Here at Vibrant Health, we believe health is an inside job, unique to you. After all, you’re one-of-a-kind and your needs are complex – that’s why your supplements should be too.
To celebrate all of the beautiful complexities of our lives, each month we’ve been highlighting individuals in our community – taking a peek into the behind-the-scenes of their work life, wellness rituals and all the wonderful things that make them who they are.
For July’s feature, we wanted to spotlight someone in the restaurant industry to celebrate all the work that goes into their day-to-day operations — especially throughout the uncertainties of the pandemic. That’s why we got in touch with Judy Flynn, Owner and Founder of The Fresh Monkee — a lively shop serving up protein shakes with a healthy and fun twist at their five Connecticut locations.
In this inspiring interview, we got to chat with Judy about how she went from finance to foodie, the invaluable lessons she learned throughout the pandemic and her philosophy of balancing fun and health in a delicious way — in both business and life. We hope you enjoy our series…and remember, keep being you!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Goofy, tired and hungry… and also creative, impulsive and empathetic
What was your inspiration to launch The Fresh Monkee, and how did you get started?
I was not given the “enjoy cooking gene.” I am all about quick and easy but healthy. Growing up as an athlete, I wanted and needed nutrition for recovery. As an adult and working mom, I needed something I couldn’t find — a protein shake that was low in sugar and full of goodness. All I found out there were smoothie chains where protein was extra. And when added in as an afterthought, it never tasted good and they were usually made with sugary syrups and fake powders. They were deceiving in their nutrition (or lack of) and misrepresented what they had in them. I wanted real stuff — items you’d buy at the store, bring home and make yourself.
The creation of my little business was random and impulsive! I was in finance and lost the enjoyment I used to have. I got tired of wearing high heels and suits. Let’s be honest: I wanted to live in yoga pants and flip flops and figure out a job where I could do that.
On a whim, I found a tiny space with cheap rent. I applied for three small personal bank loans (based on my salary at the time) and quit the day I found out I was approved. I then scrambled to put together a business I had no idea how to create or run. I created my logo with a friend after figuring out what would be a funny and unique name with my kids. I used to get my son stuffed monkeys a lot…no idea why. The website I wanted with the Monkey spelled with a “Y” was taken so I changed it to two “e’s.”
I purchased a used fridge and freezer, had one blender, 10 shakes, one size shake (our largest 32 oz. Meal Replacement), had an ipad with a paypal credit card swiper, bought inventory every night at Stop & Shop, and worked every day open to close alone. I used to sell workout supplements for less than I paid to get them because I simply did not understand what I was doing. I made many mistakes and figured it out as I went.
How has the pandemic impacted your business this past year and a half and what changes did you and your staff make to adapt?
The pandemic taught me ALOT about my business and others. I never thought being a business owner was easy, especially a food business. When the pandemic came, it was like a blinding stage light exposing all of our weaknesses. Businesses I once thought were “killing it” closed almost immediately. When people asked for my help to apply for loans, I realized just how little some people actually know about running their business and that for many it wasn’t about that entrepreneurial dream as much as a necessity to just try and make money the best they could.
I became hyper-aware of just how precarious a situation many of us are in financially when owning a business. Personally, I based a lot of my decisions on what to do during the pandemic on my staff — what they were and were not comfortable with and what it would mean to them if I reopened too soon. Despite it being incredibly difficult to pay the bills with no sales, I knew ultimately I would go out of business before pushing them to work.
I took on debt in order to stay open and slept even less than usual. Customer service is difficult to begin with because you simply cannot make everyone happy especially in a situation where we were so divided in our beliefs surrounding the pandemic. My staff had to grow an even thicker skin. I like to think that we have learned patience, tolerance and appreciation that we are still standing after such a gut punch to the whole world.
We love your philosophy of balancing health and fun in a delicious way! How do you bring that into your work and home life?
I remind our staff that we make protein shakes. We nourish kids and adults and pour it into a cup with a cute “Monkee.” Nothing in our day should be so serious at work that we allow it to ruin anything!
I was a distance runner and powerlifter (different times in life) and now walk and hike alone a ton. I listen to audiobooks or music. It ensures I have time alone to decompress while moving my body.
What is your favorite shake from your menu to fuel your work day?
I alternate between the Ultimate Green (all fruit, veggies and seeds and we keep the fiber in our fruits and vegetables for prebiotic benefits and satiety) and the PB Jelly Time full of protein, natural peanut butter, mixed berries and low-fat graham crackers for texture. YUM!
If you had to live off one fruit or veggie for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Perfectly ripe pineapple — tropical amazingness full of nutrients, digestive enzymes and antioxidants!
When you’re not running your business, what do you do in your spare time for fun?
I’m a business owner so I’m rarely really off but I hike and love the water. Even sitting by the water in my car for a bit calms me. I also have watched all of Netflix, so there’s that. #accomplishments.
I foster bottle feeding puppies and kittens for a shelter as well. I’ve done it for decades and love it!
What does health mean to you?
Health for me has always been a battle. I was adopted and raised in a place where I was the only kid that looked like me. I had a wonderful childhood because of my family but a difficult one because of society. That resulted in an incredibly serious eating disorder. I was hospitalized multiple times for long-term treatment, and my physical and mental health were at rock bottom for over a decade. I was determined not to live in that place.
Health is about feeding your body what you need and topping it off with what you want. Example: a balanced plate of whole foods including all the macronutrients/carbs, proteins and fats. Snack on micronutrients from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Top it all off once in a while with whatever your thing is. Mine includes burgers, pizza, chips or fries when I want them!
Health means my heart and mind had to take the long way around and find a place that feels right. I let things go. I don’t focus on the bad. I don’t take things personally and I try to help when and where I can but say no to things I don’t want.
Thank you for being a part of our community! Want to be featured on our Vibrant Health blog? Send an email to Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org