St. Pete Entrepreneurs Launch Micro-Juicery

Big pots of herbs sit on the counter. There's a cute little cafe table for two, a big chalkboard with the day's specials, wood floors and a large glass-front cooler with 16-ounce bottles in nearly every color of the rainbow. Everything about the place looks fresh and smells green.

Welcome to Squeeze Juice Works, a just-launched "micro-juicery'' in northeast St. Petersburg that is quickly gaining a following for its fresh, cold-pressed juices with names like One Night in Bangkok, Motherload, Simple Green, Lemon Aide and Galaxie 500.

In preparation for their grand opening on October 17, co-owners Kelly Lessem and Amy Losoya made 100 bottles of juice the night before and 155 the next day. By 4:30 p.m., all but 14 were gone.

Not quite a week later, the two entrepreneurs were up to more than 800 bottles of juice, and had already hired an additional four people, with plans to add a second shift.

"I thought we would be busy, but did not anticipate the fever,'' says Lessem. "We've had to do a lot of chopping to keep up with the demand.'' 

Lessem is a massage therapist and former yoga teacher. Losoya was the long-time manager of downtown Tampa's popular Fly Bar and Restaurant. With Squeeze Juice Works, the two take pride in debuting what is a very eco-friendly, sustainable business model.

Get Your Kale Fix Here

Juices are made fresh daily in small batches. They use only whole, organic fruits, greens and herbs. Their suppliers are primarily local growers. Area gardeners pick up the leftover pulp after everything has been pulverized during production. Even the juice bottles are glass, rather than plastic. Return the empties and get 10 cents off your next order. The bottles are then cleaned and sterilized for re-use.

"First-time customers always tell us they can't believe how tasty the juices are and how much energy it gives them,'' says Lessem. "Cold-pressing crushes the cell wall of the plant, which releases the elements. It's a completely different experience. It really wakes up the palate.''

The standard menu includes juices with a variety of ingredients, including kale, celery, cucumber, spinach, lemon, cilantro, carrots, beets, apples, ginger, mint and jalapeno. Seasonal specials may feature pineapples, watermelon, oranges and cantaloupe. You can also get cold-pressed shots of wheat grass, apple ginger and pineapple mint made to order while you wait.

In addition, negotiations are underway with other local women entrepreneurs, including Paleo Box, for baked goods, and with a North Carolina vendor who will provide wildcraft and medicinal herbs

The idea for the juice bar came from Lessem, who has an autoimmune disorder.  She started juicing in her kitchen as a way to boost her immune system, keep her medications at the lowest dose possible and improve her what she calls a nutrition deficiency.

It worked. "I had never really liked juices before, but within a short time my body was craving them,'' says Lessem.

She began offering some of her extra juice to families in her local food co-op. As word spread and she gained a following, she decided to take it to the next level and create a Facebook-based business. She also began educating herself about the nutritional aspect of juicing and traveled to other markets like Seattle and Austin, where juicing is big, in order to learn a few best practices from friends in the business.

"I'm one of those people who just jumps into something fully,'' says Lessem. "It always leads me to interesting places. I started taking yoga and then became a yoga teacher for 10 years, got a massage and decided to become a massage therapist. This time, I started drinking juices and now have my own business.''

Friends for over 20 years since they met working in Ybor City restaurants, Lessem and Losoya have lived and traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia and India, where Lessem studied yoga, massage and Ayurveda medicine.

Now Is Their Time

Losoya, who has three children, ages 7, 6, and 2, and is married to Adam Welch, the owner of Spotted Lion Creations, was already living in the area when Lessem and her husband, Todd Bates, creative director for Creative Loafing Tampa, decided to move back home when their daughter, now 4, was born.

"Kelly first approached me about the idea of opening a juice business a year ago or so, but I had no extra time in my day. I was completely focused on managing the Fly bar and helping at my children's school,'' says Loyosa.

But by this summer, as Lessem was ready to move from her home kitchen to a storefront retail shop, Losoya changed her mind. 

"When Kelly came to me a second time and said she needed help or she might not be able to move forward, this time I listened,'' says Losoya. "I realized that with Squeeze Juice Works I could combine the aspect of the restaurant business that I really love, which is service, and at the same time make a difference in the community with a product that keeps people healthy.''

"I'm the production person who is interested in efficiency, minimal waste, systems and procedures -- the back house of the business,'' says Losoya. "Kelly has the nutritional knowledge.'' In addition, Losoya's husband did the build-out for the new interior of the business and Lessem's husband did the logo and branding.

Juices are available daily for walk-ins or customers can sign up in advance for a subscription service, which offers a 10 percent discount on a monthly recurring bill. 

The juices can be used as a nutritional supplement or as a cleanse, says Lessem.

Delivery is available to some locations. They also cater special events.

"In Eastern cultures, food is medicine; it's about correcting imbalances in the body and waking up the senses,'' says Lessem. "That's the business model I wanted for the juices. Something delicious, healthy and good for you, but accessible to everyone.''

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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