It looks like a Little Debbie Christmas tree cake in liquid form – it’s even topped with those red and green sprinkles. It tastes like a Little Debbie cake, but the shake I order at Downtown Nutrition in Canonsburg is not, in fact, a Little Debbie cake.

“They look guilty,” said Jessica Salko, who officially opened Downtown Nutrition in Canonsburg Sept. 18, with a laugh.

Look guilty, they do.

The decadent concoctions crafted by Salko and her staff more closely resemble handspun milkshakes than protein shakes, but the meal replacements – which can absolutely be enjoyed as dessert, if one so chooses – clock in at fewer than 300 calories.

They’re bursting with vitamins and minerals, including 24 grams of protein.

And the shakes aren’t the only delicious menu item Salko serves up in her chic, minimalist storefront along West Pike Street.

“They want to order their stackers,” Salko said. “They come in here, go, ‘Oh, this is great. That can get me through the week!’”

Stackers are to-go tea concentrates customers add water and ice to on days they don’t have time to swing downtown. Salko also offers hot and cold herbal teas that contain different vitamins and minerals, and are 24 calories.

All drinks are customized to meet customers’ nutrition needs.

“I felt that we just really needed health here,” said Salko. “You have a lot of fast food places. I think the community is happy that it’s here. You have to have the convenience of this kind of thing.”

Salko has always been into fitness. She grew up playing softball, enjoys working out and eating relatively healthy. Owning a wellness club in downtown Canonsburg, however, was never in her plans.

But then the pandemic happened, and the government shutdowns extended into the massage therapy world.

“I loved the career, I had great clients, but it was just time,” said Salko, who was a self-employed massage therapist for 18 years. “I thought, how do I sustain a career? I was like, I have to do something. I didn’t want to struggle every time there was a problem. You can still pick up and take out drinks, so if we ever have a shut down again, this will work.”

In October 2020, Salko traveled south to Georgia, where friends introduced her to a Downtown Nutrition wellness club. She was impressed by the club’s vast, health-centered menu.

After researching the business model, Salko believed she would get the support she needed from the Georgia-based network to successfully bring Downtown Nutrition to the small-town music capital of the world.

Easier said than done, considering COVID-19.

Building, Salko said, “was a nightmare.”

“The timing was bad, just struggling with the pandemic. By the time I found a spot to rent ... delays with materials, contractor problems – you can’t find people right now,” she said. “I finished some of the build out myself. It’s been an experience.”

An experience Salko would do over again, she said, because running Downtown Nutrition is rewarding. Salko welcomes folks from all walks of life into her space and is having fun getting to know regulars.

“I’ve had maybe five people so far since I’ve opened say that they’ve actually lost some weight just from substituting this as their lunch or breakfast,” she said. “I feel like, oh, wow, I helped, which is cool.”

Salko didn’t realize just how much Canonsburg was missing a place that offers “fast food for healthy people,” which is the store’s slogan. In the three months her doors have been open, Salko has heard nothing but positive things from her customers.

“People really needed this,” she said, closing up for the day on a recent weekday afternoon. “They needed a change in their daily nutrition. They like the stuff.”

And Salko likes serving the community, whose support, she said, has been wonderful.

“People are starting to get the word out, share the posts,” she said, noting Downtown Nutrition is on Facebook and Instagram. Those on social media know Salko, whose storefront is decorated for Christmas, works hard serving the community in more than one way.

Right now, she is collecting donations for both Senior Hearts Rescue and Renewal Group and Washington Area Humane Society while planning a product line expansion.

In January, Salko will ring in the new year with club preferred members who can join a two-week weight loss challenge – you don’t have to be a preferred member to drop by for a shake, though. She’s looking forward to offering new products, including a fat reducer and a beauty line, in 2022.

But until the ball drops, Salko will be slinging indulgently healthful drinks for Canonsburg and beyond.

“I still have a lot to learn. You just want to try to make everyone happy. I’m likeing the challenge,” she said. “It’s been a good three months.”

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