by Tina Haver Currin
photographs by Lissa Gotwals
If you haven’t tried cold-pressed juice, chances are you’ve seen it. It’s the kind of nectar that comes in hues like pond green and beet red and costs as much as a nice glass of wine. Packed with nutrition. Dubiously tasty. Some swear by the “juice cleanse,” gulping down nothing but the stuff for days at a time. Some use it as a healthy meal replacement, and others see it as a way to excuse the pizza they plan to have for dinner.
Until recently, you had to make it yourself or order it online; then you had to go to Whole Foods to buy bottles of it shipped from New York or L.A. Today, Raleigh’s juice is proudly local, a new and bubbling cottage industry of entrepreneurs partnering with local farms, eager to tap into a trend that got its start on the coasts and looks here to stay.
Raleigh’s cold-pressed juice market is young but highly competitive. Four independent companies have formed in the city since late 2012: Humdinger, Cold Off The Press, Happy + Hale, and Raleigh Raw. Harmony Farms’ organic juice bar, the only centrifugal juicers of the bunch, brings the number to five. The North Raleigh Whole Foods has also gotten into the game, after years of selling juice made by national brands.
At first glance, the local market might already seem oversaturated. But dig a little deeper, and it quickly becomes apparent just how much room there is for variation: Organic. Conventional. Local. Outsourced. Cold press. Centrifugal. One hundred percent juice. Added water. Glass. Plastic. Green, orange, red, blue. Raleigh’s juicers differ in how and where they get their produce, their method of juicing, and the way they provide it to the consumer.
Take Tyler Helikson and Sherif Fouad. Before they were variously designing vending machines or opening juice-centric restaurants downtown, the two were Raleigh roommates. Helikson, a champagne salesman, loved the fresh cold-pressed juice he drank in cities like Los Angeles and New York. Fouad’s recent years living in New York City had him accustomed to juice at the ready. Both were acutely aware of the lack of options when they settled in Raleigh.
Although they learned the craft together, Helikson and Fouad have since branched off to form two of Raleigh’s newest juice companies: Happy + Hale and Raleigh Raw. How did the onetime roommates become competitors in what was, until recently, an unknown market?
Helikson, founder with Matt Whitley of Happy + Hale – which makes salads and other healthy fare in addition to cold-pressed juice – opened his first restaurant in Raleigh’s City Plaza on June 27. He says he and Fouad both loved juice but had their own ideas about why it mattered and how to market it. “Our visions were pretty different.” Helikson, an effervescent fast-talker, sports his own company logo on a navy blue t-shirt and is happy to flash photos of his most recent investment: A $26,000, five-and-a-half foot tall juicer that commands an entire corner of his small restaurant. His enthusiasm – and drive – are palpable. “To me, it’s not about being a juice company. It’s all about education. Yes, Happy + Hale is a restaurant, but the vision from day one has been to be a vehicle for social change: To change the way people think about food, think about each other, and their community.”
Fouad’s Raleigh Raw, by contrast, stands out by openly recognizing the highly competitive nature of the product. His business partner Leslie Woods says they even have a specific demographic in mind. “You’ve got your Mac computer, your Warby Parkers, and your Raleigh Raw juice. That would be if you dressed the part,” says Woods.
Fouad agrees. “We’re trying to position ourselves as, ‘I wouldn’t be caught drinking a Tropicana, or a local competitor raw juice.’ ” Raleigh Raw delivers anywhere within 45 miles of Raleigh. It recently installed a first-of-its-kind fresh juice vending machine in Café Helios on Glenwood Avenue and is considering North Raleigh, Durham, or Carrboro for a store.
Raleigh Raw will tell you it’s more focused on its own brand than about educating the public about the product. “If you already know about juice, and you want a convenient, tasty way to get plant-based, local, organic food, we’re here,” Fouad says. “But we’re not going to justify why we charge $8 for juice. That’s for you to figure out, or reject and go buy something else.”
Aficionados who have “figured it out” insist drinking juice is like mainlining nutrition – with little to digest, all the benefits go straight into the bloodstream. And, when you realize it takes two to six pounds of produce to produce a single 16-ounce bottle, it’s easy to see why people might be willing to pay $8 to $10 to drink all of that nutrition instead of eat it. For those who consume cold-pressed juice as part of a “cleanse,” they tend to believe that giving their digestive systems a rest – or an, ahem, flush – is a big part of the whole thing.
What is it, anyway?
For a beginner’s lesson in juicing, it’s important to first define what cold-pressed juice is. The viscous liquid that emerges from a Vitamix machine or blender, for instance, is not this kind of juice. By shredding fruits and vegetables into a silky consistency, rather than extracting their juices, these appliances create a smoothie. Smoothies contain liquid from fruits and vegetables, as well as pulp and fiber. Juicing takes the process one step further.
