Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats

Owner: Abbe Rolnick
Phone number: 734-6363
Address: 402 36th St.
Square footage: 1,700
Startup date: July 1

Abbe Rolnick opened her second Robeks Fruit Smoothies location in Bellingham in July; the new eatery is located in Sehome Village.

    Abbe Rolnick has a personal mission statement.
   She spent a year developing it after resigning as CEO from a local manufacturing company in 2004, and its guiding principle is simple.
   “It’s to create joy every day and bring joy into the world,” she said.
   In order to turn that mantra into her life’s next venture, Rolnick analyzed her collection of specialties and interests: teaching yoga, running an accounting firm and manufacturing company, and owning a book/hobby shop. She found a common thread of health and personal growth.
   Woven into her mission statement is the idea that in order to grow, people need to feel healthy and grounded, she said.
   “If you fuel the body, the mind is clear, and if the mind is clear, then you’re open to learning and making better decisions, and then you continue growing,” she said. “It’s one of my core issues. And many people aren’t fueled correctly.”
   Rolnick, who has a petite pixie frame, lots of energy and a down-to-earth countenance, said she’s been able to take risks in life because of her grounding in health, and wanted to share that capacity with others.
   “I wanted to make a significant difference in what could be my last business venture,” she said.
   Her next step was to enlist a franchise consultant, who helped her find Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats, which began in 1996 in Manhattan Beach, Calif. and now has 95 stores across the United States.
   She researched the company extensively and visited 19 Robeks stores in Los Angeles before deciding it was the right franchise to fit with her mission statement.
   She liked that the company’s smoothies contained no added sugar and were all natural, as well as its holistic approach to health.
   “There’s no fluff,” she said.
   She opened her first Robeks store on Woburn Street in September 2005, and her second in Sehome Village in July.
   Part of Rolnick’s paradigm is her belief that health starts with youth, and therefore she hires mostly college students.
   “I believe in youth who will be our future,” she said. College students are willing to learn new things, are usually upbeat and tend to add unique qualities to the store’s culture. For example, one of her employees is a physical therapy student, while another recently returned from an extended trip to Guatemala.
   “I learn and they learn,” she said.Entering the Sehome store is like walking into a blizzard of smoothie sounds coming from two of those college students working the blenders. Boxes of oranges and wheat grass, colorful menus and shelves of vitamins hang along the rainbow-colored walls.
   “When you come in here, you know you can get something healthy,” Rolnick said. Her store is the only Robeks that sells wraps and salads in addition to smoothies.
   Her biggest challenge now is splitting time between the two stores, which she likened to having a 2-year-old and a newborn, although she is anticipating opening a third location soon.
   For Rolnick, whose success is measured by the amount of joy she brings into the world via smoothies on a daily basis, the constant whir of blenders on a Wednesday afternoon signals her accomplishment.

Exact Scientific Services, Inc.
Owners: Kent Oostra and Travis Walkup
Phone number: 733-1205
Address: 3929 Spur Ridge Lane, Ste. 1
Square footage: 3,600
Startup date: August 1
Web adress:

Travis Walkup and Kent Oostra opened Exact Scientific Services on Spur Ridge Lane in August.

