Think Local: ZL Smoothie incorporates hemp, health-conscious options

Joe Stegman is the general manager of ZL Smoothie. "We just try to help people naturally and holistically," he said. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group) Photo credit: Dylan Connell

After nearly a year of business, ZL Smoothie remains the only smoothie shop in Manhattan to incorporate hemp into their products.

Located on 1101 Moro St., the health-conscious smoothie shop’s menu includes fruit, detox, coffee and kid-friendly smoothies with phytocannabinoid add-ins from the cannabis plant.

ZL caters to a lifestyle of health and wellness inspired by partnerships between smoothie shops and fitness centers in northern Iowa.

Joe Stegman, general manager of ZL Smoothie, is related to the founder of Zakah Life, ZL Smoothie’s hemp supplier. The founder, Stegman’s cousin, wanted a storefront for Zakah Life, so the blend of smoothies and hemp was born.

Hemp affects receptor systems in the body, and ZL Smoothie’s particular focus is pain management.

“Hemp is a homeostatic regulator,” Stegman said. “The one we work with is a hemp plant with a high CBD profile that has a low enough THC content to be classified as hemp.”

Everything in the hemp plant is used at ZL, which Stegman said is important to yield the range of the ingredient’s benefits. The hemp affects the phytocannabinoid receptor system — in smoothies, its main purpose is regulation.

“I had a lot of digestive issues… but it’s [phytocannabinoids] that helped me get regulated,” Stegman said. “I would have tendinitis and bursitis in my knees … it just knocks that swelling down. If you’re groggy in the morning, it’s gonna pick you up.”

Customers often ask Stegman what they are supposed to feel after drinking ZL’s smoothies with hemp, but he said the focus should be as much about what customers don’t feel as what they do. If customers previously had pain, Stegman said they should pay attention to their pain levels after the smoothie to see if the hemp relieved any pain or other symptoms.

“[It’s] hard to believe you have an entire receptor system in your body and not believe it’s not meant for us [to use],” Stegman said.

Another important ingredient in ZL products is kratom, which affects dopamine receptors in the body. At ZL, this ingredient is used for regulating pain and mood.

There are three different levels of kratom at the shop: green for mood boosting, red for calming and white as a “happy medium” between the two.

The other ingredients ZL puts in its smoothies are real and natural, not juice mixes or powders, Stegman said.

“We are about the people, the customers, because as good as our smoothies are, it’s not really why we’re here,” he said. “We just try to help people naturally and holistically.”

For Stegman, the most rewarding part of working at ZL is hearing how the smoothies have helped the customers.

“When they come back in and talk about how amazing the product is and moments of relief, that’s what we’re going for… You develop these relations with these people, and they come in and just pour it all out,” he said.

Being local rather than a high-traffic chain restaurant makes it easier to build those relationships, an aspect that Stegman said he enjoys.

COVID-19’s influence on ZL has been minimal. The smoothie shop was already a carry-out-based business, so the model hasn’t had to go through any drastic changes.

ZL Smoothie is available on Door Dash, Eat Street and Grub Hub.

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