• 54°

‘Welcome to the Experience’ — Couple finds success with nutrition center, offers healthy alternatives to customers

The whir of the blender temporarily drowns out “Casting Crowns” on the overhead speakers.

Jeff and Lori Case, a newlywed couple of one year, are busy behind the counter, measuring, mixing and bursting with energetic smiles.

They own and operate Experience Nutrition in a strip mall on Brookway Boulevard. It’s like a coffee bar without the coffee, with a fitness center without tables and Wifi. Customers come in to get meal replacement shakes, loaded teas and friendly conversation. Some squeeze in a workout between kids’ dance lessons and soccer practice.

The Cases moved to Brookhaven in December with family connections and big dreams to live and run their first business together. He is a full-time firefighter in Ridgeland and she’s a former bartender and fitness instructor.

“We just really took a leap of faith over Christmas break with no idea it would be as successful and as popular as it has been, for sure,” Lori said.

Their goal to break even was to sell 23 shakes a day. They hoped to reach that after a few days of opening their doors for the first time. By the end of the week they’d doubled that and were pushing their goal higher.

Lori’s bartender training kicks in when she makes counter talk with her customers. Her mom training is also evident when she carries on a five-minute conversation on the virtues of various video games with a customer’s young son.

“Welcome to the Experience,” Jeff tells a customer as she walks in and makes a beeline for the counter.

A hurried mom carrying a newborn and a handful of cash scans the chalkboard printed with colorful options, searching for a new favorite.

Another woman with a toddler on her hip and his older brother grasping her hand follows her through the door, also checking the board as she walks in.

Lori is busy filling two-ounce clear plastic cups with scoops of meal replacement powder, mixing flavors like vanilla, coffee, caramel, strawberry and chocolate together to form new flavor combinations. She pops a lid on each tiny container that is marked with the initials of the flavor. It makes it easier to make the shakes in a hurry.

“Always be prepared,” she told a customer. “In life and shake making.”

She likes to concoct recipes using mix-ins to enhance the shake.

“I always have one for breakfast every day,” she said. “I’ll just start mixing stuff together.”

Kacey Falvey and her 6-year-old daughter, Rainee, come in on a Saturday morning that’s packed with things to get done. Falvey wants a little extra boost to help her get to everything on her To-Do list.

Her friend in the car wants something, too, so Falvey asks for recommendations. The Cases love a good mystery and start tossing ideas out there. Does she like vanilla? What about chocolate?

Falvey finally snaps a picture of the menu board and heads out the door, leaving Rainee perched on a bar stool peering over the counter to ponder what she wants to try.

The list is long and has scrumptious-sounding names like cookies and cream, German chocolate, butter pecan, cinnamon roll and cappuccino. A few are named after and classic candy bars, Girl Scout cookies and breakfast cereals.

Rainee almost picks fruity pebbles but settles for cinnamon toast crunch.

Each meal replacement shake is $7.50 and comes with a 20-ounce tea — either lemon, peach or raspberry — for drinking with, after or saved for later. Lori said the teas can keep in the refrigerator and be enjoyed later in the day.

For more energy, they offer a “LIT” booster for the tea for $2 that includes B6 and B12 vitamins.

Loaded teas can be substituted for the basic tea for an additional $4, making it $11.50 for the shake and loaded tea. Some customers get their shake first thing in the morning for breakfast and drink their loaded tea with lunch, she said.

Loaded teas come in a 32-ounce cup rather than the 20. Lori said those teas give energy, improve focus, control hunger and boost immunity. Without the shake, they’re $6.50.

They are cold and slushy, with colorful presentations and names to match like the mermaid, gummy bear, skittles, margarita, Captain America, Wonder Woman and Hello Sunshine.

The Cases also offer lava shakes which have the LIT add-in for customers who don’t want a tea with it.

A big seller is Pretty-N-Pink, a 32-ounce tea with just 85 calories and 15 grams of protein. It also has collagen, biotin and a whole alphabet of vitamins — A, B, C and E.

Customer Laura Barrington gets one most mornings. It tastes like a pink starburst candy, she said. By drinking the tea, she eats less at lunch and has dropped a few pounds.

It’s a good choice for carpool moms.

“You’re going to pick up the kids at 3 and you’re starting to get that afternoon crash,” Jeff said. “Instead of drinking four cups of coffee, get that thing and you’re ready to go.

