A Ticket to the Tropics
Cajun Shrimp and Hurricane Smoothies have arrived at the local locations of Tropical Smoothie Cafe.
It’s mid-July. Seagulls follow shrimp trawlers across the horizon, Jimmy Buffet’s on the radio, passion fruit, pineapple, sweet dark cherries and OJ mingle in a chilled glass …
Is this a daydream? It’s January. In Leland. It’s damp, chilly and drizzling just enough to glue leaves to window panes. Every shade on the pallet is gray.
But at Waterford Shoppes — and at Long Leaf Mall and Porters Neck in Wilmington — the tropics are alive and well.
Hand-cut cilantro and basil mingle with fresh-made Creole sauce, and shrimp are ready to dive in to become a Cajun Shrimp Wrap, nestled alongside dirty rice, or to become a Cajun Shrimp Salad, with creamy Creole dressing.
That passion fruit drink? Not a daydream, either; it’s a Hurricane Smoothie, liquid Mardi Gras, with a straw.
These are the newest menu guests at Tropical Smoothie Café, available for a limited time, until about March 23.
“You put it all together, and it’s a party in your mouth,” says Brandon Korman, who owns the three Tropical Smoothie franchises. “We’re actually a chef-driven foodie place that happens to have really good smoothies, instead of the other way around.”
The whole menu is a ticket to an island vacation (OK, there’s a peanut butter-banana crunch breakfast flatbread for Elvis fans), so adding shrimp to a menu that includes a Baja Chicken Wrap, Caribbean Jerk Chicken Wrap and Santa Fe Chicken Quesadilla, among other wraps, salads and sandwiches, made sense.
“What’s always been true with the company is that we have an executive chef, and he’s come up with so many flavorful types of foods,” Korman says. “Me, personally, I try everything. I feel like we’re an ambassador for good food to brighten people’s days.”
Korman came to North Carolina a few years ago from New York City, where he worked media jobs with television networks. His first run-in with Tropical Smoothie Café was with a Jamaican Jerk Wrap on Long Island, where there are 21 locations.
“I was like, wow, they’re onto something,” he says. “They have amazing smoothies and awesome food. So, my in-laws were moving here (to North Carolina), and we’d come here a few times a year and I fell in love with Wilmington and started doing research.”
He learned the population was growing as one of the top small markets in the country, and statistically it was one of the healthiest cities for its size. He knew people here wanted quick, casual dining.
“So, we made the move, to be near our in-laws, and we love it,” he says. Korman, 39, is married with two small children. He has the rights to develop future Tropical Smoothie franchises in Wilmington and Shallotte. For now, he’s is concentrating on serving up beach vacations in take-out containers and spreading the message that though his restaurants are closed to inside dining, shrimp are cooking and the tropics are a phone call away.
“I love sitting in our cafes, and it’s very inspiring to have a little of that beach theme, so I want people to always consider it, if they have time to spend in the tropics,” he says. “Now, curbside has become a bigger part of our business. And we work with four national delivery partners. Our new app came out a few months ago, and it has rewards and lets you know about promotions. And we have Facebook and Instagram, and we’ll have other promotions throughout the year.”
To give back to the community, Korman is working up events to honor teachers and healthcare workers with discounts. He buys locally grown produce. He also, during the pandemic, has rewarded his in-store staffs with bonuses “for the good work they’re doing.”
Another bonus: staff taste-testing. “Before every promotion, or new item, we gather together for a staff taste-testing, so we understand what we’re selling people and can eloquently talk about it,” he says. “In that process, sometimes we do a little tinkering. But on this promotion, with the shrimp dishes, it’s exactly from the chef’s recipe.”
The shrimp wrap and salad are the newest tropical menu guests, and there will be more. Stay tuned for a Barbecue Shrimp Quesadilla.
“We know what’s going on right now, with the virus, but it’s OK to take a break, have some fun and hang out with us,” Korman says. “We’re on Tropics time now.”
Want to go?
Tropical Smoothie Caffe
Find your place: 2804 S. College Road, Long Leaf Mall, Wilmington, (910) 769-3939); 143 Poole Road Unit B, Waterford Shoppes, Belville/Leland, (910) 765-1144; 130 Hays Lane, Unit 130, Bayshore Commons, Wilmington, (910) 821-8677.
Be safe: Because of COVID-19, Tropical Smoothie locations have paused in-restaurant dining. Locations are sanitized with increased frequency; all employees wear masks.
Get your food: Online ordering; curbside pickup; delivery via Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates.
Get your discount: Download the app from the App Store and Google Play. Spend $1, get 1 point. For every 55 points, get a $5 reward.