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@Work: Euphoria

Nov. 5, 2006 — Euphoria, from the Greek, is defined as a state of mind, "a feeling of well-being, health, happiness or elation."
A pretty tall order for a small shop in the Fort Mylner shopping center, but Mario and Lana Lee Leonard are doing their best to create an atmosphere to make this state of mind possible, if that's your cup of tea. And they are doing it with tea — chai, bubble or green — along with other enticements.
The Fort Mylner-Tutu Park neighborhood is strictly business — shops, yes; refreshment, no. Or it was until about two months ago, when the enterprising couple decided to change the lay of the land and opened the small but elegant Euphoria.
With a lot of determination, preparation and imagination, the Leonards have created a haven of sorts. The shop is the first on the island to catch up with the states in offering bubble teas, power smoothies and the Indian chai tea, an exotic blend of Eastern spices, black tea and honey.
It's a comfortable place to read the paper, meet a friend or revise your shopping list. Decorated in hues of lavender, yellows and greens, there's a comfortable couch and a coffee table in front. The couch, surrounded by plants, sits across from a raised area with tables just big enough to balance a drink and something to read.
For those who don't want a break in the action, there's Colombian coffee, espresso and a soon-to-be Internet area in back. "We're awaiting the computers now," Lana Leonard explains. Though small, the computer area looks practical.
St. Thomian Mario Leonard graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1972. He traveled extensively in the service and out, and graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in geography and ecosystems. Last year he decided to move back home with his wife, Lana, and son, 13-year-old Patrick.
But it wasn't easy. It was, in fact, a huge decision for the family to uproot their life in Pasadena, where they had established roots over the previous years 20 or so. Mario, who has also done graduate work at UCLA-Anderson in urban studies, had a 16-year career in economic management with the local government. Lana Leonard had a 20-year career as a registered nurse at a hospital. Today she works as a surgical nurse at the Roy Lester Schneider Medical Center, pulling 12-hour shifts.
The road back home started rather inauspiciously. "I stopped in one of the Jamba Juice bars one day," Mario Leonard says. "The drink was good, and I noticed that the customers seemed really happy, enjoying the drinks. I started thinking about that, and I contacted the Jamba Juice company about getting a franchise. They told me I had to take 45 of them!"
The idea was planted, however, and Mario looked around and discovered the Euphoria franchises, where he could start with only one shop. "They sent me some of their products," he says, "and we invited friends over for a sort of garden party, and everybody liked the drinks. They appealed to me because they taste good, and they are healthy.
"We'd come back last year for my father's funeral, and we started thinking about opening a shop here. We'd really been thinking about Pasadena, but I started thinking about being home again."
Mario continued to agonize over the decision when the couple went on vacation to Pucket, Thailand.
"We'd already had a trip planned to Pucket, where the tsunami hit," Mario says. "But we still hadn't made up our mind about Pasadena or St. Thomas. I couldn't sleep there one night. I was up about 2 a.m, thinking about it, and right I then faxed Euphoria and committed to the franchise. Then I slept."
After a training trip to Euphoria's main office in North Bay, Ontario, Canada, Mario decided to locate on St. Thomas. "I felt comfortable with my decision on Euphoria, after I saw their operation in person," he says.
While living in California, the family always came back home at least every two years, Mario says: "I always notice what's going on, how the economy looks, and I think it looks vibrant. It boggles the mind. Look at Yacht Haven, Crown Bay."
Mario's extended family also helped seal the deal: "There's another reason for setting up shop in St. Thomas. My family is here, and I want to be close to them."
In fact, Euphoria has become an extended-family business. "My Aunt Esso makes tarts, pastries and pates," Mario says. "She has been doing that out of her house for about 15 years." As Mario speaks, some distance away on the comfortable couch, surrounded by potted plants, sits Aunt Esso — Escalita Fleming. "My mom takes care of the plants," Mario says. "She stops in all the time."
Doris Hansen, a friend of Mario's mother, stands behind the cash register. On days off from her hospital duties, Lana helps out at the shop, while Patrick attends sixth grade at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School.
The Leonards make a handsome couple, complementing one another. Mario has the drive, the energy; Lana, from London, is quieter. She has short cropped hair, big brown eyes and a ready smile. Mario is just beginning to get a few gray hairs in his goatee. He has an athlete's build, and he is very heath conscious. "That's an important part of what we do," he says. "With Lana being a nurse, we are aware of healthy choices in our life."
The walls are lined with things to make customers feel good, from exotic teas to massage devices. There are even plastic massagers for dogs. Euphoria also offers aromatherapy pads for feet, shoulders and backs.
"Sometimes Lana will call me before she leaves her 12-hour shift at the hospital and ask me to put a back pad in the microwave to warm it up," Mario says.
As he talks, Nicola Emerich of nearby Pistarkle Theater comes in the shop to ask if she can put up a poster for the current production, "Eques." "Go ahead, anywhere you like," Mario says. Seeing an opportunity, he asks, "How would you like a bubble tea while you're here?"
Emerich loves the tea, a green apple. "This is great — just what I needed," she says. "Now, I'll have a place to stop and relax. Thanks."
The bubble teas, which resemble smoothies, are different from regular smoothies, Mario says. "They've got little squares of a coconut gel in them, 'cool cubes' and tapioca, which rises to the top, creating the bubbles."
He hands out a couple samples of other wares. "If you haven't had breakfast, this is great," he says, offering a mix of strawberry, banana, non-fat yogurt, whey protein and wheat germ.
And that's just two drinks from Euphoria's menu. There's also the spicy chai tea, which comes hot or in a frozen creamy latte, and the coffee drinks.
Mario wants to offer something more substantial for the drinks to wash down. He has begun negotiations to get a line of stuffed pretzels, which he says are "great, really good." The only hitch is getting them here; they come frozen. "But we'll take care of that," he says with a smile.
Next on Mario's agenda: expansion of the Euphoria chain to other islands. "I've been named the developer for the Caribbean," he says.
The shop is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
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