For the health-conscious college student, eating well often equates to eating at home. With healthy food options scarce and pricey, it can be tough to find a restaurant that serves the nourishing food your body needs without the extra additives. Filling a blatant deficiency of healthy food options in Downtown Binghamton, Blend opened its doors on gorgeous Washington St. this month to all who enjoy smoothies and salads.
Recognizing the struggle for students to find healthy vegetarian and vegan options Downtown, owner and Binghamton University alumnus Emmanuel “Manny” Ndagijimana, 26, wanted to start a service that would solve this problem. After graduating from BU last May, Ndagijimana stayed in the area. As someone who always enjoyed smoothies himself, Ndagijimana saw this time as an opportunity to bring a trendier concept to Binghamton.
Working on the concept with students in mind, it was important that Blend provide a fast and healthy service while keeping costs low. While his target demographic is students, Ndagijimana has found that he’s actually attracting a large crowd of young professionals. Realizing that Downtown isn’t accessible to all students, ideally Ndagijimana would like to work with the University and open a location in the Marketplace.
Ndagijimana’s story from BU student to business owner is far from ordinary. Born in a refugee camp in Tanzania, finding healthy food options was always challenging growing up.
“I’m a very health-conscious person; I love to eat healthy,” Ndagijimana said. “Even though the environment I grew up in didn’t have a lot of options for healthy food, I always managed to eat as healthy as possible.”
Located down the street from the University Downtown Center bus stop, Blend is currently open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. With a new menu coming out after Restaurant Week, Blend plans to offer seven different salads along with over a dozen different smoothies.
When Ndagijimana and his family first came to the United States seven years ago, his original intention was to become a doctor. However, after realizing that the pre-med track was not for him, he decided to study international relations. As he works diligently to get his business started, Ndagijimana also continues to take classes at UDC, eventually hoping to attend graduate school.
While on the surface Blend seems to be just a health-conscious smoothie and salad bar, Ndagijimana is focused on the bigger picture. One of the reasons he opened the store was to create a way to fund his non-profit organization, NARA Global, which focuses on providing health education and emergency relief to developing countries.
“I remember I spent my first 15 years of schooling in mobile schools, and probably from first grade to fifth grade I studied outside on rocks,” Ndagijimana said. “So now, I want to offer opportunity. I have the resources now to offer opportunity to people just like me to get a education better than when I had it in the same situation.”
After years of trying to garner support for his organization through word-of-mouth and donations, he realized the uphill struggle of getting people to go out of their way for a cause. By sourcing donations through his business, it’s a win-win. Ndagijimana explained that people are more likely to help people when they don’t need to spend extra money.
“For my side, what I’m losing is time,” Ndagijimana said. “Which is fine, I’ll sacrifice my time to make it work. That’s my donation.”
According to Ndagijimana, he was born to serve a purpose of helping people. Whether it’s providing much-needed services to developing countries, or providing healthy food alternatives to the local community, for him it’s all about improving the lives of the people around him.
“As long as I’m doing that,” he said, “that’s all I care about.”