Every Wednesday is Noodles & Company: How I Accidentally Founded the “Lunch Bunch” Tradition at My Office

This week marked the third month of my return to the corporate world. After an unexpected gig as a stay-at-home dad for 6 months, my mind is now consumed for 8 hours a day by a constantly shifting workload of HR, marketing, and admin; as my English degree somewhat randomly translated into a lifelong career as a professional recruiter; in addition to running this blog, managing two YouTube channels, and handling SEO for companies on the side.

Never in my life has anything I’ve ever done required such a high percentage of brain functioning as my new current job at a Fortune 500 company; as I hide away all day in a fancy 6 story building outside of Nashville. It’s not stressful, but it’s undeniably challenging.

For most of my 11 years as a recruiter at my previous employer, I was known for just bringing my lunch everyday. And I definitely never went out to lunch with any of my co-workers.

But about a month ago at my new job, I decided to reward myself for surviving the first two months of training. I walked half a mile around the corner to the Noodles and Company; knowing without a doubt they would quickly and easily be able to accommodate my needs as a manly vegan.

The meal was everything wondrous I imagined it would be.

So after I walked the half a mile back to my office, I casually mentioned to Lori, who works in the cubicle next to me, what I did on my lunch break.

She immediately responded, “When are you going again? Let me know- I want to go next time!”

For the next two Wednesdays, she and I both went. Then word spread. Today made the 4th week of our tradition, and now were up to about a half a dozen people.

We’re all Noodles Rewards members; meaning we earn special discounts and freebies each time we stop there for lunch.

It feels good to be a part of the group- and to know we’re going somewhere I actually want to be each week and that I never get tired of.

My favorites are the Spicy Korean noodles with tofu and the Thai Green Curry.

Noodles & Company is naturally an extension of my identity. Not only do they openly cater to vegans like myself, but they also have so many menu options for everyone else in my lunch bunch; including one co-worker who orders theirs gluten-free; which is very easy to do with there not only being rice noodles but also Zoodles, made from zucchini.

I also appreciate that I can get meals that come so spicy they fog up my glasses. I like how we can see the staff making our food the moment we order it and then how our food is brought to our table just a few minutes later.

And not only is the price in my budget, but as a token Millennial, I avoid going to restaurants where I have to tip. Noodles and Company is a fast-casual style restaurant; meaning that there is not full table service offered.

By now, it may be easy to assume that Noodles and Company is sponsoring this post. But no, they’re not.

In fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned there here on my blog, simply because I am passionate about their brand. Back in January 2017, I featured them in a story about my son and I going to see Rogue One and stopping at Noodles and Company for dinner. (See picture above.)

I am simply writing about something I very much like. I am a huge fan of Noodles and Company.

And therefore, the Lunch Bunch is sure to arrive every Wednesday.

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Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California (Featuring the 2018 Mazda3), by Manly Vegan, Nick Shell

I didn’t choose the vegan life: The vegan life chose me.

Yes. I’m saying it: If I didn’t have to be a vegan, I wouldn’t be. Right about now, I would totally be downloading some greasy fried fish, dipping it in gobs of tartar sauce, and then washing it down with a Super Big Gulp size cup of sweet tea.

Amazingly, that is my fantasy non-vegan meal choice; not a big steak or a juicy burger with bacon and cheese.

If I ever returned to eating meat, eggs, and dairy, my thorns in the flesh would return as well: dyshidrotic eczema, constant sinusitis, and extreme allergies to animals.

But for over 5 years now, I’ve completely been cured of my ailments. For me, being a vegan is a choice of the head, not of the heart.

Either way, being a vegan has been part of my identity for over half a decade. Not to mention, I’ve also been a vegetarian for 6 and a half years and kosher (no pork or shellfish) for 9 and a half years.

My wife has been a vegetarian as long as I have, and both our our children have been their entire lives.

So naturally, road trips have to be a little bit more planned out for us; since we can’t just stop at the first exit we see. This month we took a road trip across northern California as we made our way to Lake Tahoe. Since I didn’t know about meal prep delivery at the time, my wife found a place called Squeeze In, which is located in the center of a nearby town called Truckee.

If your family is also plant-based like mine, then research no further. Squeeze In is where you’ll be dining next time you go to Tahoe.

