A New York City Mainstay Takes On Starbucks Roastery On Its Turf

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at corner 9day Avenue near No. 14day The streets of New York City’s tourist-heavy Meatpacking district are home to two major retailers: the Apple Store and the Starbucks Roastery, a three-story, 23,000-square-foot showcase. Chelsea Market, full of restaurant kiosks and food vendors, is just one block away.

Juice Generation, a smoothie and acai bowl specialist, opened its latest location in early June 2023, entering Starbucks’ turf in the Meatpacking District. Here’s how a juicer compares to a coffee vendor.

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 has always been rooted in New York City, where it made its debut.

Juice Generation, a locally owned juice, smoothie and acai bowl specialist, has become a trusted brand in New York City, and so far, hasn’t expanded beyond it

Juice Generation founder and CEO Eric Helms isn’t in the least intimidated by taking on Starbucks. “The area has a lot of foot traffic and customers looking for beverages want choice. Our menu and store experience is very different from our competitors,” he said.

In fact, he joked that he wanted to change the name of the block to the Plant Packing District. Its opening day generated the largest revenue in history, he said.

A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Helms opened his first Juice Generation in Hell’s Kitchen on September 9, 1999day Avenue and 45day $150,000 on the street. He funded it with an $80,000 SBA loan, and his savings came from teaching time in swimming lessons.

He expresses his gratitude and gratitude to the Broadway theater community for their support when Juice Generation first opened. “Actors, dancers, singers—they were our first clients and really spread our message. Neighborhood residents and tourists soon followed, and off we went!” he describes.

When he was working the counter at the first location, he recalls a customer saying, “You’re all selling juice. People are dumbfounded,” he says, but Helms’ vision for a healthier menu paid off.

he funded himself

He then invested the profits from each location into expanding its store portfolio. “I like to be in control and not want to be accountable to anyone,” says Helms, 52. He proudly declared that he had “no investors, no private equity money, no angel investors.”

As a result, all of its stores are company owned and not franchised, which is a rarity in today’s restaurant industry. Maintaining ownership “allows us to really maintain quality control in every aspect of the business,” he declared. He acknowledged that he’s been approached by several potential franchisees, but he’s not ready for that option, at least not yet.

Additionally, expanding within New York City allows it to subject its stores to greater scrutiny. “They’re all accessible. We have a team that visits every store every day, and they’re all within thirty minutes,” he noted.

Restaurants funded by private equity money start expanding in various areas, sometimes with limited consideration, but Juice Generation can research new locations and expand in a more deliberate and painful way, he suggests.

Its menu specializes in smoothies, juices and acai bowls. Three of its most popular products are: peanut butter, smoothies, almond butter, acai bowls and supa dupa vegetable juice.

Third-party deliverymen have helped offset declining sales during Covid. But then, Helm said, it changed and now relies on “our own advance order and delivery capabilities to provide our customers with a better experience by ordering directly from our website or mobile app.”

Off-market sales on the rise

Those sales now account for 25% of its sales and rising. Not relying on delivery services can increase profits.

Helms also has a celebrity following, as actress/director Salma Hayek is his online business partner and helped develop two lines of Cooler Cleanse juices and Blend It Yourself smoothies, which are sold nationwide sales within. Because it’s only based in New York City, Juice Generation is able to reach a wider audience.

Its online sales account for about 20 percent of revenue in New York City, with about 5 percent of that coming from outside New York.

Asked how he stacks up against industry heavyweights like Smoothie King and Jamba Juice, Helms didn’t want to compare his business to its competitors, but acknowledged that three of its stores are located in the former Jamba Juice environment.

In the future, he hopes to open two new locations on the Upper East Side and the Financial District. But Helms admits he doesn’t have a master plan and is responsible for each location, one store at a time.

When asked about the keys to continued success, Helm responded by 1) making sure their product and operations are aligned, and 2) taking care of their people. When employees are knowledgeable and caring, it pays off and 3) is constantly evolving in terms of health.

“The minute you rest and don’t evolve, you’re screwed,” he said.

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