SHORELINE — Before ordering at Alive Juice Bar, you might want to read the chalkboard first. Not for ideas what to buy, but for how to behave.
Don’t form a line. Call out your order. Fail to comply and you’ll “stand around like an idiot,” it reads.
The colorful manifesto doesn’t mince words.
“Sometimes the customer is wrong. … If you can’t pay your tab because of your strip club habit, we’ll name a drink after you. … One of our baristas knows kung fu, do you really want to guess which one? … Smile, God is watching you.”
What is up with this place?
It’s not Jamba Juice, that’s for sure. But it’s still kid-friendly.
It’s a hop off I-5, tucked in the plaza anchored by a Thriftway and 24 Hour Fitness on Ballinger Way NE. “A soulless suburban strip mall,” the website says. “Doing our best to transform suburbia, one business at a time.”
It goes beyond a juice bar with protein shakes and baked beet chips.
“It’s a repression-free zone,” said owner Andrew Ho, who created the juice bar six years ago.
The lounge has a mismatch of furniture and objects: A big stuffed snowman. Barrels of apples. Beanie Babies. Modern art. Books from Kafka to calculus. In the back is a dance studio and a used clothing shop of sorts.
Frank Sinatra music croons as the blender whirls kale and fruit into smoothies. Toy mice are scattered about, some in fornicating poses.
“The place needs to be memorable,” Ho said. “I learned that at the beginning. A customer came in and said, ‘Oh, I forgot about you,’ and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to make sure nobody ever forgets about this place.’ The moment you walk in, you’ll never ever forget this place. You’ll be talking about it, positive or negative, it doesn’t matter. It has to leave an impression. And if nobody hates you, you are doing something wrong.”
He says customers range from “CEOs to meth addicts, Stepford Wives to redneck intellectuals to punk-rock soccer moms.”
That’s a wide range to please and it’s a mission Ho takes seriously.
“I want to change the way people eat. The goal is to expand and correct people’s palates,” he said.
“The blue-collar men, they especially have bad diets. You can come in here and see a bunch of working-class guys sitting at the bar drinking a kale smoothie and eating a salad.”
This seems the last place you’d find blue-collar men.
Soups vary from pig’s trotters and vegan to coconut Thai and West African peanut. Microwaveable meals to go include pulled pork, chicken satay, hickory salmon, tofu tikka masala and roasted duck. The $6 entrees are packaged with servings of vegetables.
Ho and his five employees strive to “make the nasty stuff taste good.”
The stuff I tried was very good, and I have a bad diet.
Ho, 42, said he had a typical Chinese upbringing growing up in New York and L.A. He moved to Seattle to get a master’s degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Washington. He got a job as a writer at Microsoft. Then he got laid off from Microsoft. Six years ago, when he saw that a corner hole-in-the-wall space near his gym was for rent, he opened a juice bar.
“It gradually expanded from smoothies to juices to salads and then more and more,” he said. “I always dreamed of having a bistro.”
Last year, he moved a few doors down to a bigger space encompassing 3,500 square feet that formerly housed a yoga studio.
“This isn’t a yoga kind of place,” Ho said. “We’re more rock-and-roll instead of chill.”
The dance studio (run by instructors, not Ho) offers hula, Latin, Brazilian and belly dance, with summer camps for kids, who converge in the juice bar lounge for lunch and breaks. The work-in-progress clothing store is like a surreal bedroom, with Twister on the floor.
“Customers expect me to do something interesting,” he said.
Ho delivers. That’s for sure.
He doesn’t try to be Mr. Nice Juice Guy.
“People say, ‘I’ve heard about you. You’re the meanest guy in the neighborhood.’”
Well, is he?
Now comes the smile.
“Those who don’t like it don’t come back. I suspect 80 percent of people hate it. We’re not trying to be popular. Kind of like the following Ron Paul had where it was very deep, just not very wide,” he said.
An online commenter put it this way: “It’s like the originator of this concept watched the classic Seinfeld ‘Soup Nazi’ episode and thought to himself, ‘I can take customer contempt and disdain way farther than that.’”
Ho says his blog gets everything from offers for sex to hate mail.
He posts his negative Yelp reviews. Examples: “Rude. Rude rude rude.” “He really is a Pig!” “I’d give no star if I could.” “This was the most psychotic experience I’ve ever had.” “What a jerk this guy is – I can’t believe anyone goes back.”
But customers keep coming back. He was nice enough when I was there, and his workers were friendly.
Debbie Christie comes at least once a week.
“They’re on it when you come in here. Before I even walk in the door they know what I want,” she said.
She gets it to go to share with her dog, a 6-year-old Pomeranian-poodle mix named Isis.
“I give her a straw full and she gulps it down,” she said. “The food is amazing. The Mexican chicken is really good. My dog loves it, too. These guys are my nourishment every day. It makes me feel better.”
Bardsley’s son Bryce, 11, likes the smoothies and the mojo.
“The place is wild,” he said. “The more eccentric the better.”
Jonathan Plum, co-owner of London Bridge recording studio a few blocks away, credits Ho with cleaning up his diet.
“I get the Attitude Cleanse. It’s the most veggie drink you can get here,” he said. “Andrew basically weaned me off of sugar over the course of two years.”
To Plun, the juice bar isn’t weird. “It’s just Andrew,” he said. “A world that Andrew created that’s unlike any other place.”
Whassup with What’s Up With That?
Andrea Brown’s column won first place in Blog Portfolio and second place in General Commentary in the national Society for Features Journalism contest in the division among newspapers with circulations up to 90,000. Entries judged were about Mukilteo’s Grouchy Chef; busker “Wolfman Jim,” often seen playing his guitar by the road in Lynnwood; Everett’s Stanley “Mr. T” Thomas and his amazing attire; and the chicken flock owned by Brian Baisch, a blogger known as The Real Housewife of Snohomish County. The awards were recently presented at the society’s annual conference in Austin, Texas.