I was so pleased with my veggie burger and elaborate salad. It’s such a cool environment, too.

And I really appreciated the bucket of toys the waitress brought to the table, to help occupy my tired and hungry kids as we waited for our food.

After our beautiful drive in the 2018 Mazda3 through the scenic mountains of northern California, the Squeeze In was quite the oasis for us.

I’m convinced that even if you aren’t forced to be a vegan like I am, you will still have a wonder meal and a great time at Squeeze In.

Thanks for checking our my blog; for I am the manly vegan. And you never know, maybe next time, I’ll be coming to your town.

Have you read all 3 of my blog posts featuring my family’s road trip to Lake Tahoe in the 2018 Mazda 3? Here’s a table of contents just to be sure. Click on the title of the blog post you would like to see:

Lake Tahoe Family Road Trip for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Cabin Life in Truckee, California for Our 10th Wedding Anniversary 
Plant-Based Millennial Family Checks Out Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Called “Squeeze In” in Truckee, California

As the World’s Manliest Vegan, I Proudly Endorse All-Natural, Essential Oil Based Products from Jack Black (Courtesy of Boardroom Salon for Men in Nashville on West End); Also Featuring from Prep U

As an accidentally popular Nashville-based daddy blogger and YouTuber who happens to be The World’s Manliest Vegan, or at least The Manliest Vegan on the Internet, I’m not “get a free family vacation to Disney World” famous.

But I am “get a free trip for myself to Florida to see the Grapefruit League Baseball Series” famous.

I’m also “famous enough to get a free car with a full tank of gas for a week” anytime my family goes on a road trip or takes a vacation.

And to my delight, I’m also at the point now where on any given day, my wife may announce to me, “Nick, some company set you a package in the mail…”

This week, I got a care package courtesy of the newly opened Boardroom Salon for Men in Nashville on West End, including all natural, vegan-friendly products from Jack Black that they sell at their location:

Jack Black Charcoal Body Bar Messaging Soap

You may remember how about a month ago, I did a special video there when they gave me my first ever clean head shave.

Well now, a month later, they’re still keeping me in the loop. Apparently, they learned how passionate I am about all-natural products; ones that are based from essential oils, not weird chemicals.

Coincidentally, I also happen to receive a care package from Prep U:

Prep U Body Wash

Prep U Active Dry Powder

Prep U Body Spray

Prep U Natural Deodorant

The Prep U product line is specifically made for pre-teen boys; though I must say, their deodorant is my new favorite, of any brand! It works so well.

In case you didn’t know, about a decade ago, I stopped using personal products that contain shady ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate. I also stopped using deodorant that contains aluminum.

I am a dyshidrotic eczema survivor. In order to be healed of my disease, I had ultimately become a vegan (5 years now) and only use all natural products.

So as you can imagine, the products sent to me this week by Boardroom Salon for Men in Nashville on West End are obviously an extension of my identity and completely inline with my own brand image.

In addition to being all natural, they also smell very clean, in a classy, subtle, masculine way. In other words, not like Axe body spray.

For me, this is like Christmas in June. I’m the 37 year-old dad and husband. I don’t get nice stuff for myself. My money goes to my family- and my attempt to pay off the mortgage early.

Getting these care packages this week made me very grateful and very happy, as you can see in the picture below.

Thank you Boardroom Salon for Men in Nashville on West End. I am honored to serve as spokesman for natural products for men!

3 Awesome Kid-Friendly Vegan Restaurants in New York 

By guest blogger Eathen Smith, as part of the sponsored Hotel Planner campaign.

The environmental, health, and social benefits of vegan food have never been more obvious to a new generation of health-conscious parents and restaurateurs. Both are on different sides of the restaurant counter but are equally determined in their efforts to promote healthy food choices for children.

Vegan menus for kids are still difficult to find, but there are numerous kid-friendly vegan restaurants in New York City. The number of hotels and transportation near some of the restaurants makes the city perfect for time restricted parents. Here are a few vegan-friendly restaurants found throughout the city;

Experience Convenience and Vegan Delights in Queens

Vegan-friendly, homemade, fresh, delicious, convenient, and attentive staff are all words that have been used to describe Bruno’s Restaurant. It is located near Howard’s Beach in Queens and is close to JFK Airport.

