Commercial Progress Report

Shakin' at the Shack

by Lisa Hanchey

Former bodybuilder brings a healthy focus to new Johnston Street shop.

There will soon be a whole lot of shakin' going on at Benny's Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.

Photo by Robin May

Benny Nele and Jenai Mistrot

A former national level bodybuilder, Nele got into vitamins and nutritional supplements when he stopped competing 13 years ago after winning the Jr. Nationals. He used his nutrition and fitness know-how to launch Benny's Sportshack inside his family's 37-year-old business, Benny's Supermarket, at 806 S. Union St. in Opelousas, in 2001. "I'm a volume supplement dealer, basically," he explains.

The supplement department exceeded all expectations. "It's been phenomenally successful," Nele says. "We've grown it into probably the third largest department in the store now."

For years, Nele dreamed of opening a location in Lafayette. He finally found the perfect spot, buying the building formerly occupied by the Krooked Nickel.

Nele will be running Benny's Sports Shack with Jenai Mistrot. "We had been wanting to get into the Lafayette market with the supplements and, also, try to bring a different concept over here," he explains.

Two months ago, Nele and Mistrot started transforming the bar and deck into their dream concept. In the front, they added lots of shelving for what they say will be the largest selection and inventory of supplements ever in Acadiana. The existing liquor bar, in the center, was converted into a smoothie bar, serving high protein, low fat, low sugar meal replacement smoothies made with real fruit.

Beyond that is the Smoothie Café, which will offer hot pressed sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups for dining in. Nele also added a large display cooler for pre-made healthy items to go. "When you come into get supplements, you may want to grab a sandwich, smoothie, or healthy snack or vice-versa," he says.

Out front, on the deck, will be café tables and chairs for al fresco dining. Benny's will also offer a drive-thru for smoothies. Eventually, Benny's Sportshack plans to offer catering to doctors' offices and other businesses. Also, Benny's will hold healthy cooking classes in the evenings.

Nele says that the new business will be unlike anything else in Lafayette. "The way we sell supplements is different than other supplement retailers," he says. "We are more like a supplement wholesaler with Internet pricing. These stores exist in some of the larger cities, like Houston and Memphis, but Lafayette has never seen anything like this before."

The nutrition guru believes that Lafayette's fit clientele will be receptive to the new concept. "Everybody is so health conscious over here," he observes. "Everybody is into some type of fitness or sport. We just really wanted to get into this healthy market."

Nele plans to capitalize on the location, which is primely positioned near the UL Lafayette campus and downtown. Benny's will also be right on the new expanded bike trail along Johnston Street, which will be ideal for riders who want to grab a quick bite or smoothie.

"It's more than just a business," Nele says. "We are passionate about health and helping people make positive changes in their lives.

And, also, giving them a break on the price of supplements is an added benefit for them.

"We are excited," Nele says. "We can't wait to get it open."