Kwench Juice Cafe opens in downtown Kent

Photo courtesy of Nastasha Bastrakov.

Morgan McGrath Reporter

COVID-19 has heavily impacted establishments in downtown Kent and beyond. But while some shops have shut their doors for good, others have opened their doors for the very first time. 

Kwench Juice Cafe, located on East Erie Street in downtown Kent, welcomed customers for the first time on Feb. 14, 2021.

“Not a lot of people know about us,” said owner Natasha Bastrakov.

Bastrakov, a former piano teacher, started considering new career opportunities during Ohio’s COVID-19 lockdown around March 2020.

“During the quarantine in springtime when everything closed, I couldn’t see my students,” Bastrakov said. 

Due to strict isolation precautions, Bastrakov’s workload began to lessen, so she decided to search for a new form of income and a way to connect with others.  

“I was thinking of how to improve the health of my family and myself and the community, and I was looking for juice cafe franchise opportunities, because juice is healthy,” Bastrakov said. “So I looked at different ones, and Kwench seemed to be the best.”

From the beginning, there was little consideration regarding where to open the shop because Bastrakov knew downtown Kent would be the ideal location. 

“I was looking for some location where there would be some foot traffic … and to be honest, it’s actually my kids who pointed it out to me,” Bastrakov said. 

Her two children often eat downtown with friends, and this helped Bastrakov realize that a college town might be the ideal location for an up-and-coming business.

“I think downtown Kent is growing,” Bastrakov said.

She added, “We looked at some places [in Kent]. There’s a lot of empty buildings right now because they closed, so there were quite a few locations we were looking at.” 

Peace, Love and Little Donuts, formerly located on East Erie Street, made the decision to permanently close during spring/summer 2020. 

Bastrakov felt the location was right for her business, so she decided to take over the lease and set up shop.

Since starting the business, Bastrakov said her knowledge of customer service, POS Systems and food preparation, to name a few, has skyrocketed. 

“In the past three [or] four months, I feel like I got my bachelor’s in business just by doing it,” she said. “If I don’t know something, I just find people who I can ask. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Bastrakov emphasized the benefits of hands-on work experience while leaning on others for help or advice.

“People are more than willing to help. … Since we’re a franchise, we actually had a lady who came in for two weeks, and she did the training,” Bastrakov said. “She taught us how to make smoothies and açaí bowls and some of the operation procedures.”

Bastrakov and her employees were able to learn the restaurant’s recipes in a short amount of time. 

“That’s the benefit of a franchise,” she said.

Having the resource of a franchise enables owners like Bastrakov to receive advice, menu items and profit margin trajectories from knowledgeable business people.

In fact, Kwench Juice Cafe has 12 franchise locations across the country ranging from Texas to Michigan to Oregon, Florida and Missouri.

“They plan to open 15 more this year,” Bastrakov said.

Currently, Bastrakov has four employees who are also college students. She said hiring was the easiest part of the business process.

But the business process wasn’t all easy for Bastrakov.

In fact, she faced some unprecedented challenges following opening day. The business had fewer customers on opening day than Bastrakov had hoped.

“Honestly, I did not expect not to have a single customer in three hours,” she said. “I expected to have at least five to 10 customers an hour.”

Bastrakov said the winter weather is a large factor in the shop’s limited number of customers.

“You don’t want to walk around when it’s 10 degrees outside,” she said. “So we’re hoping when people come out, they will stop by and discover us.”

However, Bastrakov said “people are not inclined to try something new in the winter.”

Much of this has to do with the frigid temperatures. 

“The weather has been really bad,” she said. “If people go somewhere in this weather, they’re not going window shopping.”

However, come spring and summer, Bastrakov hopes to place tables and chairs outside of the restaurant for patrons to sit and enjoy a smoothie or fruit bowl.

“When they order their smoothie, they can just stay outside with their friends,” Bastrakov said.

In order to gain more traction, Bastrakov has been posting on Instagram and Facebook. She also provided menus to other local businesses in the Kent area, and she offers free samples from time to time.

Kwench Juice Cafe also has a website that is currently being updated. 

The cafe has become Bastrakov’s livelihood in recent months and the importance of business is crucial.

“For me, I put all my eggs in this basket,” Bastrakov said. “So to me, it’s very important for this business to thrive and to be able to pay my employees and for the lease and all the stuff that comes with business expenses.” 

Bastrakov also makes it a priority to create a memorable experience for new customers. 

“I understand as a business owner, the first impression is everything,” she said. 

The bright orange and green wall paint, as well as the images on the wall of menu items, factor into the overall feeling of the restaurant, Bastrakov said. 

As a first-time business owner, Bastrakov has “a lot to navigate.”

“The hardest part of owning a business, you have to know every aspect of your business,” she said.

The stress of working out issues is also a stress factor in business owning. 

“Small problems are no problem at all for me because I have such big problems to solve,” Bastrakov said. 

However, she understands that being a business owner means putting in the time, money and effort to make her dreams a reality. 

“This is what business is. It’s when you’re super tired, super excited, super stressed, all at the same time.”

Kwench Juice Cafe offers options including smoothies, açaí bowls and pitaya (dragonfruit) bowls. 

They also offer a number of healthy toppings such as strawberries, blueberries, oats and raspberries. 

As an additional mix-in, customers can add superfoods like chia seeds, whey, flax seed and goji berries, to name a few.

“Our prices are very modest,” Bastrakov said.

The shop charges $7 for a smoothie and $10 for their various bowl options. At the moment, there are no additional charges for add-ins or toppings.

Kwench Juice Cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and until 5 p.m. on Sundays. 

“My whole life happens here,” Bastrakov said. “This is my private life.”

Morgan McGrath is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].