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Published on: July 15, 2022

Craig Shoup / Leaf Chronicle

Armi Rhodes, Paul Rhodes and Michelle Hargis
Armi Rhodes, husband Paul Rhodes and Michelle Hargis pose for a photo at the Madison Street location of Tropical Smoothie Cafe. The Rhodes family will open a second location in September along Wilma Rudolph Road with Hargis managing the store. Tony Centonze / For The Leaf-Chronicle

After a long military career, Paul Rhodes and his wife, Armi, were looking for their next adventure.

Armi Rhodes said she never thought it would be smoothies, but her husband was really interested in getting into franchising after years of sacrificing and saving.

“When I first joined the military, I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” Paul Rhodes said, adding that he settled on becoming an entrepreneur pretty early on in his service.

But, as he neared retirement, the former drill sergeant and recruiting company commander decided to research franchising, reading anything and everything about it for almost a decade.

He and his wife married at a young age. They were career-driven and met in basic training.

They knew they would be headed towards different bases, so they married to ensure they wouldn’t be separated.

Settling in Clarksville

Now, 31 years later, they are enjoying their time in Clarksville, where they decided to settle in 2011.

They opened their first Tropical Smoothie Cafe three years ago, joining a growing list of more than 1,000 locations nationwide.

The newest in the list, via the Rhodes, is being planned at the intersection of Wilma Rudolph and Center Pointe Drive. The new store could employ around 20 people when fully operational, providing jobs for high schoolers, military spouses, and anyone looking for work. It’s set to open in September.

There are smoothies galore, but the shop is more than that. Paul Rhodes mentioned the various wraps and quesadillas, coffee, and sweets for sale. Tropical Smoothie Cafe, he said, has a little bit of everything.

Military Veterans Paul and Armi Rhodes
Military veterans Paul and Armi Rhodes will open a second franchise location of a Tropical Smoothie Cafe Tony Centonze / For The Leaf-Chronicle

It was one of the things that first drew him to the business.

His military ties allowed him to first sample the cafe’s menu in Paducah, Ky.

“From there, we started looking into Tropical Smoothie Cafe in 2016,” he said.

In 2018, the couple obtained its franchise agreement with the Atlanta-based company and never looked back.

A family legacy

Growing up, Paul Rhodes said his mother worked as a waitress, and he worked in restaurants as he got older. It’s only fitting he and his wife lead a restaurant, he said.

Sophia Rosales
Sophia Rosales rings out a customer at the drive-thru at Tropical Smoothie Cafe, 1825 Madison St. Store owners Paul and Armi Rhodes are opening a second franchise location in September on WIlma Rudolph Road. Tony Centonze / For The Leaf-Chronicle

“The one good thing about franchising is they give you their experience to go off of,” Paul Rhodes said. “They give you a playbook to operate out of. So I have the ability to follow rules but also be innovative.”

It wasn’t easy for Armi Rhodes to get into the restaurant business, she said.

A retired military nurse, Amri Rhodes said she had to learn how to work at a restaurant, prepare food and understand the business side of operations.

She said there were many long days, some of which started at Mission BBQ, where she worked in the back learning to prepare food. When Tropical Smoothie Café opened, she would often get to work at 5 a.m. and not return home until after midnight as she and her husband learned on the job.

They couldn’t have done it without dedicated employees like Michelle Hargis, who will become the manager of the Wilma Rudolph location, they said.

Hargis has worked alongside the couple for about five months, she said.

“I’m really excited,” Hargis said of the chance to run the Wilma Rudolph location. “It’s totally different than working elsewhere.”

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