New Brunswick Restaurant Packs a Punch of Protein into Healthy Menu Choices

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The smoothies at Knight9 Nutrition are flavored with ribbons of peanut butter, chocolate and caramel.

The donuts are finished off with breakfast cereal and other fun toppings.

The teas are bursting with bright pinks, oranges and purples.

And it’s all low in sugar and calories, high in protein and flavor.

City Center New Brunswick’s newest restaurant at 1 Spring St. is trying to stand out from other dining choices such as chain coffee houses and trendy juice bars by offering a fun menu full of healthier, plant-based choices.

“It’s called fast food healthy,” said Luz Rodriguez, who co-owns Knight9 Nutrition with Geovanna Martinez. “Other stores, for example, they focus a lot on the syrups, they focus a lot on the sugar intake. For us, we focus more on the protein side.”

For instance, the smoothies, which come in flavors ranging from birthday cake to banana pudding to café machiatto, average 250 calories, 24 grams of protein and 21 vitamins and minerals. The protein donuts are 60 calories with 6 grams of protein. The protein crêpes, which are topped with berries and bananas, are 180 calories with 25 grams of protein.

Martinez was the driving force behind choosing New Brunswick as the place to open Knight9 Nutrition – a name that’s a nod to Rutgers’ mascot, the city’s Turnpike exit and the philosophy behind the menu.

“This is where I live and I wanted the community to have a healthy place to eat,” she said. “It’s important for the residents to have healthy options here.”

Rodriguez and Martinez are new to the restaurant business. Rodriguez spent several years working in the IT field, and Martinez did office management work.

So, before they went and invested their life savings into opening the restaurant in June, they went to trade shows and other events. They soaked up all the information they could, from business advice to recipe tips.

“We would go to those events, see how they make it, see how it tastes and see if we wanted to change to something else,” Martinez said. “We keep trying until we like it.”

In addition to perfecting the menu, creating the right vibe – a restaurant that nourishes bodies and soothes minds – was also paramount.

Music was softly playing Tuesday afternoon as customers reclined in the green chairs, leaned on throw pillows and sipped their drinks at small tables decorated with potted succulents. Martinez’s husband, Tino, and her brother, Gerardo Lopez, were helping out behind the counter.

The shop has quickly become a favorite for employees from nearby Johnson & Johnson and other businesses. They sit with their loaded teas and go through their emails on their laptops, thanks to the free wifi.

Each drink is delivered with a punch of protein and an inspirational message scrawled on the side of the cup. A naughty peanut smoothie, as it’s named on the menu, came with the inscription “Every setback is a setup for a comeback.”

 “We wanted it to be a little oasis in here,” Rodriguez said. “The city, it’s busy. People are always rushing around. We wanted this to be a calm sort of place where people can take a break and relax.”

Story & Photo Credit: Chuck O'Donnell