As a pre-teen riding through Houston to and from gymnastics practice, Sanden Andrews-Brager had her first encounter with a Smoothie King.
She was an 11-year-old Olympic hopeful living with a host family in Houston while she trained with world-renowned coach, Bela Karolyi. Each day after practice, the host family would stop at the Smoothie King on the way home so the young athletes could get a post-workout snack.
"At that age, you didn’t know it was something that was good for you. I have been very passionate about the brand without knowing it since I was a child," said Andrews.
Decades after her Olympic dreams ended with an ankle injury, Andrews found a way to reconnect with her youth. Today, she is one of six franchisees of the Smoothie King brand to own 10 or more locations.
For years, Andrews and her husband Robert Brager had discussed opening a franchise. But Brager had grown up drinking a competing brand of smoothies. Andrews was so committed to Smoothie King, she drove her husband to a different state to try it. He was sold.
In 2010, the couple moved to Johns Creek and opened their first Smoothie King location in Georgia. Andrews worked behind the bar at the store in Duluth. She served up smoothies but also made an effort to get to know her guests personally.
"I was very active with my guests and knowing their lives. I would talk to them about their goals. That created the relationships between us," said Andrews who is opening her tenth location this month in on Holcomb Bridge Road in Peachtree Corners.
In the course of conversation, guests would share their struggles with digestive issues, illness or weight loss and Andrews would try help them find a smoothie formula that could aid them in their goals. At the time, the brand wasn't doing much to educate people about the different types of smoothies and their benefits, Andrews said.
Some people embraced her efforts to share information. Andrews knew what it was like to have struggles in life and it sparked in her a desire to help others.
Andrews had pursued gymnastics since she was a toddler. As a child, she moved around a lot until her dad retired from the military but her parents separated when she was six. Her mother worked three jobs to cover her fees for gymnastics and Andrews threw herself into the sport.
She moved to Houston to live with a host family while her mom stayed in Las Vegas. When she was 10, she was asked to try out for Karolyi's camp. A few years later, Andrews was a regional champion and a hopeful for the 1992 Olympics, but a lingering ankle injury would derail her dreams. Andrews found herself having to start over.
"I was in middle school and my whole life was taken away," said Andrews. She had to start over making friends outside of gymnastics and discovering life as a teenager. Along the way, she learned to have a lot of compassion for others who were starting over in their lives.
She has had customers who sought smoothies for a range of reasons -- gastric bypass patients, weight loss, diabetes, cancer recovery -- and she has worked with them to find the best smoothie to address their needs.
Once she expanded to 10 locations, it wasn't as easy to develop personal connections with her customers, but Andrews makes sure she trains her staff to do the same. They encourage guests to try different drinks, offering to make them a new one if they don't like what they've ordered.
She was among the first franchisees in the state to host $5 medium Mondays -- a weekly offering of 32 ounce drinks for $5 -- and punch card rewards. If guests have any issues at her store locations, Andrews encourages them to reach the stores directly so they can find a proper resolution.
The business is a family affair with her husband and 16-year-old son helping out as well. For the past six years, Andrews or her husband have served on the franchise advisory board which helps with product developments.
The Angel Food -- a strawberry and banana concoction has been the number seller across the metro area and the nation, she said, but the company is consistently updating and improving drinks. Lately, the focus has been on reducing certain ingredients such as gluten, GMOs and some sugars.
For the former gymnast turned smoothie aficionado, the brand and the business offers her more tools to do what she does best. 'I am very passionate about anything and everything I do," Andrews said. "I love helping people."