Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Former teacher puts her energy into new food venture

Melissa Rakvica is making a name for herself with her Fit-n-Fresh Energy Bars. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Melissa Rakvica remembers living in Calais, France between the time she was 2 and 7 years old, and eating olives, beets, capers and other foods that would have been foreign to lots of kids in the U.S. back in the 1970s.

Rakvica, 43, a former Amherst elementary and middle school teacher who lives in East Amherst, thinks the experience of her younger years was key to this stage of her life. She owns a mostly organic food catering business, Fit-n-Fresh, which is making a name for itself in the local food community.

“If you can get a kid eating really healthy, in a broad range of foods by the age of 5,” she said, “then you’re kind of set for life.”

It’s too early to tell whether the Fit-n-Fresh Energy Bar, which she first baked in her kitchen almost four years ago, might take off on a large scale someday, but she’s seen plenty of growth since she started selling the bar, along with wraps and salads, to salon workers in the Transit Road/Main Street area. She’s branched into holiday cooking, cooking demos and other catering jobs. For more info, visit

Rakvica, subject of today’s What are you eating? feature in WNY Refresh, is a long-distance runner who likes to run half-marathons. She came up with the bar recipe for practical reasons.

“Running is hard, at least for me,” she said, “so I wanted to make sure I was putting good fuel back in my body.

“I was eating a lot of the commercial energy bars and one time I took out a box of the energy bars and said to myself, ‘Why am I doing this to my body? They’re high in sugar, they’re high in salt. I can do better.’

“So I went to my kitchen and researched good nutrition for your body after a run, like organic oats to help with muscle regrowth, almonds for protein and dried fruits for good carbs, and the unsweetened coconut for metabolism and also chocolate, because I’m a girl and I have a sweet tooth; but it’s dark chocolate and it does have antioxidants.”

Rakvica mixed her ingredients together and baked her bars at a low temperature. They quickly became hits in the Amherst and Clarence salon trade, and among her friends and fellow runners.

As the operation took off, a local church allowed her to use its commercial kitchen to cook the bars – and the owner of the Clarence Center Coffee shop discovered the bars during a hair appointment, and has offered it for sale since.

Farmers & Artisans, Omega Deli and Squeeze Juicery in Amherst also offer the bars, and, as of last week, so does Orchard Fresh. They’re in the trail mix aisle in the Orchard Park store and sell for $3.99.

It takes about 90 minutes to cook 20 bars.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a low-calorie food, but I would say that it has a lot of fiber and it’s better than something old, and processed,” she said.

Rakvica has parlayed the bars and healthy lunch business into catering jobs and some work as a personal chef, and she credits the success of her business to her growing client list and strong support of her husband, Steven, and their children, Nate, 9, “my budding taste tester,” and Emma, 12, “my budding chef.”

“Food to me, first and foremost should taste good,” she said, “and it should be healthy.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Architect who took chance on Buffalo sees his adopted city gleam

Karl Frizlen, developer at Horsefeathers Market & Residences, is bullish on Buffalo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Architect Karl Frizlen was born, raised and educated in Stuttgart, Germany but has made his home in Buffalo since he married his wife, Judith, a Kenmore native, in 1991.

“I like Buffalo. It reminds me of a lot of European cities. It has this kind-of hometown feel,” he told me earlier this month during an interview at Horsefeathers Market & Residences for today’s In the field feature in WNY Refresh. “It’s family-oriented. We raised two children (Dasha and Jason) about six blocks from here, on Ashland in the Elmwood Village.

The $3.8 million Horsefeathers’ project – a mix of residential apartments and a European-style marketplace – is Frizlen’s most ambitious project in his adopted city. He’s focused on the renovation of the former West Side antiques showroom and warehouse during the last couple of years, after two decades helping to change the look of his Elmwood neighborhood. That includes his volunteer work helping to coordinate the Elmwood-Bidwell farmers’ market, which will close out the season in a couple of weeks, as the Winter Market at Horsefeathers serves a similar purpose during the colder months.

