Take the escalators at City Point BKLYN’s Prince St. entrance down to DeKalb Market Hall, and immediately to your right you’ll find Essex Squeeze, a new juice and smoothie vendor operating under one main concept: balance. With Essex Squeeze, founders Cedric Hernandez and Charles De La Cruz have combined a love for running and exercise, and a passion for food and hospitality, to create a business with the goal of providing affordable, nutritious, and tasty options for those who wish to maintain a healthy lifestyle at their own pace.
We spoke with Cedric to get the inside scoop on how it all got started.
DBP: Tell us a little about yourself and the story behind Essex Squeeze.
Cedric Hernandez: The story of how Essex Squeeze got started is a long one, but it was born out of a simple idea: balance. It all began when a group of friends and I started a running movement in 2003 called Bridge the Gap. We wanted to change the purpose and narrative behind why people run by making it more about finding balance, and less about trying to be the best runner with the most marathons and the most impressive stats. I was able to get the word out there through connections in the art and nightclub scene, which resulted in the building of a large community that got sponsored by Nike and now has over 100 groups worldwide.
With balanced exercise also comes a balanced diet, and that’s where Essex Squeeze comes in. I already always juice, so I wanted to bring that to people and assist them with having a balanced nutrition that also tastes good. Thankfully, my best friend Charles De La Cruz, whose family has run the Viva Fruits & Vegetables produce company at Essex Market for over 20 years, informed me there was an opening there for a new vendor. That’s when I presented him with all my ideas for a juice shop, and he agreed to open it up with me.
Then, the pandemic happened. And while that could have been the end of the story, we realized that people needed more than ever to strengthen their immune system and maintain healthy, balanced diets. We didn’t care if we were going to lose money in the beginning; the goal was primarily to provide healthy, tasty options to those who needed it. Now we have locations in the East Village, in the Nike shops at SoHo, and now right here at DeKalb Market.
DBP: Congratulations! We’re so happy to hear about Essex Squeeze’s successes. How did Essex end up here in Downtown Brooklyn?
Cedric: Charles was a manager at Katz’s Delicatessen, so he would often come and check out the Katz’s DeKalb Market Hall foray. During the pandemic, Charles suggested we bring Essex Squeeze here. Eventually, after we got the DeKalb Market team to visit our East Village location, after they tried our juices, and after their traffic began returning to pre-pandemic levels, we opened up right here.
DBP: What makes Essex Squeeze unique?
Cedric: Well, to begin, unlike most big juice shops, our mission first and foremost is to better the community. We’re not doing it for the money (I mean, hopefully we make some), but our goal is really to provide balanced nutrition at a lower price than many of our competitors. We also offer something that not many big juice shops do: the ability to create your own drink with ingredients of your own choosing. The names of our juices also pay homage to various famous NYC streets — a unique spin you’ll only find here.
DBP: We noticed you also offer more than juices and smoothies — can you tell us a little about your other menu items?
Cedric: Yes, of course! Besides smoothies, we sell a variety of toasts including apple, banana, berry, and of course, avocado. Our customers kept asking for different spread options, so now you can choose almond butter, peanut butter, or hazelnut spread as your base for the toast. We also recently added a bunch of bowls – starting with açaí, greens, and pitaya, and expanded the menu to offer acerola, coconut, and banana. And yes, you can make your own bowl, too!
DBP: Which of Essex Squeeze’s juices have you noticed is a fan favorite?
Cedric: You know, every time I’ve asked a customer what their favorite is, they tell me that they can’t settle on just one, and that they’re always trying something new. I guess that’s a testament to how good all our offerings are. In fact, I’m so confident in our drinks that I often tell customers to try a new drink and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to pay. So far, I haven’t had to pay for anyone’s drinks! I will say though that this past season, our “Summer Fling” was probably our most ordered drink — people just love a good berry mix. Food-wise, it’s got to be our avocado toast and açaí bowl.
DBP: We definitely have to try those sometime – they sound so delicious! By the way, what do you like to do in Downtown Brooklyn when you’re not working hard?
Cedric: Like I said, I love running, so I’m always doing that through here, the Brooklyn Bridge, and DUMBO. That and the Citi Bike are my main forms of transportation. If I’ve gotten my steps in that day, I’ll go to Grimaldi’s on Front St. in DUMBO for some pizza.
DBP: Lastly, what advice do you have for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Cedric: My advice? Just go for it. It requires bravery, but if you have a dream, the first step is to go for it. And make sure it’s something you have a true passion for. Don’t go into a business just to make money if you don’t enjoy it. When you have a passion for something, it becomes something you love, you go to work every day happy, and it’ll come naturally. People will see it; your customers will see it.
DBP: Very inspiring! We can tell you have a passion for Essex Squeeze just by the way you speak about it. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
The next time you need a tasty drink or smoothie to power your day, head to Essex Squeeze at City Point for a wide variety of delicious and affordable options. There’s something for everyone there, whether you’re a nutrition buff or just craving a fruity treat. Check them out at 445 Albee Square West, and let them know their friends at Downtown Brooklyn Partnership sent you! Tag us @downtownbrooklyn in a picture or video and we’ll re-share it!