    A musty smell blankets the back lab of Exact Scientific Services’ warehouse workspace, located smack in the middle of Irongate.
   A scientist dressed in a white coat and plastic gloves explains the smell comes from old food, soil, compost and bacteria that have been tested for contaminants. Nearby, a tornado of golden liquid swirls in a 4,000-milliliter beaker.
   “I’m making lactose broth,” she said of the liquid. “It’s used for growing salmonella samples.”
   Welcome to every budding young Einstein’s dream job, where beakers, petri dishes and Bunsen burners are the norm.
   At Exact Scientific Services, a crew of organic chemists and microbiologists perform a broad range of tests on substances such as food, water and animal samples searching for contaminants.
   Some of their jobs have included wastewater testing for local municipalities, well-water testing for homeowners and food analysis for local manufacturing companies. Much of their business comes from local dairy farmers who often test their cows for mastitis, an inflammation of the cow’s udder.
   Owner Ken Oostra grew up on a dairy farm in Lynden, received a master’s degree in microbiology from Central Washington University, and has always been interested in environmental issues. Splicing these life experiences together has proven to be a successful business venture.
   “It’s appealing because it’s a community service,” he said. “We help people solve problems.”
   So far, the scientists have discovered contaminants such as E. coli in county wells and salmonella from local food manufacturers and producers.
   The other scientific testing labs in town — one of which Oostra used to work for — cater to clients outside the Bellingham area, he said.
   Until now, most local food manufacturing companies have tended to send their samples to labs in Seattle, Oregon or California, Oostra said, because they were unaware a local company performed the same tasks.
   “They have just used these laboratories because there was no option in this area,” he said. “We can offer the same services and meet the same requirements as those laboratories.”
   As for the challenges of starting a new business, Oostra said bringing all of the elements together is the next big step.
   “We’re working on getting the word out and letting people know our services,” he said. “Each step provides a new challenge.”
   But Oostra ultimately feels lucky to have a job in his field, which most graduates with science degrees have a difficult time doing, according to Oostra.
   “It’s a small niche that is hard to find jobs in,” he said. “I feel really lucky to have a job and live in the community where I grew up.”

Dine On Art
Owners: Lamont and Victoria Lavert, Kelly and Robb Pfeil
Phone number: 756-0000
Address: 1201 Cornwall Ave.
Square footage: 397
Startup date: May 31
Web address:

Victoria and Lamont Lavert, (from left) and Kelly and Robb Pfeil (Robb is not pictured) have opened Dine On Art on Cornwall, a store featuring handmade tables and imported goods.

    Kelly Pfeil teases her fellow co-owners Lamont and Victoria Lavert mercilessly, and they pitch it right back at her. If Kelly’s husband, Robb Pfeil, were around, he’d be ducking jokes from them, too.
   The four owners of Dine On Art have known each other for a long time — going back to Lamont, Kelly and Robb’s college days at Cal Poly Pomona in California.
   After Lamont built his first custom table more than a decade ago — which he and Victoria still dine on — he knew its design was good, but needed tweaking. Robb, his woodworking friend, helped sand out the kinks and Lamont began hatching a business plan to produce and sell the tables online.
   After the four friends moved to Bellingham a year ago for quality of life reasons, they decided to realize Lamont’s dream and open Dine On Art. They added a supplemental gallery space to their business plan so potential clients from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle could see and feel their tables and tableware.
   The problem came when they found the perfect gallery space on Cornwall Avenue before they’d established their Web site.
   “We kind of did things backward,” Lamont said of their process. “We found a space we really liked, so rushed to get the gallery open at the expense of getting the Web site going,” a risky move since the Web component is the business’s intended cash cow. But Lamont intends on getting the site up and running for e-commerce by Oct. 15.
   Meanwhile, the gallery displays Lamont and Robb’s custom-made distressed tile dining tables, as well as tableware handcrafted in the Philippines. The owners import the colorful, square plates and bowls made of capiz shells with the help of Victoria’s sister, who lives in the Philippines.
   Each of the four friends and business partners has a distinct role in the venture.
   Lamont is the visionary and grand orchestrator. He designed the first table and envisioned the company’s square-target-shaped logo and slogans. He is also in charge of the Web site.
   His wife, Victoria, is in charge of the books and acts as the conduit to their Philippine connections.
   Kelly manages the gallery and is in charge of marketing.
   And Robb?
   “He eats a lot,” Lamont jests, and the friends burst into laughter.
   Robb is actually the woodworker in charge of table manufacturing at his Birch Bay wood shop.
   The four friends mostly enjoy working together, and seem to have found a rhythm to their working roles.
   “There’s going to be ups and downs, but we generally enjoy working together. Sometimes more days than others,” Lamont jokes — and they all begin to giggle again.

— Heidi Schiller




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