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Vegan food for all: Juice Pharm owners say they didn’t mean to sneak up on people

Desi Jenkins, co-owner of the Juice Pharm, holds an Al Green smoothie at the downtown Juice Pharm location on Aug. 15. With her is employee Brad Minor, holding a Dragon Bowl, a smoothie bowl made with dragon fruit, watermelon and pineapple. Photo by Kathleen Murphy1 / 3
The Juice Pharm location at 12 S. 15th Ave. E. in Duluth is in the same building as Anytime Fitness. Photo by Kathleen Murphy2 / 3
The Juice Pharm offers several quick "grab and go" offerings at both locations. Customers can grab ready-made juices and food items made by the Juice Pharm, as well as vegan offerings provided by Ellen Vaagen. Photo by Kathleen Murphy3 / 3

The owners of Duluth’s Juice Pharm, Giselle Hernandez and Desiree Jenkins, didn’t intend to take their customers by surprise.

But when the Twin Ports’ first 100 percent vegan restaurant comes to town and is not advertised as such, a few people are bound to get hooked by accident.

“We’ve discovered over the years that some people are turned off by the word ‘vegan,’” Jenkins said. “Which is a shame, because you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy a delicious plant-based meal.”

Many of the food items on the menu at the Juice Pharm are obviously plant-based, such as the juices, smoothies and salads. But it is not uncommon for customers to order something like a gyro plate or BBQ tacos and find out after they finished that the meal contained no meat. They both told the story about one customer in particular who came in for lunch multiple times before it dawned on him that there was no meat in his favorite taco plate. “He almost didn’t believe us when we told him,” Hernandez said.

Giselle Hernandez (left) and Jesse Hattan at Juice Pharm. Photo by Kathleen MurphyHernandez started the Juice Pharm out of her home in Duluth in 2014 by supplying customers with freshly-pressed, raw juices. Originally, she focused on selling juice as a preventative type of food, a way to help people fight disease and remain healthy. As business grew, she moved into the Endion Station in Canal Park, then downtown to the Red Herring, where she began experimenting with smoothies and smoothie bowls in addition to the juices. Smoothie bowls are similar to a smoothie that one would drink with a straw, but are thicker and usually include toppings such as fresh fruit slices, granola and honey.

Jenkins joined Hernandez in the business in 2016, and in early 2017, they moved into their present location under Anytime Fitness on East Superior Street. Business immediately boomed, and they were able to branch off from juices and smoothies into real, plant-based meals such as soups, salads and taco plates.

When they first opened their East End location, they joked about opening a second store. “We were just so busy, the idea seemed ridiculous,” Hernandez said. A year later, the joke turned into reality, and their second location opened downtown in the skywalk. In their year at the East End location, they discovered they missed their downtown customers who had grown to rely on them for their morning smoothies and lunch breaks. The downtown location opened in June 2018 and is located across from Minnesota Power in the skywalk.

The downtown location doesn’t serve the same hot dishes that the East End location serves, instead focusing on their signature juices, smoothies and smoothie bowls. The downtown location also has a cooler filled with “grab-and-go” items, some items made by the Juice Pharm, such as ready-to-go raw juices, some made by Ellen Vaagen, a vegan chef from Duluth. Customers can grab lunch-size servings of Vaagen’s Fleetwood Macaroni Salad or Spring Rolls with Thai Chili. Everything in the downtown location is priced under $10, with most items hitting the $4-$7 range.

Specials at Juice Pharm are on display. Photo by Kathleen MurphyThey try to stay active in other areas of the community as well. They like to support businesses that fit their health model, such as donating a growler of juice to the weekly Jessica Rossing Fitness run club. “After a run, your body can feel dehydrated,” Jenkins said. “A watermelon-cucumber juice can really replenish and fuel the body after a workout.” The Juice Pharm is often found serving food and juice at events around the area, such as the recent Femn Fest in downtown Duluth.

If there is one thing both woman want people to know about their business, it’s that vegan foods don’t have to be scary. “We’re just being creative with healthy, plant-based foods,” Jenkins said. She encouraged people who are curious about plant-based foods to go to the East End location and try the Mexicali tacos, which are packed with flavor and feature a walnut-based meat substitute.

For a first-timer trying out freshly-pressed raw juice, go to either location and try the Gold Tonic. Hernandez calls it a good opener for a person who is new to juicing, because it tastes like an elevated orange juice. It has extra ingredients, like carrots and turmeric, but they don’t overwhelm the flavor. If a fresh smoothie seems more your style, try the Al Green, a green smoothie named after the American singer and songwriter known as “The Last of the Great Soul Singers.”

“If you’re new to green things,” Hernandez said, “you’ll be shocked at how you can’t even taste the greens in this smoothie. It’s a good introduction to healthier foods.”

When asked if they have faced any obstacles as a woman and minority-owned business in Duluth, Hernandez and Jenkins had different reactions to the question, but similarly positive answers. “I never even thought about it that way,” Jenkins said. “For me, I think it was just about having the confidence to move forward that was important.”

“We’ve never encountered a negative reaction,” Hernandez said. “Duluth loves a woman-owned business. I feel so supported here.”

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works — and enjoys the food scene — in Duluth. This article originally appeared in Duluth.com magazine, which can be found in stores around Duluth or read online.

If you go

Juice Pharm — East End

12 S. 15th Ave. E.

Serves raw juices, smoothies, hot meals and salads.

Open Tuesday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Juice Pharm — Downtown

31 W. Superior St. – in the Skywalk

Serves raw juices, smoothies and grab-and-go lunches

Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday

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