Large portions of food are the norm at Bruno’s Restaurant. The vegan-friendly menu includes fresh salads, pizza, pasta, and Italian desserts. Friendly staff also go above and beyond to provide a wonderfully warm and inviting atmosphere. There are plenty of transport options nearby, and taxis are recommended for late evenings.

Looking to stay nearby? Hotels are conveniently located all over Queens and can be reached within minutes.

Convenient Mexican Vegan on the Lower East Side  

JaJaJa Plantas Mexicana is a walk-in restaurant located on the Lower East Side of New York. The vegan menu rates highly among locals and visitors. There is a park across the road for distracting the kids while the family waits to be seated. The wait is worth it when the menu arrives. It is made up of unique Mexican food such as vegan chorizo, black bean burgers, and cauliflower rice. JaJaJa is located above a train station and car parking is plentiful making it perfect for a quick exit. The modern decor of JaJaJa is complemented by fun music, convenience, and an excellent location.

Upper East Side Vegan Experience  

Le Botaniste is for families with slightly higher budgets but provides delicious vegan food on the Upper East Side of New York. The restaurant offers a fast and convenient restaurant experience. There are lots of vegan food options at this restaurant, and a family with children can be in and out of Le Botaniste in minutes. The Tibetan Rice Bowl is a favorite choice for vegans. It contains coconut curry, brown rice, and veggies. Bowls of green vegetables, quinoa cookies, and assorted bowls of food are just a few of the other menu items.

Exceptional and tasty vegan food in New York City will continue to convert carnivores. The choices for kid-friendly vegan food is phenomenal, and there is something for every budget. The convenient restaurant locations near hotels and public transport make for an easy meal and decreased waiting times. Creative vegan delights from some of New York’s best have the potential to change a new generation of eaters and bring joy to conscious parents.

Image via Flickr by WoodleyWonderworks

A “Work Date”with My Wife at ENAR 2018 in Atlanta (Featuring the 2018 Mazda CX-5)

Last week during Spring Break, our family opted not to go somewhere slightly exotic, like Destin, Florida; as usual. Instead, I dropped my wife off at the Nashville International Airport for her flight to Atlanta, then I drove our kids to my parents’ house, in Fort Payne, Alabama; where I grew up.

My wife went to work immediately, as she was there to help represent Vanderbilt University’s Biostatistics Graduate Program in at the ENAR 2018 Spring Meeting. (In case you happen to be out of the loop, ENAR stands for Eastern North American Region of International Biometric Society.)

I spent the first day of Spring Break at Ruby Falls with our son (more on that in the near future, so stay tuned…). But the very next morning, I left early for Atlanta; in the 2018 Mazda CX-5.

This SUV was the perfect size for my 3 hour scenic drive down Lookout Mountain into the Rome, Georgia; and eventually Atlanta. I appreciated not only the great gas mileage it got (25 city, 31 highway), but also how well it handled all those sneaky curves on my route.

As a stay-at-home dad who works from home as a Social Media Specialist and Influencer, I haven’t commuted to an office since last October. So I do admit, it was nice being able go back and forth between The Beatles and Tom Petty for a few hours. There’s a part of me that misses that 2 hour round trip everyday to work, where I could sort of just think about my life as I listened to good music.

Thanks to the trusty GPS, I had arrived at lunch time at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. My wife met me right away at front doors, where I introduced her to our new ride for the week, and from there we drove just about 5 miles away to our favorite vegan restaurant in Atlanta: Cafe Sunflower in Buckhead.

Our lunch every bit as magnificent as we expected; so much so, that we went back again the next day for lunch! Though my wife is an amazing plant-based chef, I love being able to take her somewhere nice where she not only doesn’t have to cook, but a place that is also as committed to our lifestyle as we are. (My wife has been a vegetarian and I have been a vegan, for well over 5 years now.)

Afterwards, we headed back to ENAR 2018, where I took photographs of Vanderbilt’s booth; as I will be writing an article for Vanderbilt’s website to promote their presence at the event. I was proud to see my video series on display on the monitor, as one of my many roles working as a freelance Social Media Specialist is to create promotional videos for companies.

