Niagara Falls native Angelo Ashker grew up scooping ice cream in his dad’s local ice cream shop. After 30 years of business his dad Ron called it quits, but the entrepreneurial gene runs in the Ashker family, and around 2000 Angelo re-opened Ashker’s Ice Cream shop in the Falls while studying at UB. Eight years later Ashker’s relocated to Lewiston with a new business model – a Juice Bar – the first in Western New York.
Though juices and smoothies were a booming market on the West Coast, the trend took its time to gain popularity on this side of the country. Business at Ashker’s was slow at first, but Angelo held to his vision, and it was at this Lewiston location that he met his soon-to-be girlfriend and business partner, Sarah Nasca. The pair shared similar interests and values and hit it off immediately.
With Sarah by his side, Angelo stayed true to his intentions and in 2011 they moved their business to Elmwood Avenue near Bidwell Avenue, recognizing that the upcoming juice trend might be much more easily accepted in the popular area of the city that attracted a young and hip crowd. Angelo and Sarah were welcomed graciously into the Elmwood Village, and they looked to their new neighbors for advice on how to build their business. It was at that location where they established their driving model, to provide healthy, fresh, affordable food in a welcoming environment.
Moved by the success on Elmwood, their next location brought them to Delaware Park, with the help of Mark Goldman, in the former Juicery location around 2015. A year later they added their Black Rock location on Amherst Street, and just this past year they opened in the ACB Building (formerly the BAC Building in the old Shayleen’s Restaurant) at 69 Delaware Avenue.
Since opening this city location they have been working closely with LA Fitness, the health club occupying the BAC’s space, to encourage health and wellness. LA Fitness General Manager Tim Fox says he worked closely with Angelo to develop specific smoothies to provide the appropriate amounts of protein and nutrients for a post-workout drink, and the juices are great for rehydration after a workout session. The two businesses enjoy collaborative opportunities like member appreciation days, with Ashker’s bringing juice and smoothie samples to the fitness facility members for feedback and suggestions.
Each location has been strategic. What is crucial to both Angelo and Sarah is bringing a meeting space to communities and integrating their business into the framework of neighborhoods. Both grew up in large families where the family table was the heart and soul of their homes. They strive to create that environment in their cafes, an unpretentious place where people want to gather and enjoy good food and drink.
During all this growth, a tragic event happened in the Ashker family. Angelo’s dad had a heart attack. In the aftermath, Angelo and Sarah took a sobering look at food and the food industry, and made a commitment to provide delicious plant-based, whole-foods almost exclusively at their establishments. Their Elmwood Avenue location is the only one that serves meat and dairy options.
Through their family experience, research, and prayer they realized that providing these options to their customers was important. They recognize not only the health benefits of this lifestyle choice, but the environmental benefits as well, acknowledging that they can have an impact on the world by what they serve. As christians, strong in their faith, their guiding light has been a bible passage from Mathew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all else shall be given unto you.” Angelo and Sarah feel that the food industry is their way to serve people in a mindful way while educating and providing a communal space to their neighbors.
While talking with Sarah about eating a plant-based diet, I received a quick summary of the benefits of juice and smoothies specifically. According to Sarah, juicing with cold-pressed juice provides a beneficial boost of vitamins and nutrients to the body and mind. Celery juice is all the rage lately, and rightly so. Two key antioxidants found in celery, apigenin and luteolin, reduce inflammation and consequently play key roles in warding off several diseases. Proponents of juicing claim that it is easier for the body to absorb nutrients from juice as opposed to whole foods. But at the end of the day, for some people eating fruits and vegetables is just not something that takes them to their happy place, and juicing is an easy way for them get those nutrients they might not otherwise consume.
Meanwhile, smoothies offer other benefits as they are more satisfying and can supply fiber and protein. The possibilities of a good smoothie are endless, and the folks at Ashker’s are always more than happy to share their recipes and advice. Sarah says they want to make it easy for people to transition to a healthier lifestyle and are not looking to keep what they know a secret. In fact they are planning to provide educational classes in certain locations in the near future. Angelo and Sarah realize that the key to health and wellness is found in what you consume. While they are not intending to change people, they do want to offer a place where people know they can find quick, satisfying, healthy options to incorporate into their routine that can potentially be life-altering and beneficial.
Find out all the deliciousness Ashker’s has to offer on their menus by checking out their website. Each of their locations has a unique menu designed to accommodate the population in which it serves.
Along their road they are enjoying their many successes, and Angelo and Sarah are currently working on their next location, back to Angelo’s roots in Niagara Falls on Third Street, set to open this summer.
You can follow their journey on Facebook and Instagram. If you’re looking for a great spot to meet up with friends, or a healthy haven to spend some quality time with your self, give Ashker’s a visit.
Ashker’s newest location in Downtown Buffalo
69 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14202
8am – 2pm Monday – Friday