Fat burning donut hole shots for $5 are also popular. They’re the drinking kind of shots, not the needles, Jeff explains.

The Cases met in Ridgeland at a dragonboat race. His fire department had a team for the race, which pits groups of 20 on each watercraft in a race for the finish line. The team needed more paddlers.

“They wanted me and my friend to be on it,” Lori said. “You’re supposed to have an equal number of guys and girls. They needed some strong women.”

“We needed hot women,” Jeff chimed in without missing a beat.

“Oh, stop,” she said, grinning at him. “That’s how we met. The dragon boat.”

They married a year ago March on a beach in Biloxi.

Brookhaven was a common connection for the two.

Jeff’s grandfather, Hoyt Case, is from here and so is his father, Eric Case. He grew up in Madison and has been a Ridgeland firefighter for 14 years.

Lori is from Jackson, but her oldest son, Jacob Porter, moved here two years ago to live with his father. He’s a senior at Brookhaven High School. Her two younger sons, Jacob and Jackson Porter, moved with them so the family is all together in Lincoln County now.

Lori had been working at a fitness center as well as Skinny’s Nutrition Studio in Ridgeland. She’d been at Skinny’s for about six months when the opportunity to move to Brookhaven presented itself.

Lori is wearing a T-shirt printed with “Faith over fear” on the front. Christian music is piped into the studio, blasting from invisible speakers but low enough for pleasant conversation.

Deuteronomy 31:8 — the book and verse number but not the scripture — is tattooed from her elbow to the wrist of her right arm. She can quote the verse by heart: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Faith is important to the couple.

“Absolutely. It’s the No. 1 thing in our business. It’s the whole reason we’re here. We took a leap of faith. We felt like this is what we were supposed to do, for a lot of different reasons, for our family, for the community, for ourselves,” she said.

Still, she was nervous about making that change and leaving what she knew in Jackson.

Then they heard a sermon at church and their pastor said fear is a lack of faith. It was like hearing God speak to them personally.

“If you believe this is what you’re supposed to do and God has always taken you through, then what’s holding you back? He’s always been there,” she said. “We just started doing what we felt like we were supposed to do, and those doors just opened, and other doors shut.”

They moved over the Christmas break and opened the studio.

They start the mornings by 7  and are usually closed by 3 in the afternoon so Lori can be mom to three active boys. They could stay open later, for the after work crowd, but until they can expand and hire additional staff, they don’t want to spend that time away from home.

“We want to be successful but not at the expense of our family,” she said.

The majority of their customer base is female, but men are starting to catch on, Jeff said.

Most customers are creatures of habit.

“Once they get what they want they kind of don’t stray away,” he said.

A customer saddles up to the bar and looks around.

“It’s my first time here. What do you suggest,” she asks Jeff, who begins his spiel about protein and vitamins.

Like Barrington, Jeff likes the Pretty-N-Pink and even embraces its pinkness. He is considering a name change to something a bit more manly.

The pink drink is a good choice for customers not sure of what they want.

“They hold, so someone can get a Pretty-N-Pink and drink half of it and save the rest the next day,” Lori said.

Lori is  thankful for the customers who have become friends in the four months they’ve been open. She’s shocked, though, that customers tell them they’re thankful Experience Nutrition opened.

“The most surprising but also one of the best things that we came across is how thankful people were that we were here,” she said. “We were like, ‘We’re thanking you for coming in’ and they’re thanking us for being here.”

She’s discovered that customers want a better option than fast and fried food choices.

“We are the fattest and poorest state. Fast food places target us. They’re going to make millions killing us,” she said. “Companies that sell healthy foods don’t feel they can make profits here. There are a lot of people here that want to make healthier choices. They’re not given the options, especially fast. It’s not because people don’t want to be healthy, they’re not given the option.”

Lori has been teaching fitness classes for 17 years so she brought that knowledge with her and added it to the business.

She offers Pound workouts, where the exerciser uses ripstix, much like drumsticks, to beat — or pound — imaginary drums. It’s an intense, fun workout, she said.

Workouts are available for the general public and also by membership in a six-week challenge. It’s $75 for membership and includes weekly weigh-in, wellness profile with measurements, three fitness classes a week and lots of motivation.

“Women tend to have more results if they do something in a group than one on one,” she said.