Health-watchers getting juiced in bars

September 16, 1992|By New York Times News Service

It's 12:40 on a Friday afternoon, and Mizan Biswas and Mike Flores are loading carrots and beets and celery stalks into whirring silver machines like ammunition into cannons in the heat of battle. The line is lengthening at Healthy Chelsea, a market, cafe and juice bar at 248 W. 23rd St. in New York, and the two men speed up the dance behind the counter, sending shocking green spurts of wheatgrass juice into tiny one-ounce cups and weighty pink Jumbo Combos into the hands of thirsty customers.

While juice bars are not new -- Healthy Chelsea has been around for nine years -- their mass-market appeal is growing rapidly. While there are no figures available on the number of juice bars nationwide, many say business has shot up in the last year or so. And while home juicing machines are one of the best-selling housewares products in the country, sales of commercial juice machines are also on the rise.

Much of the popularity of juice bars can be attributed to a blitz of television infomercials, best-selling books and articles that tout the healthful benefits of juice diets, even though there is no scientific evidence that consuming juice is more beneficial than eating whole fruits and vegetables.

"This healthy, good-for-you trend has been picking up momentum since the late 1980s," said Michael Bellas, president of the Beverage Marketing Corp., which tracks the beverage industry. "Today, the driving force behind the juice bar is an ever-increasing concern with what we put into our bodies."

On streets all over the country, existing bars are expanding orange- and grapefruit-only menus to include juices made from things like parsley, spinach, ginger and beets, costing from less than a dollar to about $4 a glass. And new places are sprouting in cities that had only heard about the trend, drawing enthusiastic drinkers and leaving empty sacks of carrots around like so many empty beer bottles.

"There is nothing else like this in Tulsa," said Shantelle Gardarsson of the Natural Juice Cafe, a health-food restaurant and juice bar she opened in July in that Oklahoma city. "I'm beating all my records, and the people are just running in."

In Santa Fe, N.M., juice sales at Vitality Unlimited have doubled in the six months since the health-food store and bar opened. At the Wild Oats Market in Boulder, Colo., business has tripled since January. And sales so far this year at the Cosmic Cafe in Detroit are 23 percent higher than they were in 1989, and 5 percent more than in 1991.

"We had two small juicers but we burned out the motors," said Christopher Ryding, Cosmic's owner. "So we had to get a 65-pound industrial one." The cafe runs 500 pounds of vegetables through the machine in a week, 300 of which are carrots. "One day, we had to run out and get another 25-pound bag just to get through lunch."

Many of the industrial machines, which cost about $1,200 to $1,700, come from Trillium Health Products, the largest seller of home and commercial juicers in the United States. Rick Cesari, president of Trillium, said that the company had 259 commercial customers in 24 states, and that it had sold 190 industrial machines in the first eight months of 1992, compared with 178 all of last year. Two were sold to Balter Sales, the food vendors at the U.S. Open tennis championships, who used juicers at the Open this month for the first time.

Trillium's business, which includes television promotions and audio- and videotapes featuring Jay Kordich, a company spokesman and self-styled nutrition-promoting juice guru, grew from $900,000 in 1989 to $75 million so far in 1992. And while there is no scientific support for his contention that juice can prevent and cure certain ailments, the business of juicing started to surge once Mr. Kordich began preaching on television. Now, two years or so after people started in force to make juices at home, they want to have the same choices when they are out.

Drinking at juice bars seems to be routine for many people. "We have a lot of regulars," said Mr. Biswas of Healthy Chelsea. Evelyn Duarte, a hairdresser, is one of them.

"There are too many pollutants, preservatives and poisons in our food, and too many pop-a-pills for every ailment," said Ms. Duarte, who drinks a vegetable at home in the morning, another at Healthy Chelsea during the day and a fruit of some kind at home at night. Her 10-year-old son, Sergio, said, "If she's had a hard day I'll make her the Three-Carrot Killer, which is one apple, then a celery, then three carrots."

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