Graduating with a degree in civil engineering, especially considering the rigorous coursework expected of students of the Viterbi School of Engineering, seldom leads to students feeling uncertain about their post-graduate futures — but that was exactly the spot Leaf Ye was in two years ago when he graduated from USC.
“I didn’t want to just find a job and work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I just wanted to do something for myself,” Ye said.
That something was L.E.N.O. Juice Bar, a small shop tucked away in West 27th Place serving up cold-pressed juices made from exclusively organic fruits and vegetables. The store’s name is an acronym for “Life Energy Natural Organic,” which reads like the primary buzzwords in the Southern Californian juicing craze. L.E.N.O. opened its doors near campus earlier this summer and has been preaching the gospel of the benefits of juice as part of a balanced lifestyle ever since.
“Everything has to be balanced in the diet; you can’t always eat junk food, so we suggest every once in a while people do a juice cleanse. The key point of the cleanser isn’t only to help you lose weight or ‘be nutritious,’ but to help you balance your diet,” Ye said.
A juice cleanse is basically fasting and drinking juices as meal replacements. At L.E.N.O., this involves drinking one bottle of “green” juice and following it with another bottle of either a different juice with additional nutritional benefit, or a bottle of L.E.N.O.’s store-made almond milk as a source of protein. As for its effectiveness, Ye cites himself as an example.
“I used to eat a lot of meat, a lot of burgers like In-N-Out and Five Guys. But after I got into juice, the way I looked at food changed. After I started juicing regularly, I didn’t want [hamburgers],” Ye said.
And though it might sound unbelievable, Ye’s comments make sense given the context: juicing isn’t naturally tasty by any means, and there certainly won’t be many juicing acolytes zealous enough to trade in their occasional Double-Double for a bottle of “Breakthrough Green” juice. But juicing itself signifies at least a partial commitment to better health.
At L.E.N.O., this commitment can be financial: Their juices start at $7.50. Ye believes his prices are competitive when considering that other comparable juice bars are charging from $9-$12 to a similar product. As for how to market an $8 bottle of juice to a college student, Ye explains that juicing itself is costly by nature, but L.E.N.O. juice is worth the investment.
“Here, it’s a campus area, and I was a student here, so I know how students think and they might think it’s too expensive, so we try to keep our prices lower. Actually the cost of each bottle of juice was really high, but there’s a difference here because it’s fresh and it’s made in-store with organic produce. Also, we are using a cold-press hydraulic machine to press and produce our juice,” Ye said.
L.E.N.O.’s machine is an industrial hydraulic cold-press model, the cost of which runs well upward of $2,000 and efficiently extracts the most nutrients from the fruit without the application of heat. This process ensures that heat-sensitive enzymes and nutrients aren’t burned off in the juicing process. All of L.E.N.O.’s products are then bottled on-site for ease of purchase.
Cold-pressed vegetable juices aren’t going to win over the masses on the basis of taste, but Ye believes exposure to the benefits of juicing paired with the convenience of his storefront model will win more people over to the movement so that it’s more than just another passing fad.
“I juiced a lot myself, and I know it’s good for me, so I started a juice bar to express these ideas to more people,” Ye said. “Many people aren’t familiar with the concepts of juicing, so we need to show our products, and the benefits of the juice and educate our customers.”
For those who have bought into the craze already, juicing at home has been the method de rigueur, as such an approach allows the consumer to source the ingredients themselves. But the costly equipment (even a serviceable, modest-yield home juicer can run upwards of $250), cleaning and the difficulty of maintaining a stock of fresh ingredients makes the humble juice stand a sustainable business concept.
And L.E.N.O.’s storefront is humble. The location is a bit of a tight squeeze, with seating relegated to a pair of small oak tables and matching backless stools. Jazz piano clangs away over the store’s speaker system, and the store is brightly lit and inviting.
As fate would have it, L.E.N.O. is located adjacent to the Five Guys at West 27th Place. The message is clear: for a change of pace from greasy burgers and fries, students might want to take a couple steps past the Five Guys and one small step towards a more balanced diet at L.E.N.O. juice bar.
Follow Euno Lee on Twitter @eunowhat