Thinkubator “shakes” up Poughkeepsie food scene

Angus Bernet ‘22

The Thinkubator Nutrition is not your average corner store. After opening in September last year, the spot on Main Street and South Clinton has carved out an ambitious space in the Poughkeepsie community. The proprietors, Destiny Lee and Dr. Eddie Summers, are bringing wellness products, education and community programming to the Poughkeepsie food scene.

Twin speakers filled the quiet weekend sidewalk playing Olivia Rodrigo one gloomy morning when I first visited last fall. Large windows let passersby peer into the unassuming brown façade to see a set of weights lining the front window along with yoga mats and workout machines. Towards the back is the bar, and behind that are rows of protein powder, blenders and a broad chalk menu. The Thinkubator is not your stylized Orange Theory workout boutique. It’s an unassuming but welcome space to work out, eat and loosen up.

Lee and Summers are Bronx natives. Summers, Lee’s uncle, is a Marist graduate and holds a PhD in urban and public policy. For two decades, he’s spent time in Poughkeepsie and New York City studying access to higher education, affordable housing and economic development. In 2020, he founded the Thinkubator in the Bronx as a nonprofit organization focused on preparing youth with job readiness tools and opportunities for employment.

 Lee, who attended Roosevelt High School, grew up struggling with her weight. Her fluctuating body image left her feeling uncomfortable and took a toll on her health. Finally, she decided that she needed to make a change. With the help and knowledge of her aunt, who also owns a nutrition shop in Texas, she started to make changes and stick to healthier habits consistently. To date, she’s lost 150 pounds. Taking the wisdom and expertise from her aunt, Lee calls herself a “product of the product.” Now, she and Eddie are passing that on to Poughkeepsie.

 In her opinion, healthy food is far from most people’s minds. “It’s not popular. Or it’s not here. You don’t see a lot of nutrition shops,” she explained. Eating habits go hand in hand with trends and advertising. Growing up, Lee observed a constant and well funded stream of messaging promoting fast and processed food items with little awareness of healthy habits. 

 The issue is magnified by unequal access to healthy food. According to a 2014 report by SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO), Poughkeepsie’s northside, which is predominantly Black and Hispanic, is a food desert. 26 percent  of all Poughkeepsie households are food insecure. 10 percent are considered hungry, meaning, 10 percent of Poughkeepsie residents experience, “discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain,” caused by prolonged inaccess to nutritional food.

 When Summers and Lee opened the Thinkubator, the sudden appearance of a store flaunting organic goods, specialized coffee with unusual herbs and spices and a name borrowed from a Palo Alto start-up reeked of gentrification (the “g-word” as Summers put it). “Some people are weird about us… You think about nutrition, you automatically think about gentrification as well,” he admitted. To show their community oriented focus, they put on dance classes, panels with City politicians, and offer internships to students. Summers was scrupulously aware of the doubt saying, “We opened this space in the heart of drug addicts, of gang violence. We opened anyway. We took a risk… We are happy to talk to people about what we see as healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. Not that we want to impose that, but we think it’s important,” he said.

Thinkubator offers more than weight loss products. Lee takes a tailored, holistic approach to her customers’ health. “I like to go off of everyone’s body. So, if you are a person who needs to consume more protein, I will set up a meal plan for you to help you gain weight. For weight loss, she encourages wheat and grain oats and discourages white flour products that are highly processed. 

She carries a notebook filled with her recipes and ideas: Pineapple for refreshment. Ginger is good for the stomach. Beets are good for the blood. Lemon draws out toxins. Carrots  refresh the body. Mixed together in one of her smoothies or shakes the ingredients create a product with benefits greater than its parts, according to Lee. 

Thinkubator’s clientele is local and loyal. A couple regulars come in every week, and not just to exercise. “Some just unwind, some people come just to talk to me, you know, tell me the problems. And I’m always here to listen,” she said. A couple times during our talk, Lee would pick up a call from a customer. “Someone just called me because they needed something. It’s just genuinely like that,” she said. “My clients and customers are family. Everyone is happy that we are doing something positive in this area. I don’t care what shape or form a way that you are in. You’re welcome, and there are not a lot of places like that.”

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