These days you can’t walk five New York City blocks without hitting a spot shilling a $10 kale concoction, but green juice wasn’t always ubiquitous. In fact a decade ago when Denise Mari started her vegan food and juice brand, Organic Avenue, the idea that the mainstream public would be enticed to drink their vegetables seemed nothing if not absurd. We spoke with the wellness pioneer to find out more about her background, how she worked to educate consumers, and the next chapter of her career.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to starting Organic Avenue?
I grew up on Long Island and moved to Virginia when I was 15. I went on to college and studied Communication Sciences & Disorders with a Minor in Spanish. Afterwards I got my Masters Degree in the same field. It was after graduate school that I met my first passionate entrepreneur and that’s when I really became inspired. I wanted to find work and create with my passions. I wanted to live a life with purpose.
Since I was a small child, I’ve had a deep compassion and love for animals. As I moved toward vegetarianism in college, I realized I had a conscious choice in whether or not I participated in their suffering. Once I realized this choice was mine, I exercised it. Becoming a vegetarian I learned that not only could I survive, but actually truly thrive on a plant-based diet. Over the first few years I learned a lot about “food” and how it was produced. I sought to learn more. As I did I began to make greater changes and choices.
Can you elaborate a little bit on that and your affinity for health and wellness?
I was always active as a child. I loved to play sports and tried out for every extra curricular activity I could. My diet was quite standard American as a child, but I did have natural aversions to eating animals. I stopped eating fish by 8 and wouldn’t eat things that were obviously from an animal source. I always had a deeper spiritual search going on too. I wasn’t aware at such a young age, that it was an early indication of my health and wellness journey. Yet today I see myself developing an entire lifestyle based on valuing the lives of other sentient creatures as if it is my own, looking toward improving sustainability in all that I do—a compassionate lifestyle. I have come to rely on pure foods, yoga, and meditation as a basis of living.
Can you talk to us about the initial steps of launching Organic Avenue?
It was fueled by pure passion and naiveté. I just did what I felt was right. I was motivated to make the lifestyle more available for others (secretly, I knew it would also improve the lives of the animals and help to increase compassion and consciousness on the planet).
What gave you the courage to launch it back when the average person didn’t even know what green juice was?
For me green juice was a key, yet it wasn’t the be-all end-all of the brand or the lifestyle. Green juice just happens to be a necessity for a heightened state of consciousness and health. Maybe it’s the pure plant based nutrients that are easily absorbed allowing greater potential to be reached. I think it turns on some of the lights that may be dormant until that delicious, natural, chlorophyll-based concoction is consumed.
How did you go about educating consumers?
There is a ton of information on plants and their healing power. I loved learning about them and it made it easy to share from a place of true enthusiasm. I was just sharing what I was doing and loving.
You received a lot of celebrity attention. How did that come about?
Celebrities are able to source the best quality lifestyle they want. By offering the highest quality products that were packaged in the highest quality materials they naturally migrated toward it. And with it, the press followed them and shared with the rest of the world what the particular celebrity was choosing and doing. Win, win, win.
At what point did you think "now I've made it"?
I try to stay very present at all times. When I come into the moment, I realize life is now…happening right now… there is no ‘then’ ... it is ‘now’. There is no holding on to anything except constant change. When I make it into the present moment, that is the closest I can get to ‘making it’.
Why do you think Organic Avenue continues to grow despite so much competition?
I think it’s the LOVE* and founding principles of the brand. The early adopters and loyal customers built the brand and I think they still sustain it. I believe sincerely in what Organic Avenue was built on and I believe she will continue to provide the opportunity to access the healthiest food and lifestyle products/information as time continues to roll on.
How has the brand evolved since you first started?
I always had a very large vision for her offering. I loved introducing new products. Since the early days, the focus has been on providing the highest quality plant-based nutrition.
What made you sell your controlling stake in the company? Any regrets?
The company needed to raise money to stay in front of the competition and continue to expand in locations to serve more people. It wasn’t a matter of choice at that point it was a matter of survival. I will never stand in the way of Organic Avenue reaching more people who need the access and support. No regrets, just great learning.
How did your book come about? Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing it?
Writing Organic Avenue: Recipes for Life, Made with LOVE* was a natural process and evolution. After many years of developing the brand—and especially years of working with chefs developing recipes—there was more and more interest in sharing these recipes and the story of Organic Avenue in the form of the first book. Writing it was a collaborative process consisting of organizing information, testing recipes, and getting all into a format for enjoyable reading!
With so many wellness books, what sets your apart?
I think it’s one of the few focused on cutting-edge nutrition that points those who love to eat and cook into a new (old) direction. Don’t cook! The book shows you how to eat raw plant-based foods, and make your own juices and raw food and juice cleanse programs at home. This book shares all I had learned along the way: from the science that backs up the health-promoting lifestyle to the tried and tested recipes, and LOVE* Cleanse program(s) so people who don’t live local to a Organic Avenue retail boutique in NYC can still replicate the experience at home.
You completed a yoga teacher training last year. Are you going to teach?
Taking Dharma Mittra’s level 1 Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Program was one of the best things I have done. Now I have my own yoga practice that I can teach yet also a practice I can also do when no teacher is available. I love having a private practice to work on along with meditation and pranayama (breathing practice). These tools, along with a raw food, plant-based diet and Ahimsa (non-violent) lifestyle are truly rewarding and I feel lifesaving. At Mari Manor in Westhampton Beach, I have a beautiful sun-filled yoga studio where I teach privately.
What has the experience taught you?
That there is no end result just a constant practice.
How did your bed and cleanse idea come about?
I always loved the idea of having retreat locations around the world that offered a cleansing health promoting lifestyle experience. The “bed and cleanse” concept was an opportunity to offer an enhanced, healthful experience to the traditional bed and breakfast. When I had the opportunity to build out this experience at Mari Manor in Westhampton Beach, it just felt like the right thing to do. I continue to build on the lifestyle experience that I was developing for Organic Avenue and now have a boutique retreat for people who want to juice, practice yoga, receive massage, and enjoy a quaint beach lifestyle experience within a short driving distance of Manhattan.
What can we expect this summer season?
Lot's of Manhattanites joining me in Westhampton Beach to enjoy the LOVE* Lifestyle at Mari Manor!
Can you tell us a little bit about your personal diet? What do you always stock in your fridge/pantry?
An abundance of Organic Avenue juices and mylks! Green LOVE*, Sweet Greens, Cashew Mylk. Jalapina Green Juice, Royal Red, Outstanding Orange Juice, Grapefruit Juice. Additionally, coconut yogurt, aloe water, and a ton of veggies!
Can you tell us about your fitness regimen?
When I am not running after my son, I am pretty good about my own personal yoga and meditation, keeping to a vital plant-based diet and staying active as I can. I love trying new things. This winter I began learning to ski down hill and cross-country. As with most people I know, the more regular I keep to daily exercise AND meditation the better I feel.
It’s so hard to live a balance life, make time for the gym, and eat healthy with so many temptations. Any tips?
The best thing I have ever done is become an ethical vegetarian. I have no temptation whatsoever to eat an animal or animal products. I think this has saved me from aging prematurely and definitely feels right to my soul. The next best thing I have benefited from is learning about the living food lifestyle. Eating pure, raw, plant-based foods predominantly at times, without a doubt gives me the boost I need. It’s not just “not eating animals,” it’s about eating truly nutritious foods and cleansing on occasion, which basically means taking a break from processed and novel “foods” and giving the body digestive rest. The amazing part is once you start the cleansing process the mental and spiritual benefits come along too!