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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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New juice stores squeeze the wallet

Juice is back.

After a brief time in cultural exile while cupcakes and exotic doughnuts ruled the trendy scene, exotic juice bars and juice cleanses are trendy again, and they're popping up all over town. Just be ready to pay more for a bottle of juice than what you'd pay for a big, fat pile of fast food for lunch. Measured by ounces-per-dollars, juices far outweigh the Whopper.

Let's count some of the newbies on the juice scene.

♦ Urban Juice just opened on Franklin Street downtown. Among the offerings: Namaste that “boosts immunity, aids digestion, fights inflammation” ($8 a bottle), and a juice called “Blazing Saddles” that “boosts metabolism, detoxifies, boosts immunity” with lemon, lime, cayenne pepper, filtered H20, raw agave and aloe vera.

♦ Fruitwood Standup Market on Swann Avenue opened a few months ago and has coolers stacked with juices, each named for some hip cure: “Immune Stimulator,” “Hyde Park Hangover,” etc. Diabetics, take note. Some juices there I tried were packed with enough sugar that I wondered if they were liquefied Life Savers. My teeth buzzed for an hour. They also have flatbreads if you want — you know — solid food instead.

♦ When the Oxford Exchange opened its cafe next door, juices made on site took center stage. There's a “Chillax,” my favorite, with pineapple, cucumber, romaine, lemon and cilantro; and there's a “Cacao Cashew” with cashew, raw cacao, dates and sea salt. Each is priced at $10 for a full-size bottle.

One can even subscribe to an Oxford Exchange long-term juice cleanse, in which the juice chefs prepare an escalating series of juices to purge toxins from your system. I've tasted a few, and be it known, some of those juices are both amazingly delicious and/or pack some aggressive horsepower. No pain, no gain.

♦ A new place called Swami Juice just opened on South MacDill Avenue in South Tampa with items like “The Purps,” which is a purple concoction consisting of beet, apple, kale, celery and parsley.

For the frugal minded, I offer this suggestion. You can't be frugal minded.

Publix may sell Bolthouse Farms and Naked juices for $3 a bottle, but juice cleanses can cleanse your bank account, too. I've seen three-day and six-day cleanse packages that top $180 and $350, respectively. Meanwhile, the Taco Bell A.M. Bacon Crunchwrap” costs just a couple of bucks. Life is full of choices.

The true art to such juice projects is not just blending the juices. It's packaging them together in ways that combine two categories. A) Things your mother told you to eat, and B) Something sweet enough to make A swallowable when you're grown up and could order a pizza instead.

Hence the Swami Juice flavor “LifeSavor,” inspired by the candy brand name. To quote the menu: “It's a refreshing blend of pineapple, cucumber and mint that will literally save your life after a hot yoga sesh, a long run or an epic surf.”

Epic surf? In Tampa?

Word is another juice bar will come soon to South Tampa, aptly branded SOHO Juice Co.

Go online and type “juice,” and you'll get page after page of Internet juice vendors like “Urban Remedy.”

I decline to take a position on whether a smoothie counts as a juice, but if it does, you can add a couple of dozen locations for Smoothie King, Planet Smoothie and the new Orange Julius chain that's expanding here, too. By brand name alone, I like Xtreme Juice, just because it's fun to say “EXTREEEEME! JUICE!”

This is the great thing about consumer trends. They come and go. One day, everybody's gonzo for smoothies, then the next day the Food Network uses its marketing horsepower to persuade us all that we must switch to foodie cupcakes (sprinkles, etc.), then the kids discover the wonders of serve-yourself frozen yogurt chains (Yogurtology, Orange Leaf, Yogurt Spot, etc.), then the next day someone in New York comes up with the Cronut, and WHOOSH, people line up by the hundreds for them. (Piquant in Hyde Park and Dough in South Tampa make some of the best cronuts here.)

On a purely business level, the economics of a juice bar hold some appeal, at least compared with a full-service restaurant or burger joint. For one, there's less equipment. The juice bar at Duckweed Urban Market in downtown Tampa takes up maybe 10 square yards. No need for a freezer, deep fryer, grill top or oven. Just space for crates of veggies and a table for a few blenders. There's no need for rows of frozen yogurt machines either, making for a lower bill for electricity and cleaning.

Could we be on the verge of the next great trend switch, this time to juices? Perhaps. No kid I know would go nuts for aloe and lemongrass concoctions, but to each their own. Juices do seem to mesh well culturally with the hyper athletic, digerati crowd of post-college urbanites who bop from yoga studio to mud run 5Ks, even if they do suck down vodka at MacDinton's each weekend. Work hard, juice hard, eh?

Personally, I've always been fascinated with the counter-intuitive appeal that people find in both organic foods and Botox or spray tans. On one hand, people want to “cleanse” themselves with “pure food,” yet they pay huge sums to directly inject botulism bacteria into their faces, or spray their entire bodies with dihydroxyacetone or who knows what other kind of tinted polymer. I mean, really, acetone? That's a semi-industrial solvent that requires rubber gloves to handle.

After a dose of that stuff, you might need a detoxifying juice cleanse.

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