Los Angeles is overflowing with cold-pressed juice: On every corner and in every gym you can satisfy your craving for the liquid essence of kale, beets, carrot, apple and anything in between. But it wasn't always thus. Back in 1975, there were very few places to go for the kind of fresh juice you couldn't find in the supermarket. And then came Beverly Hills Juice Club.
David Otto opened his shop between two gyms in West Hollywood, slinging fresh juice and shakes. 38 years later, he's in a different location on Beverly Blvd., and has eliminated the "Club" from the name -- but the juice is as addictive as ever. The juice shop has a cult-like following, and the teeny tiny storefront usually has a line out the door. But there are rules, and Otto doesn't appreciate you breaking them.
Recently, we caught up with Otto, the original juice guy. Turn the page for his thoughts on his business and his competition, veganism and how healthy he is after so many years of drinking juice.
Squid Ink: You opened in 1975 and moved to Beverly Boulevard in 1979. Back when you first opened were you the only ones doing juice?
David Otto: Pretty much! There was a place downtown called LaHood's in the Grand Central Market. Over at Hollywood and Vine St, there was Juices Fountain -- I think they were there. There was another guy down in Redondo Beach, his name was Bruce, and it was Bruce's Juices. He was a surfing guy. He was open sometimes, and he sometimes wasn't: depending on whether the surf was up.
SI: Well you're not alone now. What do you think of the plethora of juice around here?
DO: Oh, I love it. I couldn't be happier for me and for the whole industry. People are getting healthy -- it's great!
SI: What's it done to your business?
DO: It's actually increased it. There's usually a line outside on the sidewalk. And I know a lot of it is because of these other juice places who brought more awareness to it. You know, every customer I've had over the years is the direct result of someone telling them about it because we've never advertised, it's always been word of mouth.
SI: What's the difference between the way you make juice, and the way others do?
DO:I don't know because I don't know how they make theirs! We pay great attention to detail, of getting absolutely the best produce we can -- we subscribe to the practice of being 100% organic, and we're very careful in how we wash [the produce] and how we handle everything. We have a big hydraulic press. You could call it a cold press I guess. I never used that term. I love that everyone else seems to think that's something special! It has a pressing plate that's 14 by 14; we designed and built the press ourselves.
SI: You've been drinking your own wares for 40 years. So how healthy are you
DO: Well, one never knows really how healthy one actually is. I'm 76 going on 77 and most people think I'm really healthy. I don't have any signs of anything arthritic in my body, and I don't have a doctor so I don't really know. I go to the gym and I work out every morning. The other aspect of my health is I haven't eaten meat since 1971 and have been a vegan since 1972.
I'm fortunate to have gotten into this back in the '60s. I'm a guy who's never eaten fast food; I've never eaten anything from McDonald's or Jack in the Box, any of those places. I haven't had dairy products in almost 40 years. Health isn't so much related to what you eat -- it's really more related to what you don't eat. When you know what's wrong, and what you shouldn't be eating, then don't eat it! I've staying in this business over a long period of time because it's how I feed myself.
Turn the page...
SI: Your shop has a reputation for having a lot of rules. What do people need to know before they walk in the door?
DO: There aren't any RULES, you know. Well, close the door behind you. I guess that would be one rule. It's such a small shop we'd prefer people not bring their dogs in unless they're a service dog or something. And we try to have people not use their cell phones in the shop because it's annoying to other people. And it helps a lot if you know what you want to order rather than taking up the time to decide this or that or the other thing. But not everybody knows what they want especially first-timers.
SI: Well, yeah, it's a little confusing because there's a MENU, but you can't order from the menu, just from the bottles displayed in the window.
DO: Right. The reason for that is because the menu is really year round and so many of our things are seasonal. What we try to tell people is that the actual menu is what's in the WINDOW.
SI: What's your favorite juice?
DO: It's hard to pick just one. I love the Coconut Water Coconut, and I love the Big Ten [a blend of 10 fruits & vegetables]. That kind of covers all the bases. And sometimes I like the Green Genie [green vegetable juice]. And then we might make Apple Blueberry Coconut or Apple Peach Coconut, some offbeat thing that we never usually make, and I like to try it! I'm as curious as the next person!
SI: One of the best sellers in your shop is the Banana Manna shake: People choose their juice and you blend it with scoops of frozen banana and ground almonds, sunflower seeds, or cacao nibs. You invented it. Does it sell well?
DO: I think it's one of the real keys to the success of the shop. I like the shakes -- what I think is a really great shake is the Apple Ginger Coconut Banana Manna. It's got the sweetness of the apple, the bite of the ginger, and it's got the richness of the coconut.
SI: You eliminated "Club" from "Beverly Hills Juice Club". Why?
DO: The reason we eliminated the word "club" is because there was a conflict with another company. That was their corporate name and they didn't want to give it up, and we made some kind of a settlement. So they didn't change their name: Their corporate name is Juice Club, but they're now known nationally as Jamba Juice.
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