In the middle of midtown Manhattan's abundant grayness sits Organic Avenue's newest store, its bright orange sign and ultra-friendly staff as juicy and vibrant as the fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices that have propelled this business into Manhattan's number one resource for fast and truly healthy foods.
Founded by Denise Mari, the vision was simple: Take the cleansing raw food diet concept that people travel to island paradise retreats for and bring it to the heart of New York City—where it is perhaps needed even more. From humble beginnings in a Chinatown live/work loft space, the vision has taken form in five Manhattan locations with three more opening before January 2012, according to Mari, and many more coming.
Step inside an Organic Avenue location and you'll see an array of gorgeous colored juices still containing their vital nutrients, and meals made with fresh plant ingredients. Dry shelves stock superfoods, protein powders, dehydrated snacks, cookbooks and more tools for a healthy lifestyle. But the biggest seller, nearly half the business, is in the unique Organic Avenue cleanse programs: L.O.V.E., which stands for Live Organic Vegan Experience, offers clients a weeks worth of juices and/or raw foods to help detoxify, rejuvenate and revitalize customers in a city that can be exhausting and toxic.
We caught up with Denise last month in New York City to talk about Organic Avenue, juicing and cleansing tips for the holiday.
[This interview is edited for length and clarity.]
OA: You primarily sell prepared raw food and fresh-pressed organic juices. Some would say that's quite a niche market, yet here we are on 55th and Lexington at lunch time and your store is packed! How many of your customers are raw foodies or vegetarians?
DM: I'm not really a numbers person but I'd say not many at all. But that's the point; most people want to be more and do more but they need the education and the access to get to that point. All the juices and meals are prepared for you so it's easy and that's half the battle for most people; they just don't have the time to prepare healthy meals.
OA: Seems like when you're dealing with people fasting and trying really cleansing foods that you might get a lot of questions. How do you handle that?
DM: There's a sense of novelty and introduction, and we keep things basic and simple. Before starting a cleanse program we always recommend consulting with a physician first, but drinking a green juice or eating a salad is pretty easy for most people.
OA: We're entering the holiday season, which can be pretty devastating for people who try to stay healthy. What tips do you have?
DM: First thing would be steer clear of animals. It's healthier for you and you're not contributing to that violent energy.
Focus on side dishes, which tend to be more vegetable based.
Prepare ahead of time—eat healthy before you go so you're not tempted to eat all the unhealthy stuff.
And really important, but often overlooked, is that the intention of the holidays is around family gathering first and foremost, more than the food. Be present for the opportunity to spend time with family and loved ones, because it's rare and impermanent.
OA: So true! It can seem like everywhere we turn over the next few months there are cookies and chocolates and egg nog—it's almost impossible to avoid some indulgence. What can we put in our bodies every day to help keep it healthy?
DM: It's always a good idea to have a green juice daily. It's very intuitive and natural that green is the color of health—we see animals eating green grasses and leaves, and they're the strongest and healthiest. From an experiential level, I've been drinking green juices for a number of years and the alkaline forming low glycemic foods rich in chlorophyll is like taking a super pill, without the pill!
OA: Do you have a favorite juice recipe?
DM: We're always adding recipes at OrganicAvenue.tv, but the challenge with making green juices at home is that the green leafy veggies like kale, spinach and lettuce are difficult to juice at home without a commercial juicer. So what I suggest is juicing cucumber, celery, apples and ginger and add something like our Organic Avenue green powder, which is made from a bunch of healthy, organic dried grasses, to boost any drink base.
OA: A lot of people try to start the New Year with a diet or a cleanse. Do you recommend it, or what about a fast leading up to or during the holidays?
DM: It's actually an amazing thing to do anytime. And for those who want to make sure they don't overdo the bad stuff, it's a great excuse during the holiday season. You can bring your own meal or juices and focus on the family time rather than the foods.
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Images: Jill Ettinger