Smoothie King has come a long way from the small experimental kitchen in Louisiana that it was born in. Its founder, Steve Kuhnau, created the smoothie business, pioneering and innovating one of the biggest markets in food. Under his leadership, and later Wan Kim’s, the company has become a staple around the world. Unlike our last few founders, the Kuhnaus are no longer a part of the franchise they created. Instead, they sold it to another with an even bigger vision than theirs. Let’s take a closer look into the company and its entrepreneurs.

Kuhnau’s Beginning of Smoothies

Steve Kuhnau pouring Smoothies in his first shop
Steve Kuhnau pouring Smoothies in his first shop

The story begins in the 1970s, when Steve Kuhnau began experimenting with mixing real fruit, nutrients, and proteins in a blender at home. While crushed up fruit mixed with fruit juice has been long present in several cultures, Steven Kuhnau first stumbled upon the smoothie independently. Kuhnau had grown up with extreme food allergies to ingredients such as dairy, and had a hard time creating full meals around his allergies. He was also jealous of the popular milkshakes that all of his friends were able to enjoy, but he was not. So, he attempted to replicate a shake with fruit, ice, and juice, instead. As a result of drinking the smoothies often, his blood pressure came under control, so he decided to go public to help others like him.

Kuhnau worked as a nurse in a burn center early in his career. Taking it to his patients, he realized they too thrived on his nutritious drinks. He cared deeply for his patients and did everything he could to help them recover. Soon enough, his concoctions began to have a positive impact on his patients’ health, as they were receiving more of the nutrients and proteins needed to recover. The creation of the first Smoothie King was spawned.

The First Smoothie King

First Smoothie King shop
First Smoothie King shop

In 1973, Steve Kuhnau opened a health food store that served smoothies with vitamins. Little did he know then that his store would be the first of many franchises. Though his Kenner, Louisiana storefront did well, it remained the only Smoothie King for a while. And Kuhnau was okay with that. His goal was to help others, not necessarily grow his business. However, in 1989, Smoothie King became the first Smoothie franchise in the United States. For years, Kuhnau’s Smoothie King success grew alongside the smoothie trend as a whole and both became a national hit, eventually turning into a multi-billion dollar industry.

But, that is where Kuhnau’s involvement in the franchise ends. He started his shop for a healthier lifestyle, and by 2012, he was ready to let someone else take the lead. In 2012, franchisee Wan Kim purchased the company from Kuhnau and vowed to refocus Smoothie King’s mission. 

Kim & Smoothie King

Wan Kim Smoothie King CEO
Wan Kim Smoothie King CEO

Steve Kuhnau impressed Kim with his passion for his products. By now Kuhnau had been blending smoothies for more than 30 years—long before they hit the mainstream. So, he decided to buy a franchise in South Korea. He did this, defying his father in a culture that forbids rebellion, leaving his place as heir-apparents to a $200 million electronics manufacturer. He believed in Smoothie King’s mission just as much, if not more than Kahnau. However, many years and millions of dollars later, Smoothie King was not doing well enough in South Korea to make Kim happy. Just like Kuhnau, Kim had a mission.

His goal? “We want to be an integral part of every health and fitness journey,” he told Forbes. Upon purchasing the company from Kuhnau, he expanded it even further. Now, the Louisiana-headquartered franchise system has more than 880 locations in 34 states, South Korea, the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Middle East. The company opened 100 new stores in the U.S. in 2016 alone. Alongside Kim’s rigorous expansion he set for the company, he has led the franchise to hit numerous milestones. Smoothie King beat out Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and other national brands for the No. 1 ranking in the beverage/snacks category in the 2016 Consumer Picks issue of Nation’s Restaurant News. Over the past four years, its average unit volume has grown by 50 percent. Smoothie King also boasts that it is now the second-biggest retail buyer of strawberries in the nation.

Starting and ending with two men with a passion for health, fitness, and blended goodness, Smoothie King has left an impact across the world. Both Kuhnau’s and Kim’s innovation and entrepreneurship inspire us all. Though their menu may not include only health drinks today, it remains one of the top smoothie brands in the world. Through these men we see that lots of passion and big risks can take an entrepreneur very far.

Want to see more like this? Check out our article on Ikea founder, Ingvar Kamprad.

What do you think of the history of Smoothie King’s origins? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.