By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Msayles@afro.com

Brave is one word to describe opening a business during the pandemic, but Jetaine Hart and her boyfriend, Sheriff Taiwo, were prepared for the challenge when they opened their healthy smoothie cafe Hollywood Nutrition in College Park last summer.

The couple noticed that while there was no shortage of fast food restaurants in the area, there was a shortage of healthy fast food options. Their decision to open Hollywood Nutrition rested on their desire to provide the public with healthy, affordable options. 

The cafe, which is Black-owned, offers health shakes that are plant-based and can serve as a meal replacement as well as energizing teas. The shake flavors range from a classic strawberry banana to popular cereal Cinnamon Toast Crunch, while the tea flavors range from cherry limeade to Skittles. Once a month they also sell protein donuts. 

“This was just the next step in bringing health and nutrition to a community,” said Hart.

The couple, who also own a second cafe in Hyattsville, originally planned to open in April 2020, but when COVID-19 hit in March, their plans were put on pause. Although the delay was disappointing, they marketed on social media, sampled their teas with local businesses, handed out flyers to the community and perfected the inside of the cafe so that as soon as they got the greenlight, they could open. 

During this time, the biggest challenge for Hart was the unknown. There was a lot of confusion and fear surrounding the pandemic, and no one knew when it would be over. 

“Finally, we were like ‘we are just going to do it and see how it goes,’ and it has been really successful so far,” said Hart.

Hollywood Nutrition hosted its grand opening on July 4 with an outdoor block party, which was in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines. Hart credited the initial success of the business to her and her team’s ability to be adaptable and the outpour of support from the community. 

Their team is relatively small, just five baristas and the co-owners, but fortunately the cafe was never forced to cut staff as a result of the pandemic. Dominic Solis, a new barista for the cafe, discovered Hollywood Nutrition through a recommendation from his roommate. After trying the Captain Crunch shake, he asked Hart if she was hiring and then secured a summer job. 

“Every single time I try a new shake I’m like ‘that’s my favorite now,’’ said Solis, who is a student athlete at the nearby University of Maryland. His favorite part of the job is being able to connect with the surrounding community.

The cafe, which gets its name from the neighborhood that it is located in, always intended to immerse itself in the community, but social-distancing and capacity restrictions made this difficult. 

“The hardest part for us was not being able to be in connection with people,” Hart said. “It made it hard for us to build those relationships we wanted to.” 

Now with vaccinations available to all and county-mandated restrictions lifted, Hart has seen more customers coming in, and plans are in the making for the cafe to host more events for community residents and businesses. Hart and Taiwo have also recently signed a lease to open a third location in Hagerstown, which they expect will be ready in mid-July.

One word of advice that Hart has for individuals considering opening their own businesses? Never count yourself out.

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