After asking about the indoor winter market for Refresh, I also asked Frizlen about how Buffalo can fulfill its hopes for the future as in continues to remake its neighborhoods, downtown and waterfront. Here’s some of what he said:

“I feel very strongly that to revive a city, you have to have density. You cannot take buildings down and replace them with parking lots. That’s what we have done for the last 50 years in the city and it got us where we’re at.

“The only way to bring life into the city is having people live in the city. You can bring as many attractions as you want to and as many silver bullet projects as you want to. It’s not going to revive the city. It’s only going to revive if you have people living there. In every great city in the world, you can see that. Look at Toronto and New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis.

“Fortunately now, we’re at the very beginning. We’ve realized we cannot take this very valuable building substance down anymore. You cannot take them down. We’ve got to rebuild them.”

There are a few thousand people living downtown, Frizlen said, and he sees the prospect for thousands more moving into the city, including the West Side, in projects like Horsefeathers. The 24 units on the upper four floors of the redevelopment were gobbled up over the summer within three months, fetching $840 to $1,350 a month, including cable, rental rates much steeper than generally seen on the West Side. The tenants are a mix of medical residents from UB Medical School, young professionals and others who have moved into the city from the suburbs to be closer to their workplaces.

How did it come together?

“It was an architectural artifacts store,” Frizlen said. “It had a warehouse and salvage materials. I bought the building in the spring of last year but signed an agreement to purchase the building three years earlier. It had all to do with financing. The tax credit issue was the easiest. The historic state tax credits brought institutional investors into the project and that made it possible.

“Dealing with banks these days is like pulling teeth, and you make it more difficult because you are not in the Elmwood Village, you’re on the West Side with no proven record. You can’t find the rental comparables – $1,350 is unheard of in this neighborhood, so the appraisals don’t show what I saw was possible.

“That continues. Even now after the project is completed, they still can’t believe it. Sometimes, you shake your head. You have to convince someone that these projects are viable like projects on Delaware or Elmwood or in Amherst.

“You’re not making a killing with these projects, but it’s financially sound.”

Frizlen credits community support with helping to bring off the Horsefeathers’ project, including encouragement from PUSH Buffalo and Robin Johnson, of Vilardo Printing, a nearby businesswoman known in the neighborhood as “the mayor of Connecticut Street.”

He now sees the same promise in this section of the city as he did in the Elmwood Village a quarter century ago.

“In order for the city of Buffalo to come back, we have to rely on communities,” Frizlen said. “I’ve seen that through the Elmwood Village Association. When there was strength in that organization, supported by thousands of residents, that really brought the village back. When I moved in there 25 years ago and they were at the corner of Ashland and Summer, there were prostitutes, drug dealing going on. That has substantially diminished. People take care of their properties, call the cops. There are more owner-occupied properties.”

He said of the young people buying homes on the West Side: “They’re going to change these neighborhoods, make them livable and walkable.”

Frizlen sees the same promise in wide swaths of his adopted city.

 “I’m very positive right now. I think we’re on the right track.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Power Authority pitches family holiday events

The New York Power Authority will hold its annual admission-free holiday events featuring the Festival of Trees from Sunday to Jan. 4, and its annual Deck the Halls event, featuring photos with Santa, on Dec. 7 at Power Vista, 5777 Lewiston Road, Lewiston.

The Festival of Trees features Christmas trees adorned with energy-efficient lights and decorated by local nonprofit groups along the Power Vista’s glass walkway. It is an official stop along the Holiday Lights of Niagara Tour.

Deck the Halls runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7, and includes photos with Santa from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., refreshments sold by Boy Scout Troop 855 of Lewiston, crafts with State Parks, and performances by the Harmonicoots of Western New York and the Niagara Experience Players. The event also will feature exhibits on energy-efficient lighting and tips on celebrating a green holiday.

State Parks also will provide free rides on its Niagara Scenic Trolley between the Gorge Discovery Center and Power Vista during the event.

