Fueling the Community with Healthy Options

Fueling the Community with Healthy Options

George Herrera, owner of Fuel Juice Bar.

Jorge Herrera, owner of Fuel Juice Bar.

In Bedford-Stuyvesant, the bustling blocks of Fulton Street are lined with family-owned West Indian restaurants and Halal joints. However, the neighborhood is rapidly changing with trendy cafés and bars popping up to satisfy the growing millennial population. Hip new beer gardens might be a sign of growing gentrification, but what happens when a juice bar comes along with all its chia seeds, super foods and organic wheatgrass? Certainly that’s the last straw.

However, the face of Fuel Juice Bar tells a different story. Brooklyn-raised Jorge Herrera, 24, is the proud entrepreneur behind the Bed-Stuy operation, which opened the first week of September. Though his roots are in Ecuador, he grew up in Williamsburg where his parents tried to feed him healthy foods instead of dining at the local pizza joint.

Back when those Sacagawea coins were cool, his father would challenge his kids to eating contests for a golden prize. “My father’s crazy,” said Jorge. “He would take all sorts of vegetables and fruits and throw them in a blender and say, ‘Whoever drinks it the fastest gets a gold coin.’ So we always used to drink it.”

Though Jorge started out in his family’s construction business, he knew he never wanted to work for anybody. “I want to create my own lane,” said Jorge. “I wanted to create something for myself.” He took that drive and his passion for healthy eating and turned it into a dream that now sits on the corner of Fulton Street and Spencer Place.

Inside Fuel Juice Bar

Inside Fuel Juice Bar.

The exposed red brick walls glow from the light seeping through the large window panes. The menu is playfully drawn on a chalkboard, giving the room a vibrant atmosphere and energy. Jorge offers tangy elixirs such as the Citrus Shine, a powerful blend of orange, grapefruit, lemon and ginger. He even throws in a bit of his culture with the Quinoa Pico de Gallo, a zesty superfood bowl with fresh tomatoes, cilantro and red onions.

Fresh juice from the fridge.

Fresh juice from the fridge.

Right now, business is still a little slow. Most customers curiously amble in for a bite. Jennifer Herrera, Jorge’s 23-year-old sister also helps to run the store and sometimes Jorge’s mother Inès greets you at the salad bar. Everyone prepares the food and tries to give their customers a comfortable experience. Jennifer is happy to give out samples because not everyone understands what raw food is.

“A lot of people are not used to this kind of food yet,” said Jennifer. “As soon as they hear raw or that everything is plant-based, they are automatically like ‘That’s nasty.’ But they haven’t even tried it. So that’s why we give out free samples. Hopefully it picks up more which I believe it will.”

When news got out that a raw food restaurant was going to open up in Bed-Stuy, social media trolls doubted that Fuel Juice Bar would succeed in a place where fast-food restaurants like Popeyes and Dunkin’ Donuts dominate the block. However, the assumption that healthy eating is associated with race or a certain socioeconomic status is false.

Comment section from DNAinfo.com

Comment section from DNAinfo.com

In fact, last summer a young black woman saw a need for healthy food options in Bed-Stuy and opened a raw food restaurant called Meme’s Healthy Nibbles on Nostrand Avenue. In a neighborhood where the West Indian population is 11,300 (70% of the foreign born population), Fuel Juice Bar has a lot of potential. Even Jorge noticed that many of the black residents in the area feel right at home at his shop.

“Black people are more educated [about raw food],” said Jorge. “I have a lot of white people that come in and you would think that they would know more, but it’s not even like that. It’s the black people that come in and they know more about this concept of raw eating and cold-press juices. Especially people from the islands, it’s just been a way of life ever since.”

Brian prepares juice.

Chef, Brian David prepares the juice.

Behind the counter, Brian David, a soft-spoken man from Antigua carefully places tomatoes onto a leafy green wrap. Brian used to own a juice bar and raw food eatery as a part of Brooklyn’s trendy shipping container-style flea market on Delkab Avenue that closed in 2012. When Fuel opened, Brian became the raw food chef, relishing a new opportunity to make food according to his Rastafarian diet. “It’s my lifestyle,” he said. “This is how I eat and feed my family.”

So far, Jorge’s customers come from all walks of life, Black, White, Asian, young and old. Taraneh Hockley, 26, and her roommate Sophie Rustein, 21, live just down the block from the Fuel Juice Bar. Frustrated with the Internet service at another café, the pair stumbled upon the juice bar for a snack and Wifi. “We wanted something healthy and there aren’t many good places around so it worked out perfectly,” said Taraneh. “Another reason why we came here is that we noticed the type of people coming in. It seems to be more diverse than other places. We wanted to support that.”

Not to mention, the options are affordable. Juices range from $5 to $7 while the most expensive dish, the Raw Burger—a plant-based patty toped with avocado, cashew nut cheese and house-made ketchup—only costs $12. At popular chains like Juice Press, the average cost of a drink is $10. Because Fuel Juice Bar is a homegrown business, Jorge doesn’t have to pay the large corporate overhead that chains have to shell out every year. He can afford to discount his products and focus on being himself. Behind the cash register, Jorge greets everyone with a quiet smile.

Paul Baudier of Pressed Juice LLC, a raw food and juice consulting firm based in New York City, trained Jorge back in January and admires the young entrepreneur’s determination to bring something to his community. “He wanted something good that wasn’t in Bed-Stuy.” said Baudier over the phone. “He’s kept true to what he wanted to do from the get. I told him, ‘Listen, don’t fall into that whole gentrification thing. Just be who you are because the truth is going to shine a lot farther.’”

Baudier stressed that people want to support local business owners who are making a difference in their area. Although it is too early to say, perhaps Jorge’s juice bar is Bed-Stuy’s new healthy neighborhood joint.

 

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