Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

NutriHub opened in a new Merrillville strip mall on U.S. 30 about six months ago, and aims to expand near gyms across Northwest Indiana.

The juice and smoothie bar at 536 E. 81st Ave. in Merrillville sells health products — namely a three-step meal replacement that consists of an aloe drink, a 16-ounce tea and a 20-gram protein shake. The aloe is meant to aid the digestive system, while the tea burns calories and the protein builds muscle, partner Michael Golumbeck said. All together, it's only about 300 calories total with 9 to 10 grams of sugar.

"You can get fiber, protein and collagen," he said. "You also can add different things like caffeine, lemon and pomegranate in different milligrams." 

Golumbeck and partner Jared Tauber opened the juice bar in a new strip mall that includes Catch 22 Table + Tap and Planet Fitness. The latter is a major driver of health-conscious traffic. 

"We get people interested in generating fitness coming in at 7 a.m. before their workout or for a breakfast they'll bring back to the office," he said. "We also have 20 Andrean High School girls hanging out in the afternoon. It's very clean with leather chairs where they can lounge and do their homework. They sit here for hours and do their studying."

NutriHub serves up a milkshake-like drink that's healthy. The low-calorie, low-sugar beverages draw many people working out at the gym a few storefronts over.

"People want something other than going to McDonald's or Taco Bell," Golumbeck said. "On Lent on Fridays, we also get a lot of people looking to avoid meat and wanting an alternative to a fish sandwich. We talk to the coaches at Andrean and Merrillville High School about sending their kids here for shakes instead of 1,500 calories of garbage."

NutriHub is looking to expand to other locations by busy gyms across Northwest Indiana, Golumbeck said. The top priority is putting a new location, possibly a standalone building, by the Planet Fitness on Indianapolis Boulevard in Schererville.

"We're just going to keep going and open up more shops," he said.

The NutriHub on U.S. 30 in Merrillville is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, call 219-472-8488 or find the business on Facebook and Instagram.


You may have tried Ay Chihuahua's food at various farmers' markets and summer festivals across the Region.

The third-generation family-owned Ay Chihuahua has now established a permanent brick-and-mortar residence at 142 S. Broad St. in downtown Griffith. It fills a void of Mexican cuisine in downtown Griffith created when Asada recently moved from Broad Street to a former nightclub at 45th Street in Griffith.

Owners Alexis Coronado and her mother Sandra Coronado plan to still bring their food trailer to the Griffith Central Market in Central Park and the St. John Farmers Market.

"We've been at the farmers' market in Griffith since the beginning, since it was by the railroad, for a long time," Alexis Coronado said. 

Ay Chihuahua — Spanish for yikes, or an "expression of dismay, annoyance or rejection" — has served its food at a number of festivals, including in East Chicago, Hammond and Schererville.

Known for its pork tacos and elote, the restaurant serves a variety of Mexican foods, such as tacos, tostadas, tamales, burritos and Pico de Gallo. It's a largely a la carte menu in which one can order refried beans or rice as sides.

Coronado, who has a culinary degree from Ivy Tech and a hospitality degree from Purdue University Northwest, learned to cook old family recipes that have been passed on for generations. She runs regular specials like flautas.

The brightly decorated restaurant, which is filled with taco pinatas and decorations compared to the Pixar movie "Coco," caters mainly to carry-out patrons but can seat up to 30, including up to 10 in a private room for family parties. It took over the space previously occupied by Angel Hair Cafe, a favorite among vegans, hipsters and bike riders on the Erie Lackawanna Trail.

"We didn't realize how many people bike the trail," she said. "We've heard from people who used to walk to Asada that they're glad to walk to us. I just want to stay here as long as possible, until I get old. I love to cook. I just hope people enjoy the food and the atmosphere. I hope they have a good time and are comfortable. It's a little taste of Mexico in Griffith, so you don't have to go all the way to Mexico."

Ay Chihuahua is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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A new restaurant concept has replaced The Old Lowell Watering Hole and Bub's BBQ in the historic Lowell water plant that was decommissioned in the 1990s.

The Mason Jar opened this week in the recently renovated building at 241 N. Library St. that had been home to a short-lived microbrewery.

Owner Jo Ellen Jostes said the new restaurant offers "amazing home-cooked foods" prepared by the award-winning chef Liz Corns.

"It's a family-style sit-down restaurant with homestyle cooking and a bar with 16 brews, including craft beer," she said. "We've got a lot of farm-style and antique decorations, serve beverages in mason jars, and have a salad bar."

The Mason Jar, whose menu is "Home Cookin' and Good Thymes," serves down-home fare like smoked meats, barbecue, meatloaf, fried chicken, jambalaya, pork tenderloin sandwiches, country fried steak, shrimp and grits, bone-in pork chops, catfish and lake perch. It also serves build-your-own burgers and mac and cheese bowls. A sample item is the Big Piggy sandwich, which serves pulled pork, grilled ham and bacon smothered in mustard BBQ sauce on thick parmesan-crusted toast.

A top-seller is the BBQ Pork Totchos, a spin on nachos involving tater tots and pulled pork smoked in house.

"We smoke our meats daily, sometimes a few times a day," she said. "We've got country-style ribs, brisket chili, amazingly good foods that are unique to this area. There's nothing like us in Lowell or surrounding areas."

The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 219-225-5222.


Harbor Freight Tools will open a 15,000-square-foot store in Portage at 8 a.m. May 1.

The store at 5972 U.S. 6 will sell a selection of tools and accessories, including welding supplies, generators, shop equipment and power tools.

It will be the 24th location of the Southern California-based store.

“We’re excited to serve customers in the great city of Portage,” said Calvin Singh, Harbor Freight Tools project manager. “At Harbor Freight, we’re passionate about providing our customers with the tools they need to get the job done, and always at an affordable price. We look forward to welcoming auto technicians, contractors, woodworkers, homeowners, hobbyists — anyone who needs affordable tools.”

The privately owned company was started by 17-year-old Eric Smidt in 1977 and remains privately owned to this day. Over the last four decades, Harbor Freight Tools has grown to have more than 1,000 stores nationwide and more than 20,000 employees. It's one of the fastest growing companies in the country, opening two new stores a week and serving more than 40 million customers.

Harbor Freight Tools also is developing new lines of tools and plans to introduce more than 600 new products this year.

The Portage store will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Coming soon

Crew Car Wash plans to open a new location soon on Lincolnway in Valparaiso, just west of the exit off Ind. 49.

The Indianapolis-based chain recently opened its first Northwest Indiana location off U.S. 30 in Merrillville, a $4.5 million facility employing about 20 workers in front of the Meijer. The 71-year-old company, spun off from Mike's Car Wash, is known for its buy-four-get-one-free specials and unlimited car wash packages.

If you've got tips about new stores or restaurants anywhere in the Region, or just wonder what's under construction somewhere, contact NWI Business Ins and Outs columnist Joseph S. Pete at joseph.pete@nwi.com or 219.933.3316.