For more information, call 286-6661 or email

Falls Memorial names new osteopathic residency director

Dr. Jeffrey O. Burnett has accepted a permanent appointment as director of the Osteopathic Family Practice Residency Program at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

Burnett, a family physician, joined the residency program’s faculty in July 2012 and has served as director-elect since March.

“Dr. Burnett has impressed us with his knowledge and ability to train family practice physicians,” Memorial Vice President for Service Line Operations Sanjay Chadha said in a news release. “We are excited to have him as our permanent residency program director.”

Burnett is a graduate of Canisius College and the University of New England School of Osteopathic Medicine. He is a clinical assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, where he was honored as the 2011 Family Medicine Preceptor of the Year. He has been in private practice since 2003 and has served on the medical staff at Lifetime Urgent Care since 2004.

Words of holiday nutrition wisdom: eat slowly

Want to make better eating decisions this holiday season? Slow down, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

“As you are eating, it takes about 20 minutes for you to feel full, so the slower you eat, the fuller you will get over time,” said Dr. John Foreyt, professor of medicine at BCM and director of the school’s Behavioral Medicine Research Center.

Foreyt says that if you want to eat less at meal time, start with something light, like a salad, and eat slowly. 

“If you eat too fast, you’re putting more calories in before your stomach can tell you that you’re full,” he said.

Foreyt also said many people mistake thirst for hunger so that the body thinks it needs food when it really needs water. He recommends that the way to determine whether the feeling is hunger or thirst is to drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes before eating anything. If the feeling is hunger, it won’t go away; if it’s thirst you’ll feel satisfied.

- News wire services

When gathering for Thanksgiving, look back on the love of those at your side

"The idea that you still have work to do is really important. It doesn’t have to be paid work," Davina Porock says. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

If only America could be more like Sardinia when it comes to the way it treats the elderly.

That’s the thinking of Davina Porock, a British-born researcher who works at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing and focuses on elder care.

Americans tend to treat senior citizens as frail, encouraging them to rest, but “some of the most successfully aging people in the world don’t stop working,” Porock told me during an interview for last weekend’s In the field story.

In Sardinia, she said, the elderly “still keep working. They’re still in the garden, they’re out with the goats, they’re doing work in the house. Even the oldest old person in that family still has a job to do, even if it’s to hold the baby while everybody else does more active things. They have jobs to do even if they take longer to do the jobs.

“So the idea that you still have work to do is really important. It doesn’t have to be paid work. You take that away from people when they go into long-term care” in the U.S. “There’s this hospital attitude of, ‘Well, you’re being cared for, therefore I have to do everything for you, therefore you just sit there. I think that’s dangerous, it’s unhealthy and it’s just soul-destroying.”

Stinging words, but food for thought this Thanksgiving Day – as is this idea that Porock recommends for grandchildren, nieces and nephews visiting elderly family members this holiday weekend:

Ask grandma, grandpa and the aunts and uncles to pull out those dusty family photo albums. Then, young folks, pay attention.

Close attention.

And be curious.

Among the questions to ask:

“What is this?”

“Where is this?”

“When was this?”

“Who is this and how did they fit into your life and mine?”

“What are you doing in this photo?”

“What happened after this?”

The kids, and younger adults, also should take notes.

This is the kind of example that helps Porock explain patient-centered care as it relates to elderly people that have slowed down, but still have something to offer.

She also shared another one that helps explain the difference between traditional and person-centered long-term care:

“In traditional care,” she said, “a nice group of people will go in and sing for the old people, and those in a nursing home enjoy it to a point, but eventually you’ll see them just drifting off.

“If you go into a long-term care facility and have them join in with the music, and make them part of the process, then you will get mood improvement and engagement, and they all will have enjoyed the afternoon.

“There’s also a difference in having a baby coming in and giving them the baby.

“And dogs in particular are just brilliant for that interaction. It’s the unconditional love thing.”

Today seems a fitting time to count the blessings of years spent with loved ones who are still by our side, including those who helped make our holidays bright from the very beginning of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

When it comes to fitness: Why Wait Until Monday?

