Taylor McKinnie started her healthy beverage business Mizz ShakeSum in her hometown of Akron, Ohio, while she was working as a freelance personal trainer. Helping people reach their fitness goals gradually morphed into recommending protein shakes, juices and nutrients from fresh fruits and veggies, plus lesser known functional ingredients.
“In between doing personal training, I worked at a juice bar and I just kind of fell in love with the process,” McKinnie said. “I was into health and supplements for drinks, but then I discovered all these ingredients like spirulina and bee pollen … I discovered I can make them taste really good and make them more fun.”
Long before McKinnie became a personal trainer and advocate of healthy eating, she was a child growing up with some not-great eating habits, she recalls. “When I was a kid, I would have candy and cookies for breakfast … I got really unhealthy and really unhappy, so in high school I started making changes.”
McKinnie began blending and selling shakes while still working as a personal trainer, at around $3 per drink, gaining popularity through social media and good old-fashioned word of mouth. “People kept talking and shouting out more and more on social media,” she said.
Flash forward to today, as McKinnie is in the third year of selling her beverages to a much wider — and growing — audience at Mizz ShakeSum. Smoothies at $5 include the best-selling If You Like Pina Coladas (pineapple banana, orange juice, coconut milk); Banana Split (banana, cherry, cacao powder, almond milk); Strawberry Beret (strawberry, blackberry, apple juice); All Buckeyez on Me (banana, dates, cocoa powder, peanut butter, chia seeds, almond milk) and another best-seller, Peanut Butter Jelly Time (strawberry, banana, peanut butter, apple juice, almond milk).
Some drinks correspond to a specific diet, like the keto-friendly Keto Straw-Vacado. Juices, each $7, are fresh-squeezed with organic fruits and veggies, plus ingredients like turmeric, ginger and more. Mizz ShakeSum has also added colorful açai bowls with all the fixings (fresh fruit, grains, nuts and seeds).
An educational section of the Mizz ShakeSum website — which McKinnie designed — explains that protein has gotten a bad rap, taste-wise.
“What do you hear when you think about protein? When the words ‘cakey, dirty tasting and unpleasant’ come to mind, just know that you are not alone … this works against a lot of our best interests, as protein is one of the main components in building muscle and dropping body fat,” McKinnie writes. “This is where we come into play. Imagine protein shakes that not only help you get all of your necessary nutrients but also bring back feelings of nostalgia: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, popsicles and ice cream … need a refreshing, healthy pick me up? We’ve got you!”
Currently, production for Mizz ShakeSum happens at a ghost kitchen inside The Well Community Center (part of The Well Community Development Corporation, an organization devoted to creating prosperity for Akron’s neighborhoods).
McKinnie delivers to some customers and serves others at a kiosk at downtown Akron’s Northside Marketplace, an urban market and retail incubator where about 60 local small businesses gather in an open setting with a central checkout.
She’s planning to open her own brick-and-mortar location within the next few years and hopefully hire staff before then.
“I’ve been doing everything by myself, but I definitely need guidance, especially with marketing,” she said. “I need a team ASAP!”
The pandemic hasn’t slowed down business for Mizz ShakeSum; on the contrary, McKinnie has found that an increased desire for wellness and immunity brought on by COVID-19 has been an opportunity for her to educate more people about the link between what we eat and how we feel.
“I’ve been selling out the refrigerator at the Northside Marketplace,” she said. “People are wearing masks and social distancing, but it’s very busy there.”
The city of Akron is known for its strong Black community, and a vibe that’s overall more ‘rustbelt resilient’ than racially charged, she said. That sense of community and the overall feeling of acceptance has made McKinnie proud to call Akron her home.
“I grew up in Akron, and we don’t really deal with a lot of that stuff up here,” she said. “Maybe you get something subtle, like someone will avoid eye contact with me, but not really.”
“It’s good that George Floyd’s death has gotten people to finally realize that this is something we need to be talking about,” McKinnie said. “Because this is stuff we’ve been talking about for years. With the rioting and looting, that’s not a good thing. It’s horrible that we even have to do this. But at the same time, a lot of people are starting to realize there are things happening that aren’t right. That’s the one takeaway I have.”