“The first step is pulverizing, almost like chewing your food,” explains Amir Sadeghi, owner of Cold Off The Press, a small outpost on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. That slowly pulverized produce, ground into a pulp, “goes into a bag, and the bag is pressed at 1,500 PSI.” (PSI refers to pounds per square inch, a unit of pressure.)
That intense pressure – which separates juice from fiber – is the defining feature of cold-pressed juices. The term has nothing to do with temperature, other than the fact that centrifugal methods (like blenders) tend to create heat as they chop and slice. Cold-press aficionados claim their juice is more nutritionally dense and its beneficial enzymes slower to break down, because the slow pulverization process means the raw material is not exposed to heat.
“The enzymes are the little workers that help your cells consume the produce,” says Sadeghi, who graduated from East Carolina University in 2012 with a degree in exercise physiology. As he speaks, Sadeghi fiddles with the “drink-by” stickers on a row of bright green juices bottled only a few hours earlier. The door to his shop is open, and the humidity makes the stickers finicky.
“My goal is to bridge the gap between nutrition and fitness. My original path was to become a physical therapist,” he says. “I like to help people. I feel like now, I’m doing that really directly.” Cold Off The Press opened in July 2013 and sells what Sadeghi describes as “health-first-taste-second juices,” the kind that pack as much punch as a giant salad, without all the fiber to protract the absorption of nutrients, or the time it would take to eat it all.
So, does this mean you should throw away your blender? Not exactly.
“When you put everything into a blender, you are going to get the digestive value from the fiber, as well nutritional value from the juice,” explains Nancy Long, who has owned Harmony Farms on Creedmoor Road with her husband, Steve Long, for nine years. “Juicing extracts the fiber, so when you metabolize it, you do so really quickly. There is no fiber to slow the digestive process.”
Though they juice with a centrifugal method, Harmony Farms’ juice bar was one of the first with an all-organic, locally sourced product. “There was nobody around doing juice, so we said, ‘Let’s do that,’” remembers Long. “Now, we’re working directly with farmers, which we love. And, we provide a service that is becoming very, very popular.”
Farms also benefit
Because they go through several hundred pounds of produce a week (each of their juices packs up to two pounds of fruits and veggies), Harmony Farms says they’re benefiting local farmers, too.
Durham’s Eastern Carolina Organics and Cary’s Backyard Produce, which sell produce from local farms, are now fielding requests from Raleigh juicers.
“Wholesale customers were not part of our original model, but due to an increase in demand from local raw juicers over the last year, we have expanded to include wholesale,” says Angela Hahn, business development manager for Backyard Produce.
Eastern Carolina Organics has also seen a change. “There has definitely been a noticeable uptick in new juicing business inquiries from around the state. I field at least one call per month from a potential juicing entrepreneur exploring supply options from local organic farms,” says Alexis Luckey, accounts manager at ECO. “Raw juicers are a natural fit – they’re looking for the freshest, healthiest ingredients possible, which is something our local organic farmers are able to supply in high volume.”
Humdinger, the first cold-pressed juice company in Raleigh, gets 200 to 300 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables delivered three times a week. “We go through a lot of produce,” says owner Colin Fickes, with a laugh. “We’re making a product that begins to break down after just three days, but we’re turning that into a positive thing. It means we make really, really fresh juice.”
Like many others, Fickes created Humdinger to satisfy a craving developed in California. “I was sitting at a stoplight in Raleigh, and I started missing cold-pressed juice. It was as simple as that,” says Fickes. “So, I started playing around with recipes.” That was in September 2012, before Humdinger became a family affair. Fickes now runs the company alongside his sister, Mary Holt Collins, and their mother, Kitty Fickes, who came out of retirement to manage the books.
Though the operation, which takes place in an 800-square-foot space off Departure Drive, isn’t open to the public, Humdinger offers a delivery service to homes and offices, and the juice can be purchased at off-site locations, like Fab’rik in Cameron Village and NOFO in Five Points. The company is currently working on a branded cooler, which would allow advance ordering and delivery of organic juice packages.
“Humdinger was the first cold-pressed juice company in Raleigh, and I think it’s awesome that more have started up,” says Fickes. “It’s like free education for people about cold-press juice and what it does. We’re not re-inventing the wheel. We’re just bringing it to Raleigh.”
Tyler Helikson agrees. “Even if we turn people on to juice and half of them never buy juice from us, that’s a win for our lifestyle, if you ask me.”