Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson with Marcus Antebi, the founder of Juice Press, at the new store in Seattle, WA.
Read time: 4 minutes
(Article on Forbes contributed by Ronald Holden)
Of all the health foods and health fads in the world, "juice" seems to have the most staying power. Trendier than tea, fancier than fiber, better than bone broth. Hand a millennial a glass of fresh juice, and you'll make a convert.
Anita Bryant told us that orange juice "wasn't just for breakfast anymore." Vanessa Williams extolled the virtues of Jamba Juice. And how can we forget the head-slapping line "Wow, I could have had a V-8"?
Five years ago, Howard Schultz spent 30 million Starbucks bucks to take over an outfit called Evolution Fresh in order to spread the gospel of cold-pressed juice. It wasn't his first venture beyond the coffee cup, and it probably won't be the last, but like many Starbucks projects (Teavana, La Boulange, Vivanno), it sounded better than it penciled out in real life.
The market for ready-to-drink juice, back then, was worth some $3.5 billion and was growing. Even a small piece was enough for a San Bernardino, Calif., company called Evolution Fresh, before Starbucks started sniffing around the company, smelling a new conquest. They banged out the first store, complete with graphics, equipment, new products and staff training, in under four months.
Starbucks would open four Evolution Fresh stores in all and then close them. In a masterpiece of corporate doublespeak, Schultz said the decision to close the stores “will allow Evolution Fresh to sharpen its strategic focus on the most successful, dynamic segment of the Evolution Fresh business, our ready-to-drink juice business." That's true. You can still buy some two dozen Evolution Fresh flavors in Starbucks stores and in supermarkets.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Marcus Antebi had launched Juice Press to instant acclaim. (It doesn't use the "High Pressure Processing," or HPP as it's known, but "cold presses" its juice.) With the new technology, you could squeeze everything from a traditional orange smoothie to hippie-dippy wheat grass. The New York Times reported four years ago from the Manhattan battleground:
"There’s nobody else in this industry that understands the science of nutrition the way that I do,” said Marcus Antebi, a former muay Thai fighter who started Juice Press in 2010. “There’s no competition. I started because there was nobody who had the product that I’d be happy buying. Everybody [else] had tremendous flaws."
Celebrity athletes were among the early converts to Juice Press, notably New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But, there's plenty of competition: Celebrity restaurateur Danny Meyer of Shake Shack has a line called Creative Juice. A couple of young women in their 30s, Zoë Sakoutis and Erica Huss, have built a multimillion-dollar juice company, called BluePrint.
From time to time, inside the Juice Press refrigerator, you may see a “Sold Out” card. That's not a bug; it's a feature. Inventory will never be more than seven days old; the company says, "We build our inventory to sell out." Also, if they can't get the organic raw materials they need, they just don't make the product.
Russell Wilson, the popular quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, first tried Juice Press while on the road with the team and fell in love with the product. (One of the juices, a light-green apple-kale-spinach-lemon concoction, is actually called "Love at First Sight.")
By that time, there were dozens of stores in New York and on the East Coast, but nothing out west, where Wilson, a smart, agile and quick-witted player who led his team to a Super Bowl championship, had become a towering local hero.
What would it take to bring Juice Press to Seattle? Well, a joint-venture deal, apparently. Wilson had already co-founded a line of clothing (Good Man Brand), and recently added a celebrity-tracking app, TraceMe, to his investment portfolio.
Ironically, perhaps, the initial Seattle Juice Press store (No. 74 for Juice Press) occupies the very space inhabited by the first Evolution Fresh. "I never tried Evolution Fresh," Wilson admitted to me during an interview at the store opening this week.
Does Wilson buy into the whole "drink juice for healthy living" argument? Indeed he does. His sport is punishing even for healthy bodies. ("Bodies and minds," he reminds me.) You can't play pro football and not be aware of the dangers -- all the more reason to stay healthy.
"But it's not about me," he says. "Juice Press is a healthy lifestyle." And it helps that it actually tastes good.