Smoothie operators fighting hunger, poverty in Ethiopia

Ice cream malts, milkshakes and floats are all delicious, but if you are diabetic or lactose-intolerant, unfortunately you have to pass on these popular treats.

That's what happened to Steve Kuhnau when he was a teenager. Worse still, he was working as a soda jerk, serving these drinks to customers.

Determined to find an alternative, Kuhnau created a healthier, nondairy version using fresh fruit with various vitamin and protein additives. It not only treated his allergies, he said, but it stabilized his blood sugar as well.

He opened his first Smoothie King store in Kenner, La., in 1973, and business has been going strong ever since. Now franchises are opening up all over the world, including in Afton Village.

Amy Rodgers, owner of the Concord store, explained how she and her husband, Mike, came up with the idea.

"Funny story: We were trying to come up with a business idea when our church did a sermon about the movie 'Blindside,'" she said.

"We were brainstorming in the car on the way home, and I said to my husband, 'Well, that guy (Sean Tuey) did pretty well with Taco Bell. How about a franchise?'

"We love that the core values Smoothie King embraces are honesty, integrity, respect, fairness and responsibility."

No strangers to philanthropy, the Rodgers family lived in Ethiopia for two years, working as missionaries with SIM (Serving In Mission), which is based in Charlotte.

During that time, Mike Rodgers started the nonprofit Langano Harvest Foundation to continue his community development work in Ethiopia. Its goal is to help the people of Ethiopia find ways to solve the problems of extreme poverty and hunger as well as the lack of jobs in the area.

Mike still makes frequent trips to Ethiopia to help with Langano Farms, a sustainable agriculture project. It produces a variety of crops, such as bananas, avocados, onions and oranges, for the people of Ethiopia.

Now Mike and Amy and their five children, ages 3 to 15, live in Concord, donating and serving up smoothies to help fund the foundation. They donate to teachers at local schools, various police and fire stations, local high school football teams and bands and Concord Parks and Recreation's 5K runs and the Couch to 5K program at Dorton Park.

"We have given away office parties to Shoe Show, Sysco, Roush Fenway Racing, NorthEast Medical Center and Juba Aluminum," Amy Rodgers said. "We provide smoothies for sale at local high school football games and the West Cabarrus YMCA afterschool program, which helps raise funds for their scholarship program."

Smoothie King Cabarrus is at 360 Exchange St. N.W., in Afton Village. Keep up with its events on Facebook.

Today, for example, is the last day of its Sidewalk Sale. For more information on the Langano Foundation, go to

Next week I will interview Mike Rodgers about the amazing work Langano Farms is doing to improve the lives of the people in Ethiopia.