Changing your eating habits is never easy.
But when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, like Rodrigo Alcazar was last year, making healthy lifestyle choices becomes a little easier.
Facing the most daunting challenge of his young life, Alcazar knew he needed to change his diet if he wanted to have a chance of beating the lymph node cancer that had afflicted him.
“It was hard to go from craving a McChicken (sandwich) to eating a bowl of fresh fruit, but I knew I needed to do something,” said Alcazar, 24, who learned earlier this month that his cancer is in remission. “Thankfully, my family and friends were there for me, and we all made changes together.”
Everyone Alcazar knows was willing to do whatever they could to make him feel better. That’s when the idea for Vida Health Bar came to life. (Vida means “life” in Spanish.)
“Yakima really needs something like this,” said Tony Alcazar, 23, who is the principal owner of the health bar and Rodrigo’s brother. “These places have gotten really popular in Seattle, Portland and L.A., and we know it’s going to catch on here as well.”
The Alcazars and their friend Aaron Barba decided to share what they had learned with the community.
The trio put their heads together and developed a business model based around nutritious food made with all-natural ingredients.
After game-planning for about eight months, the three Davis High School graduates launched Vida Health Bar on Aug. 1.
The shop, at 502 W. Nob Hill Blvd., sells smoothies, fruit bowls, protein shakes and other nutritional foods inspired by nature’s goodness.
Each menu item is made from ingredients that aren’t typically available in Yakima — acai berries, dragon fruit and chia seeds, to name a few — and uses only natural sweeteners, such as dates, bananas and agave nectar.
Vida’s products also include vitamin and mineral boosts. Even the spinach and kale smoothie is inviting.
“We figured out that you don’t need a bunch of sugar to make something taste good,” Rodrigo Alcazar said. “I never would have tried something like this a couple years ago, but I’m really glad I gave it a shot. I had no idea, but even the greens taste good.”
Alcazar’s business partners remember how hard it was to convince him to eat healthy food.
But they wanted to help him fight his cancer, so they started doing more research.
“We knew that if we started making smoothies, he wasn’t going to drink them,” said Barba, 26. “But we had to do something for him, so we started looking at what else was out there. Our friends started telling (Rodrigo) how good they were, and one thing led to another. The smoothies taste so good that he eventually changed his ways.”
Going through cancer treatments over the past year at North Star Lodge limited Alcazar’s appetite, but drinking fresh smoothies and eating acai bowls always seemed to make him feel better.
Aside from how the natural food diet made him feel every day, he also started to recognize the long-term benefits — not just for him but for his young daughter.
“Eating this way is like oxygen for your body,” said Alcazar, whose daughter, Karen Alcazar, is 14 months old. “When I was going through treatment, I would feel a boost every time I drank a smoothie. I’ve seen people give up on their bodies, but I wasn’t going to do that. I’ve got too much to live for.”
Alcazar learned this month that his cancer is in remission, and he attributes his new lease on life to the changes he has made.
“I honestly believe I am where I am today because I changed my diet,” he said. “The way you feel is all about what you eat.”
Tony Alcazar can relate. He changed his eating habits a few years ago after growing up overweight, and he thought opening Vida Health Bar could help open other people’s eyes.
He decided it was time to share with his hometown everything he and his family have learned about healthy eating.
“I had been thinking about doing something like this in Yakima, but it all came together when my brother was diagnosed with cancer,” said Tony Alcazar, who works as professional model when he’s not at the health bar. “I decided that I wanted to do something good for the community and help other people eat healthier.”
Over the first month, the response to the health bar has been, at times, overwhelming. Morning and afternoon rushes are becoming the norm, and the owners have had to bring in friends and family members to keep things running smoothly.
The three business partners believe they have launched a new era for Yakima, and the number of regular customers they’ve been seeing is evidence that they’ve found their niche.
Local health food fanatics have taken notice during the past month, which is no surprise to the owners of Vida Health Bar. The stuff they’re selling just makes you feel good.
“If we take care of our bodies, they take care of us,” Rodrigo Alcazar said. “My cancer was a wakeup call for me, so I decided to change my ways. I’ve learned that anything is possible with the right diet, and I look forward to sharing that message with other people.”