Over the course the past few weeks, I had interviewed several current students and professors from Vanderbilt’s Biostastics Graduate Program, then made a series of short promo videos. Not only were these playing on a loop during the whole event, but I will eventually upload them to a YouTube channel that I will be creating and managing for the department.

I also also very proud to see my wife there in her role, as well; serving as a beautiful model and spokesperson for prospective students. More importantly though, she had helped coordinate the booth for the department, including all the logistics in getting it there, along with other Vanderbilt employees.

After a hard day’s work, we took advantage of a special attraction there at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta: They have a restaurant called Polaris, on top of the hotel. You have to take a special, exclusive, elevator there. And the over the course of an hour, the entire restaurant spins; so you get to see a 360 degree view of Atlanta. We will definitely go there again!

The next day after ENAR came to an end, we headed back to Cafe Sunflower for lunch again, then took a different route back to my parents’ house in Alabama. Our adventures were far from over, as we would be taking a family trip to Rock City the next morning.

I was very grateful to be able to have a “work date” with my wife. Sometimes, or maybe I should say usually, it requires some creativity in being able to plan fun dates when both parents work and have young children.

Perhaps at some point, our lives will be a little less crazy. As for now, we are truly making the most of what we have!

To check out the entire trilogy of blog posts about the cool trips my family took in the 2018 Mazda CX-5, just click the related link below:

A “Work Date”with My Wife at ENAR 2018 in Atlanta (Featuring the 2018 Mazda CX-5)

My Family’s Road Trip to Rock City in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

My Road Trip with My Son to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga in the 2018 Mazda CX-5 (Featuring the Original New Theme Song I Wrote)

Dear Jack: You Took Care of Your Sister While I Was Sick This Week

7 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

I don’t get sick… especially ever since I became a vegan over 5 years ago, when even most of my allergy and sinus problems went away. However, this week has been the exception to the rule.

Exactly a week ago, right as the dogwood trees turned from white to pink, it was like I was overtaken by the flu. (I can’t be sure what it’s like to have the flu, since I’ve never had the flu before; nor have I ever had a flu shot.)

My body began aching all over. My throat swelled up. My appetite went away.

And when Mommy checked my temperature, it was 103!

Last Friday, especially, was just a blur to me. I remember Mommy had to stay home because I pretty much just stayed in bed all day and slept. I really couldn’t do anything else anyway; I couldn’t even stand up straight or walk, without falling over.

For the past week, I have been living off of allergy pills and smoothies. Each day, I have felt a little better. Finally, today, I feel mostly back to normal.

Yeah, apparently it was just a really bad reaction to the pollen. I wasn’t actually sick; in terms of needing to go to a doctor. I didn’t have the flu. At least I don’t think so.

I can easily imagine how much worse things would have been for me if I was still eating dairy. I would have ended up with a sinus infection. Instead, my sinuses were completely clear. I am a vegan out of necessity- and it’s times like these I am violently reminded of that.

During all of this, you have been a major help to me. You could see I wasn’t myself.

So you took it upon yourself to help your sister. You filled in for me.

You helped get her snacks. You helped entertain her by getting her craft supplies. You even helped her rest after she got tired of playing.

It’s been a rough week, but you made it a little better for me. Thank you!

Love,

Daddy

My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip: From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)

While I obviously loved the entire Toyota Grand Slam Road Trip across Florida last week, I have to say that my final day of the tour stood out as my favorite.

For me, there was much intrigue surrounding the 2018 Toyota C-HR; a new vehicle which I had yet to see in person until last week at the event.

On the first day when we were presented with the vehicles, I was immediately drawn to the aqua (radiant green) colored SUV with the white top. As I began walking around it, taking pictures, I realized this was Toyota’s new SUV.

The C-HR, which stands for “compact high rider” (but is also understandably identified as a “cross hatch run”), ultimately became known to me as the “High Roller”. At least, that’s the name several of us automotive writers referred to it as.

As I am regularly loaned vehicles here on my blog throughout the year, I especially look forward to being able to travel in the C-HR with my family. I can already imagine how cool my 7 year-old son will think it is.

Day 3 started off great with the “choose your Toyota and your driving partner for the day” part, where I was instantly invited by Chris Chin to team up with him in the maroon (ruby flare) C-HR. Toyota had provided two C-HRs to help ensure each of us writers had a chance to spend at least half of the day driving one.

