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About Utah: Pedal power at the market

Published: Sunday, July 27 2014 10:40 p.m. MDT

A crowd watches Steve Wilde produce the power for Off The Grid Smoothies Cafe at the farmers market.

Lee Benson

SALT LAKE CITY — Tony Pavlantos is just like all the other food vendors at the weekly farmers market at Pioneer Park.

With one exception.

He’s the only one who brings his own power company.

Every Saturday morning he rides his bike to his booth, puts it on rollers, connects the back wheel to a generator, alternator and battery setup, and starts pedaling (well, usually he talks his buddy Steve Wilde into pedaling).

Then he plugs his blenders and juicers into the battery and commences to blending.

The entire operation — open every Saturday from 8 to 2 at the farmers market — is run by the energy that comes off that single bicycle wheel.

This is Off The Grid Smoothies Café.

Go ahead, sip away guilt-free.

No one can say you’re the one overtaxing the planet.

The idea came to Tony when he himself was off the grid, as it were.

Tony, 28, is a sponsored professional snowboarder. He’s from New Mexico and migrated to Utah 10 years ago to advance his career in the Greatest Snow on Earth.

In the winter of 2008 he injured his knee and was laid up, unable to snowboard. The downtime gave him a chance to think about what other things he might do in his life besides snowboarding. His thinking went roughly along these lines:

What else do I like to do?

I like to eat.

What do I like to eat?

I make killer smoothies that are super healthy.

Why don’t I sell them to other people?

That was the brainstorm. The rest was details.

Since it was going to be his business, Tony could do it his way. His way was as independent as possible. A weekly booth at the farmers market fit that need. Another part of Tony’s way was that as a capitalist he didn’t want to pollute the planet any more than absolutely necessary — which is where the bicycle energy concept entered in.

Already an ardent conservationist who had started a company called Naturol Fuels (naturolfuels.com) that converts fuel systems for diesel trucks so they can burn sustainable energy such as vegetable oil, Tony understood the basics of energy generation.

You didn’t need to use the municipal system. You could do it yourself.

He got a battery, a generator, an alternator and built his own power plant.

At first, using only a conventional battery system, he found he had to generate considerable power from the bike to run the blenders. That meant that either he or the friends he’d drafted into helping — besides Steve Wilde, that includes Chris Coulter and Hayden Price — needed to take turns turning the pedals at Tour de France time trial pace.

The upside was a terrific workout. The downside was everyone was getting worn out.

The Salt Lake-based company Goal Zero came to the rescue, supplying solar-powered equipment that is much more efficient in storing energy and requires bike-pedaling at a more sedate, civilized pace.

Very often, children hop on the bike and pedal away while their smoothies are being made. They can then say they powered their own treats.

Tony reckons it takes 6.25 minutes of pedaling to produce the energy for one smoothie.

So where does a man on a stationary bike go from here? Tony says he’s mulling the possibility of opening a full-time Off the Grid store somewhere in the Salt Lake Valley.

“Maybe we could hold spin classes there,” he says, envisioning a greater power source.

In the meantime, Tony says he’ll continue operating at the farmers market, where he’s been a staple now for six summers and has developed quite the fan following, routinely selling more than 100 smoothies every Saturday. Recently, the governor used him for his career day to demonstrate alternative “green” ways of getting things done.

Among his favorite memories is the time the power went out at Pioneer Park just as the farmers market was opening one morning. It shut everybody down — except him. For a while there, Off the Grid was the only food vendor on the grid.

They sold a ton of guilt-free smoothies that day.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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