends were going, “Look, look!” and posting pictures. It still doesn’t seem real, 12 or 13 years later, how far things have come. But I’m not done yet.
Tell me about your participation in National Flip Flop Day and partnering with Camp Sunshine. This is the seventh year we’ve done National Flip Flop Day, which is June 21, and it’s basically just a way to celebrate the first day of summer and give something away to celebrate our customers. All locations will be giving away smoothies [from 2 to 7 p.m.] to anyone who comes in wearing flip flops, and we’re also raising money for a really great, feel-good charity. Basically what Camp Sunshine does is give children with life threatening illnesses and their families a real vacation, a chance to go away to camp with full medical standing by, and go and be a real family, be a kid and enjoy it. We try to sponsor as many families as we can.
Customers can help Tropical Smoothie Café contribute to Camp Sunshine by purchasing $1 paper flip flops in each store, by donating $5 or more in any store and receiving a flip flop key fob good for 10 percent off all purchases in 2013, or by donating online at nationalflipflopday.com.