Something I learned about myself during the Toyota Grand Slam event was just what a niche my blog is: I am a daddy blogger who happens to write about cars a lot, as my family takes a lot of road trips. Therefore, when I feature new vehicles on my blog, I focus a lot on how much backseat space there is with two child car seats; and also, how much 3rd row seat space there is if an adult sits back there.

In other words, I write about being a parent first and foremost, and therefore, about cars on the side. In contrast, my driving partner Chris Chin (along all the other guys on the trip) are true automotive writers. That’s their main focus.

So as we were driving across the more uninhabited parts of Florida, and we made our way from Cape Coral to Port St. Lucie to see the Yankees play the Mets, he was talking about all kinds of technical stuff that I could barely follow him on; meanwhile, I was just thinking:

“This sure is fun. I like being in the C-HR. I can’t wait for my family to ride in it with me. I wonder where we’ll drive in it? Maybe North Carolina like when we drove the Sienna last fall? Or to Kentucky when we drove the 4Runner last spring?”

My thoughts were interrupted when Chris and I couldn’t help but notice that we were driving down a road surrounded by orange groves on both sides of it. With both of us being focusing heavily on photography in our writing, we decided it would be a sin not to pull over the C-HR for a perfect photo op.

We weren’t breaking any rules. This was a public road with no “private property” or “no trespassing” signs anywhere; no fences or gates.

And we were right: It made for some really cool pictures of the C-HR, in the midst of the orange grove. I particularly focused on some shots of the wheels in the sandy dirt. I felt those pictures really helped match the fun character of the C-HR.

But then, after Chris and I had captured all the shots we needed, we loaded back in the C-HR to continue on our way back on the route. He started the ignition and pushed the gas pedal, but all we heard or felt were the tires spinning.

It took me back to my childhood in the 1980s, when cartoons and movies were constantly warning and preparing me for the inevitable danger of quicksand as an adult.

Chris continued revving the engine and attempting to maneuver us out of the sand and back on the dirt road. It helped that he is truly a professional driver who tests out cars’ power for a living.

Just as I was thinking how I probably needed to get out of the vehicle and help push, the tires made their way onto the dirt road again; as there was barely a distinction between the sand on the dirt in the first place.

It wasn’t much longer until we made our way to Lake Placid, where we stopped for lunch at the Good News Juice and Smoothie Cafe; which conveniently for me on the week of my 5th anniversary of being a vegan, happened to be a vegan-friendly cafe.

Once we arrived in Port St. Lucie, I was definitely in the mood to watch a baseball game. The fact that it happened to be the Yankees playing the Mets made things that much more exciting. It was nothing short of hilarious to hear the zany banter between opposing fans during the entire game.

Plus, it was nice that we had such good seats, right behind the action, and out of the sun. By this 3rd game, I had realized how much I truly enjoy watching baseball. It’s a different mode of thinking; so much different than basketball or football or hockey.

It had been a wonderful action-packed week, but it was time for everything to come to a close. That night all of us guys had a classy Mediterranean feast at Temple Orange, the restaurant there at the Eau Palm Beach Resort in Manalapan where we were staying the final night.

Our server couldn’t help but notice our Toyota name tags, and so he decided to incorporate the Toyota logo into our dessert play. That was so cool.

After a perfect day though, I knew I needed to head back to my room, since I had to leave the hotel at 5:00 AM to catch my flight.

My hotel room was amazing. My balcony faced the ocean. I would love to go back there some day with my wife.

As if I needed to point out the obvious, it was honor to be asked to join the Toyota Grand Slam road trip. Selfishly, it makes me feel good to know that my blog’s SEO is healthy enough to qualify as a social media influencer, to this degree.

I had so much fun. I met great people. And I got to experience an exciting week of adventure and entertainment.

So yeah, my calendar is already marked for next year!

To read all 3 parts of My 2018 MLB Spring Training Grapefruit League Toyota Florida Road Trip series, just click on the link below for the ones you haven’t read yet:

An Awesome Dad Vacation (Part 1 of 3)
From Orlando to Fort Myers in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 2 of 3)
From Cape Coral to Manalapan in the 2018 Toyota Camry (Part 3 of 3)