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Small Business Spotlight: Purple Banana owner starts business with intense focus

By Mark Pitonzo (Onondaga SBDC)


Photo credit: Purple Banana
Mark Pitonzo
Mark Pitonzo

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When Luke Nicolette — owner of The Purple Banana, a new business in Syracuse — approached the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College nearly two years ago, one thing was apparent.

He is a young man with a singular, laser-like focus on the task at hand, a trait found in many successful people.

Nicolette had a concept for a new business and our job at the SBDC was to clear away the “speed bumps” and help him get his business from point A to point B. With Luke’s focus and work ethic and with the help of the SBDC, he was able to open Syracuse’s first and only Açai shop, offering healthy bowls, smoothies, juices, and salads.

American virologist, Jonas Salk once said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” As an advisor for the Onondaga SBDC whose objective it is to help our clients fulfill their business dreams, I’m always curious what drives the various entrepreneurs I meet who want to start or purchase an existing business. For Nicolette, the drive comes from a variety of personal hardships and challenges in his life that he’s been able work through and use as motivation. In a positive way, those challenges have helped him realize several things that were important to him from a business perspective. Luke realized he wanted to identify and pursue his passion, help others as a business owner, enjoy the creative freedom that comes with owning your own business, and most importantly he realized he could achieve anything he set his mind to accomplish.

Nicolette believes his communications and psychology degree from SUNY Oswego has helped him understand what he does well and how best to service his customers.

Photo credit: Purple Banana

I asked Luke how he happened to connect with the Onondaga SBDC following his decision to start a business. He told me that he searched the internet for “cost-effective” resources in CNY that may be able to help him with implementing his business concept. He came across several resources but decided to “click through” to the website for the Onondaga SBDC. Luke stated, “I am so appreciative of how quickly my advisor, Mark Pitonzo, responded to my request and how willing he was to help me with all aspects of implementation. If I was going to make this concept happen, my challenge was that I needed help with everything from formation of the business and business planning to financial projections including cash-flow analysis and income statements since I needed to finance the project. Mark helped with every aspect including introducing me to some of the financial and legal consultants that they work with at the SBDC.”

Luke and I spoke weekly as there were many moving parts that needed to be resolved prior to serving his first customer. Financing and permits were required prior to moving forward with construction, and the actual “build-out” needed a lot of patient collaboration. Luke confided in me that there were many times when he thought he should give up on the project — but that was not an option for a man that has faced challenges in his life.

After facing all the challenges with opening a business, Luke’s incredible attention to detail paid off. In late January, the Purple Banana opened its doors to the public at 754 South Crouse Ave., adjacent to the campus of Syracuse University. Nicolette and the staff have been pleasantly surprised by the number of students and other customers that have enjoyed the variety of healthy options Purple Banana offers.

Photo credit: Purple Banana

Purple Banana serves a variety of all-natural acai bowls made with quality, natural, wholesome ingredients. All the products are carefully crafted with the help of a certified nutritionist. It uses 100 percent-real fruit with absolutely no refined sugar, dairy, or juice. Additionally, Purple Banana offer healthy smoothies and salads.

What makes the Purple Banana unique is the acai berry in its products. The acai berry is native to South America and is filled with antioxidants and vitamins. Luke is certain Purple Banana’s products will become more popular as consumers learn how wonderful the taste is while boosting their immune systems in the process. The shop also offers green, coconut, and pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls, all of which offer a host of health benefits.

 Business Advisor’s Tip: Bill Gates, co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” To translate, don’t underestimate the power of customer feedback. There isn’t as much to be learned from glowing feedback. Pay attention to your most unhappy customers. It will give you an opportunity to gain a completely fresh point of view and provides you with the tools to improve upon your products or services.

Mark Pitonzo is a state-certified business advisor at the Onondaga SBDC’s satellite office located at Onondaga Community College @Liverpool. Contact him at

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