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It smells like a garden inside The Juice Cellar, a new juice and raw food snack bar that opened two weeks ago in downtown Belfast. It smells fresh, clean and bright, mixing the scent of herbs, such as dill, basil and cilantro, with aromas of tangy citrus, rich fennel or mellow cucumber, depending on what owner Chris Roberts is sending through his high-powered juicer.
“Juicing changed my life,” said Roberts, 32, a Bangor native now living in Stockton Springs with his partner, Renee Johnson. “And I know that Belfast and the midcoast are totally ready for a juice bar. It’s a niche that needed to be filled.”
Roberts is no stranger to working with healthy food. Up until 2011, he owned the Bucksport-based Barkwheats, an all-natural, gluten-free line of dog treats, now branded as Cruncherz and owned by the Clear Conscience Pet company, based in New York. Three years ago, he switched to a mostly raw foods diet after trying to find a way to both lose weight and deal with some health problems, mainly migraines and teeth grinding due to temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ.
Raw food, as the name suggests, means none of the ingredients used in the dish are cooked above 104 degrees — they’re either served fully raw, or dehydrated. Though this generally indicates that the food used in a raw diet is vegan, some raw eaters consume raw fish and raw milk and cheeses. It’s thought that food heated higher than the above temperature loses much of its nutritional value.
“I’m not really a gym kind of guy, so I wanted to find something that could help all of that. And that was raw foods,” said Roberts. “The weight just melted off. I could eat and eat until I was stuffed to the gills, and I would still lose weight. The migraines and the TMJ stopped, too. It was wonderful.”
Last fall, Roberts took the raw diet even further — he started juicing, after seeing the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” about a man who loses 100 pounds after a 60-day juice fast and subsequent adoption of a vegan diet. He was immediately hooked. Roberts had a chance encounter with renowned raw chef and Searsport native Matthew Kenney around Christmas, and shortly after, the plan to open the Juice Cellar began, with Kenney as a co-owner.
“We knew that maybe Belfast wasn’t ready for a full-on raw vegan restaurant, but a juice bar was definitely wanted and needed,” said Roberts. “The response so far has been overwhelming. The community has been so supportive.”
Since opening on April 29, Roberts has already made hundreds of juices for new customers, which are priced at $5 for 12 ounces and $6 for 16 ounces. The colorful menu of juices, many named after famous songs, include things like the Bold as Love (beets, apple, ginger and lime), Soulshine (carrot, ginger, orange and cayenne pepper), and Running on Sunshine (cucumber, romaine, apple, kale, cilantro, parsley and lemon), as well as sweeter, smoothie-like drinks, including Start Wearing Purple (almond milk, almond butter, banana and blueberries) and Life is Rosy (almond milk, coconut butter, cardamom powder and rose water). He also makes several raw food snacks daily, like raw granola, raw tortilla chips, raw donuts and raw chocolates.
“I hope this helps to turn people on to what raw food and juicing is all about,” said Roberts. “You don’t have to be vegan or raw to appreciate it. You can just add juice to your diet for a shot of nutrition. It’s healthy no matter what. And it’s delicious, too.”
The Juice Cellar is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; it is closed Sundays until later in the summer. For more information, like them on Facebook.