At 7-Eleven stores in Tacoma and around the nation you can find the just introduced Wild Cherry Slurpee flavored doughnut. The pink, 99-cent sweet features cherry flavor icing covered with sugar crystals.
If you’re looking for something healthier, you might want to visit Tacoma Fresh instead.
Owner William Manzanares is turning the idea of a convenience store on its head. Health food is the focus in his grab-and-go store.
The store on Puyallup tribal land opened March 1.
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“Health” food is a moving target and subject to interpretation. Some of it touts what it contains (whole grains, raw vegetables, probiotics) while others list what’s missing (gluten, sugar, meat).
For Manzanares, 34, it comes down to dietary restrictions and food choices based on a healthful lifestyle.
Manzanares is a man on a mission, inspired by his own health.
Struggling with weight his entire life, Manzanares described himself as Homer Simpson-like when he tipped the scales at 240 pounds.
Manzanares got himself down to 219 with extreme exercise. But in September, he realized he had to address his diet if he wanted to lose more. He educated himself on nutrition and changed his eating habits.
The 5-foot-8-inch man now weighs 172 pounds.
It was after his transformation to a healthier lifestyle when Manzanares realized that convenience stores were more interested in doughnuts than salads.
While attending an industry trade show in Las Vegas, he had an epiphany.
“I went around thinking, ‘I can’t eat anything here’,” he recalled.
He immediately started working on his new concept.
The 900-square foot Tacoma Fresh store has gluten-free options, vegan selections and snacks such as chips cooked in coconut oil, which is reputed to have health benefits.
“These are items you would find in health food stores but grab and go,” Manzanares said.
He sells vegan “jerky” alongside buffalo jerky made by members of a South Dakota Indian tribe. Manzanares is a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
“We have people who come in and have never heard of (vegan) before and that gets me excited,” Manzanares said. Vegan refers to food that contains no animal products.
The store’s executive chef prepares items daily for the fresh food section. On Tuesday, it featured chicken balsamic salads, chicken Caesar salads, fruit cups, paleo date squares, Swiss steaks and barbecue meat balls.
A daily soup is offered. On Tuesday, it was vegan vegetable and rice.
A growler station offers fresh kombucha, a lightly fermented probiotic beverage made from tea and flavorings, from Bend, Oregon-based Humm.
Also in the fresh food section is grass-fed beef from Heritage Meats in Rochester.
Inside he sells vegetable seeds. Outside racks hold vegetable starts.
“People say ‘I can’t eat healthy because it’s too expensive.’ Well, it’s not expensive to grow a lettuce plant. You can put it in a pot on your front porch. Nothing beats a fresh salad.”
Tacoma Fresh is inside a building that until last year housed Manzanares’ smoke shop, Smokin’ Willy’s. That business now operates in a new drive-thru location next to Tacoma Fresh.
It’s one of three smoke shops Manzanares owns.
A health food business next to a smoke shop seems like an odd juxtaposition. Manzanares acknowledges the contradiction of products.
The smoke shops are the major part of his livelihood and provide employment for 40 people, he said.
And the sugar industry, heavily represented in the typical convenience store, is just as responsible for ill health as the tobacco industry, Manzanares said.
If Tacoma Fresh is successful, Manzanares will expand the concept. But he has no immediate plans to close his smoke shops.
“I would destroy jobs if I did that,” he said.
“I have to prove this concept. No one else has done this in Tacoma,” Manzanares said.
Manzanares enjoys being a role model for youths and speaks at career days. There, young people say they want to one day own a smoke shop, marijuana retail store or coffee shop.
“If I can show them that you can be the change, wouldn’t it be cool if one day kids say they want to own a yoga studio, a health food store?”
He also hopes his store will offer alternatives to his fellow tribal members. This population segment suffers from higher rates of lifestyle conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease and are more likely to smoke than the general population, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I know they want healthier options. They were coming here and thanking me for the store,” Manzanares said.
Where: 6210 29th St. NE Tacoma
Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Information: tacomafresh.com, 253-952-7555