Subscribe

Kim and Jim Coleman

Pay-what-you-can juice bar fuels South Memphis

By Published: March 28, 2019 7:03 PM CT

Memphis Rox isn’t just a rock-climbing gym. With the addition of Juice Almighty, a juice bar and cafe, it is also a healthy-eating destination in South Memphis, considered a food desert.

A state-of-the-art indoor climbing facility, Memphis Rox is located at 879 E. McLemore, across the street from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The nonprofit facility opened in March 2018, and offers monthly memberships that start at $20 a month for youth, $55 for an individual and $100 for a family. No one is turned away for inability to pay the fees.

The juice bar is tucked away inside the rock climbing gym, with a commercial kitchen for preparing fresh daily fare. The seating is picnic-style.  There is also a takeaway area for Ugly Mug coffee and healthy snacks such as raw vegetables.

“We’re in a food desert here in (ZIP Code) 38106, on the cusp of 38126. (Juice Almighty) is imperative for the community,” said Tiffany Greer, director of acquisitions and cultivation for nonprofit One Family Memphis, parent organization of Memphis Rox and Juice Almighty. All the ingredients are fresh, she said. “They use organic chicken. Everything is prepared fresh daily.”

In addition to a variety of juices and smoothies, the cafe features healthy takes on buffalo wraps and chicken sandwiches, and there are faux-patty melts and salads.


AISLING MAKI: The making of Memphis Rox: South Memphis' massive rock-climbing gym


“They are my recipes. When I created them, I thought about what I ate as a child and what a lot of kids bring into the juice bar,” said Aster Demekech, Juice Almighty kitchen manager and director. “I look at what they do and put a healthy twist on it.”

She found that many of the kids who frequent Memphis Rox brought in items from stores or restaurants in the area. Chips, sugary sodas and fried foods are common. For many in South Memphis, it is typical fare, but lately, that has begun to change as the gym and juice bar become more popular.

“It’s been received really well,” Demekech said. “We have a few kids on the weekends who know that they are going to be here all day. We give them three meals a day on the weekend. We have kids that come here after school and stay all night. They may not get dinner because their mom is at work.

“A lot of the kids are very respectful. They empty the trash for us. They help us out in any kind of way just as a thank you.”

The juice bar is operated by the same nonprofit as the gym. It also follows the pay-as-you-can model so it’s never beyond the means of the people it is meant to serve.

“After welcoming the customer (employees) tell the customer the menu price on the item, which is $5, but they can pay what they can afford,” Demekech said. “They also ask if they will be making a donation. A lot of our customers actually donate more because they know they are helping feed a lot of the kids and families that come into the gym.”

There is also a free box, with premade items that visitors can help themselves to.

“They are items that are already accounted for. People just grab them if they might feel embarrassed by letting us know they don’t have any money,” Demekech said.

In 2012, Demekech left Memphis to work as a teacher’s aide in New Orleans, then she served three years in the Marines at a base in California. After her tour was done, she found work in a kitchen on campus at the University of California, Berkeley. Her love of cooking and natural talent soon became apparent to the chef she worked under.

“He said, ‘I am going to train you because you’re really good.’ He pretty much taught me everything I needed to know to pursue a career as a chef without going to school for it,” she said.

After six years of being away from home, Demekech, now 27, started to miss Memphis. Wherever she went — New Orleans, the Bay Area — she found the same intractable problems.

“No matter what city you are going to, the same issues are there. You can’t run away from that. It is just the same everywhere. It’s not a Memphis problem. It's a problem,” she said.

Soon after returning, she was looking to make a contribution to her hometown. A convert to rock climbing since her time in California, she found out about the newly opened Memphis Rox. She offered to volunteer and, after meeting the team, she was hired as a staff member in February 2018. She joined as kitchen manager in August. 

“It’s fresh. I know the folks who are preparing it,” she said. “They prepare it with love. It’s nutritious and great quality ingredients. I usually come over every day or every other day and at least get a juice. I mean, where else can you get beet and ginger and pear and carrot juice at your job. It’s great,” said Greer.

The organization will add a free weekly class that will alternate between courses in basic cooking and nutrition. With the help of volunteers, Demekech will open the cafe's commercial kitchen to residents and teach them how to prepare fresh recipes from whole ingredients while sticking to a budget. 

“There is a new generation so we can possibly change that cycle of unhealthy eating,” she said.


This story originally appeared at High Ground News (www.highgroundnews.com), Memphis’ source for neighborhood reporting. Sign up for the newsletter here. (https://signup.e2ma.net/signup/1828158/1782471/)

Topics

South Memphis Memphis Rox

Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.