Fueling a Healthier Coronado, One Smoothie at a Time

Fuel founder, Nina McDonald.

These days, we’re bombarded by countless buzzwords for healthy living—words like organic, all natural and green. With food and beverage purveyors everywhere hopping on the aforementioned bandwagon, the lines are sometimes blurred as to who is actually footing the consumer bill of health.

At a time when clarity is hard to come by, Fuel Juice Bar is bringing defined, quality health food to Coronado. And it’s employing environmentally conscious, family-business practices to boot.

“We’re filling a real niche in Coronado,” said Nina McDonald, Fuel’s founder.

The concept started when McDonald’s daughter mentioned Coronado High School students were venturing over the bridge to buy smoothies—evidence of a demand for substantial, nutritious and fast meal options.

When the Fuel idea first sparked, McDonald was working as a journalist. In seven years of writing articles (four and a half of those at Coronado’s Eagle & Journal), she was repeatedly struck by one topic—the environment.

“I became acutely aware of all the trash that washes up on our beaches,” McDonald recalled.

With people’s waste cluttering California’s coastline, McDonald recognized the importance of demonstrating environmental responsibility, both individually and as a part of her budding business venture. She said, “I knew I couldn’t put any more Styrofoam or plastic out there to end up in our oceans.”

Based on a passion for an all-around healthier Coronado, the Fuel vision emerged. A family endeavor from the beginning, McDonald, her husband and three daughters were all co-creators of the business plan. First priority: pure smoothies and juices deriving their flavor from high-quality, natural products.

“At Fuel, you’re going to get a whole fruit smoothie no matter what,” McDonald said.

Only using whole fruits or fruit purees and vegetables, Fuel’s finely crafted mixtures are designed to enhance the natural flavor of ingredients. This innate goodness makes it unnecessary to use additive gels or powders often found in the recipes of smoothie chain stores. Customers can also request freshly squeezed juices from any combination of fruits and veggies, in addition to added turbochargers derived from natural supplements.

After checking great juices and smoothies off the list, another menu priority arose in the plans—excellent coffee.

For a self-proclaimed family of “coffee snobs,” enlisting the highest-quality supplier was an obvious must. North Park’s Cafeé Calabria Coffee Roasting Co. turned out to be the right pick for the job.

As a prerequisite to serving Calabria products, all Fuel employees must undergo barista training with Calabria’s founder, Arne Holt. 

“It’s been great,” Holt said of working with the Fuel staff. “They really care about their product and want to do great coffee.”

Backed by professional instruction and a quality product, Fuel boasts a full coffee and espresso menu, made any way you like it. A range of teas supplied by Ryan Bros. are also on hand. Not bad for a juice bar.

In addition to smoothies and coffee, customers can also choose from heartier options like sandwiches, soups, desserts and pastries. Some selections are prepared in-house, others are brought in from local suppliers like Ganosh Gourmet. Freshly made acai bowls are another highlight—organic, energizing and one of McDonald’s personal favorites.

In the spirit of giving back to the environment, Fuel offers its compost to the community for use in gardening or homemade pet food. Also, menu items are served in compostable containers whenever possible. McDonald hopes to continue expanding on sustainable practices as new products and technology become available.

McDonald credits Fuel’s success mostly to her family and staff, which effectively could be considered one and the same. She said her husband and co-owner, Tom, is “the muscle” of the business with his technical support and expertise. Her two youngest daughters are regular fixtures at the shop, as employees and customers, and her oldest daughter also helped out before marrying and moving to the East Coast.

Family is clearly a priority here.

“My daughters are my right hand,” McDonald said.

She believes the business has brought them closer together, while teaching her daughters to value hard work.

McDonald’s middle daughter, Merlot, said, “I like having my mom as my boss.”

Then the two exchanged a smile and kiss, just before McDonald told her, “You should get back to your school work.” So Merlot retreated to a corner seat at the juice bar, where she sipped coffee and worked on her laptop.

In addition to family, Fuel employs a talented and passionate group of workers dedicated to the shop’s vision.

“I could not have done this without an incredible staff behind me,” McDonald added, as she buzzed around the shop helping with orders and chatting with customers—both new and regular.  

Another day, another smoothie, and McDonald seems to be enjoying every minute of it.