At the corner of 9th Avenue near 14th Street in the tourist-filled Meatpacking district in New York City sits two dominant retailers: the Apple store and the Starbucks Roastery, its three-level 23,000 square-foot showcase. And Chelsea Market filled with restaurant kiosks and food merchants is a block away.
Juice Generation, a smoothie and acai bowl specialist, has entered Starbucks’ turf in the Meatpacking district when it opened its latest location, in early June, 2023. It’s the juicer versus the coffee purveyor.
It also marks Juice Generation’s 20th location, all in New York City, with 17 in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, and one in Queens. It’s always been rooted in New York City, where it debuted.
A locally owned juice, smoothie and acai bowl specialist Juice Generation has become a trusted brand in New York City, and so far, not expanded beyond it
Eric Helms, the founder and CEO of Juice Generation, is not the least bit deterred by going mano a mano versus Starbucks. “There is so much foot traffic in the area and customers looking for beverages want options. And our menu and store experience is very different from our competitors,” he said.
In fact, he quipped that he’d like to change the name of the neighborhood to the Plant Packing District. He said its opening day yielded the largest revenue in its history.
Helms, a native of Roanoke, Virginia, opened his first Juice Generation in 1999 in Hell’s Kitchen on 9th Avenue and 45th Street with $150,000. He financed it with an $80,000 SBA loan and his savings accrued from teaching hours of swimming lessons.
He is grateful and beholding to the Broadway theatre community for supporting Juice Generation when it first opened. “Actors, dancers, singers—they were our first customers and really spread the word. The neighborhood residents and tourists soon followed, and we were off!” he described.
When he worked at the counter in the first location, he recalled one customer saying, “That’s all you sell are juices. People were dumbfounded,” he said, but Helms’ vision of a healthier menu has paid off.
He’s financed it on his own
Subsequently, he’s invested the profits of each location to expand its portfolio of stores. “I like control and didn‘t want to answer to anyone else,” noted the 52-year-old Helms. He is proud to declare that he has “no investors, no private equity money, no angel investors.”
Hence, all of its stores are company-owned, with no franchises, a rarity these days in the restaurant business. Maintaining ownership “allows us to really maintain quality control in all aspects of the business,” he declared. He admits that several potential franchisees have contacted him, but he’s not yet ready to pursue that option, at least for now.
Moreover, expanding within the confines of New York City enables it to maintain closer scrutiny of their stores. “They’re all accessible. We have a team of people who visit each store daily and they’re all within thirty minutes away,” he pointed out.
Restaurants financed by private equity money start to expand in a variety of areas, sometimes with limited forethought, but Juice Generation can research new locations, and expand in a more deliberate and pain-staking way, he suggested.
Its menu specializes in smoothies, juices, and acai bowls. Its three most popular items are: peanut butter split, a smoothie, almond butter bliss, an acai bowl, and supa dupa greens, a juice.
During Covid, third-party deliverers helped offset dipping sales. But afterwards, Helm said, it switched and now relies on “its own order ahead and delivery capabilities to give our customers a better experience by ordering directly from our website or mobile app.”
Off-premises sales on the rise
Those sales now constitute 25% of its sales and are on the rise. And not relying on delivery services increases its margins.
Helms also has a celebrity cohort since actress/director Salma Hayek is a partner in his online business and helped develop two lines of Cooler Cleanse juices and Blend It Yourself smoothies that ship nationwide. Since it’s located only in New York City, this enables Juice Generation to reach a wider audience.
Its online sales represent about 20% of revenue in New York City, with about 5% coming from outside the city.
Asked how he competes against the heavyweights in the industry such as Smoothie King and Jamba Juice, Helms doesn’t want to compare its business to rivals, but acknowledged that three of its stores are situated in former Jamba Juice settings.
In the future, he expects to open two new locations, on the Upper East Side and Financial district. But Helms admitted he has no master plan and takes each location, one store a time.
Asked the keys to its sustained success, Helm replied, 1) Ensuring that their product and operations are consistent, 2) Taking care of their employees. When employees are knowledgeable and caring, it pays off, 3) Constantly evolving in health and wellness.
“The moment you rest and don’t evolve, you’re done in health and wellness,” he said.