Outlook 2021: Owner of Niskayuna pizza shop adds immune-boosting products to repertoire

Christine Hansen with Elderberry syrup she has for sale at Pizza Buono in Niskayuna
Christine Hansen with Elderberry syrup she has for sale at Pizza Buono in Niskayuna

Christine Hansen can’t remember a time when she wasn’t fascinated by nutrition. As a girl growing up on Lake Champlain near the Canadian border, she participated in 4-H and loved to grow vegetables in the family garden to enter in the state fair.

These days her desire to grow things remains, but now she is focused on how plants — vegetables, fruits and herbs — contribute to wellness. “I have been interested in what it is that helps us to prevent [illness] and heal ourselves from a natural standpoint,” Hansen said.

Hansen first went to college for environmental science. Then she switched to the State University of New York at Cobleskill to study plant science. In 2011, she earned her bachelor’s in nutrition science from Russell Sage, all while operating her business, Pizza Buono in Niskayuna, and raising three children.

After she earned her degree, Hansen added a fresh juice and smoothie bar to Pizza Buono’s offerings. Customers can order special health-boosting juice blends such as an “Immune Builder” with parsley, garlic, carrots and celery; a “Calcium-rich Cocktail” with kale, parsley, carrots and apple; a “Folic Acid Special” with kale, parsley, spinach and carrots; and a “Potassium Broth” with parsley, spinach, carrots and celery, to name just a few.

Driven by the desire to help her customers stay healthy, Hansen formed another business, Homestead Troop. The mainstay thus far of the new business is Hansen’s Elderberry Wellness Syrup for immune system support. The syrup is non-GMO, vegetarian and alcohol-free, made from fresh, U.S.-grown elderberries, which she purchases from sustainable farms in the Ozarks and Midwest. She made her first batches last year in her Health Department-approved kitchen. “It really helps people with their immune system,” Hansen said. “In winter, people are focusing on their immune systems and staying strong through this whole coronavirus.”

Scientists have been studying the health benefits of elderberries, having determined that the phytochemicals in the berries can block a virus from entering or attaching to healthy cells.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

In addition to elderberries, the syrup contains organic, U.S.-grown ginger and turmeric, which offer immune and anti-inflammatory benefits; cardamon with antiviral properties; as well as organic ginger, fresh lime juice, Ceylon cinnamon and cloves. Hansen has been making a fresh batch each week, which always sells out.

Most recently, she added pineapple cough syrup to her offerings, a remedy that helps to break up mucus associated with the flu or COVID-19. It also has honey to soothe the throat, cayenne and ginger. Hansen explains that bromelain, the group of enzymes found naturally in pineapple, has natural health benefits. These enzymes may help the body fight pain, reduce inflammation, increase immunity and improve digestion.

Hansen is looking for a roughly 20-acre parcel of land to purchase where she can start organically growing elderberries and herbs.

Homestead Troop’s products are available online and at Pizza Buono, the pizzeria that’s not your ordinary pizza shop. Hansen bought the pizzeria in 2004, gutting the building and bringing in all her own equipment. She opened the restaurant “with the idea of having healthy, delicious fast food,” Hansen said. “Healthy” and “fast food” might seem like an oxymoron to some, but not to Hansen. Her salads and soups are all made from scratch using as much produce as she can find at local farmers’ markets. “I really try to support our local people,” she said.

The sausage on that slice of pizza is homemade, too. Hansen grinds the pork herself. She buys other U.S.-raised meats with no hormones or antibiotics, seasons them and cooks them in her kitchen.

“Many people, I find, don’t prioritize their own health by making and preparing their own food,” Hansen said, noting that the washing and chopping can be labor intensive. But she does make health a priority with her menu selections. “I feel like I can really take care of our community and help our community be healthier by offering healthy food in our pizzeria,” she said. Her customers, she said, give her purpose.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

During the pandemic, Hansen’s customers have trusted her to offer safe food in a safe way, and her business has continued steadily. “I have excellent protocols for cleaning,” Hansen said. She also offers no-contact pickup, where she will place food outside on a table to be picked up.

Hansen’s two sons and one daughter have grown up in the restaurant. Often they will come in to help, making pizzas and running the register. “The store is very rewarding for me and it has taught my children,” Hansen said. “They learned more than they ever expected or realized there.”

At a glance

What: Pizza Buono, which opened Dec. 15, 2004, is located at 1007 Van Antwerp Road in Niskayuna (518-346-1010) and can be found on Facebook. For information about owner Christine Hansen’s wellness syrups produced by her new company, Homestead Troop, visit or stop by the pizzeria to check them out in person.

Wisdom: One reason Hansen is so passionate about her wellness products: “It’s always easier to prevent an illness than to heal an illness,” Hansen said.

One of Hansen’s favorite things: “I really like to get my hands in the dirt and grow plants and harvest them,” she said. To that end, she is looking for land on which she can grow her own elderberries and herbs.

Pizza and a side of … dog biscuits: Hansen’s daughter is following in her mom’s footsteps, producing natural food — but for dogs. Each week, she bakes a fresh batch of peanut butter and banana dog treats that are apparently a huge hit with customers’ canine companions. “She’s kind of jumping in and doing her own thing as well,” Hansen said of daughter Kirsten’s enterprise. “We have people calling in … ‘An 8- cut pepperoni and a bag of the dog treats,’ ” she said.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Categories: Business, News, Outlook 2021, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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