Bryon Sperduti knows how to lose weight, and will start a new effort in the new year to help others do the same.

Sperduti, featured in today’s “What are you eating?” segment in WNY Refresh, was overweight as a teen. He has reshaped his body during the last decade through fitness and nutrition.

"I don’t diet, I eat healthy," says Sperduti, 34, who owns Genesis Personal Training, inside Fitness Factory in West Seneca. He and his wife, Valerie, also make sure proper eating applies to their son, Reid, 2.

In January, Sperduti and health education professional Barb Olivieri will implement a program called Why Wait Until Monday? It will help people make both physical and mental changes so they can lose weight and sustain weight loss.

"It’s changing the behaviors when it comes to everyday living," Sperduti said.

“Topics,” he said, “include dimensions of health, removing and eliminating barriers to change, bashing excuses, working through change and moving forward.”

The program also will encourage participants to journal about what they eat and how they exercise, and include bimonthly meetings where folks will "come up with a game plan outside of the gym,” he said.

The 12-week program will run from 6 to 7 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of the month, starting Jan. 7 at Fitness Factory, 1012 Union Road, West Seneca. The cost is $99. For more information, call 440-4331or go to

Growing up “a little heavy” was tough, Sperduti said. He didn’t know much about nutrition as a teen. He played sports, but the weight didn’t come off until he started using the principles of Why Wait Until Monday?, reading food labels, planning meals in advance and learning about macronutrients.

"Once you learn those principles,” he said, “you’re able to incorporate it with your family, which is huge, because they don’t have to make the same mistakes that I did."

- Scott Scanlon


Twitter: @BNrefresh

WNY meditation guide releases debut CD

Dr. James Pilc, a former OB/GYN who closed his practice last year to become a meditation guide, has released his first CD, “Guided Meditation: A Path to Peace.”

Read  a blog and story about Pilc, recently posted on, here.

The CD shares the philosophies of Buddhist meditation, contemplative prayer and deep relaxation.

The 74-minute spoken word CD includes an introduction to meditation, relaxation exercises and both an extended and a time-saving 12-minute guided meditation. The original music was created in Western New York.

The CD was recorded, mixed and mastered by Michael Rorick at Rock Central Music and includes binaural tones which were added to enhance relaxation, creativity and the meditative experience.

“Through meditation, we all move through silence, through stillness and create our center of peace,” Pilc said in a news release announcing the CD's debut. “Everyone can meditate. My goal is to help everyone find this space of peace.”

There will be a series of CD release events across WNY this holiday season, including at 7 p.m. today at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora and Dec. 6 at New World Gifts in Williamsville.

The CDs are available at Serendipity Salon and New World Gifts in Williamsville, Vidler's in East Aurora and online at

- Scott Scanlon

UB addictions institute revamps its website

The University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions has launched its new website at

RIA scientists conduct research in a wide range of health-related issues, including alcoholism, illicit and prescription drug abuse, gambling addictions, smoking, child development, domestic violence, risky health behaviors, addiction treatment methods, the neuroscience of addiction and trends in drug use.

I recently conducted an interview with Kenneth Leonard, institute director. Click here to read the Refresh "In the field" story and here to read a related Refresh Buffalo blog.

Institute scientists often seek help from the public for related studies, many of which pay those willing to help with the research.

For more information, visit the website.

- Scott Scanlon

Turkey Trot organizers seek race day volunteers

The Turkey Trot officially sold out last week as it reached its maximum allotment of runners, but the the YMCA Buffalo Niagara still seeks volunteers, particularly on Nov. 28, the day of the race.

Specifically, volunteers are needed Thanksgiving morning to help control traffic at intersections to ensure the safety of participants, in the chute area to help keep the crowd moving, and at the buses to help with the orderly loading and unloading of participants.

For more information or to volunteer, click here.

"It is thanks to over 400 volunteers that we are able to host this event for over 14,000 Western New Yorkers each year without fail," Y officials said in a news release. "Your help is greatly appreciated.

« Older Entries

About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |