hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues July 2017


Healthy, sinful join forces

SoCo Creamery partners with juice enthusiasts in retail showcase


Contributing writer


Leigh Duffin pours a concoction of freshly squeezed juice at the SoCo Oasis juice bar in Great Barrington. The year-old operation is a collaboration between local ice cream maker SoCo Creamery and juice makers Noah and Ari Meyerowitz, also known as the Sprout Brothers.Susan Sabino photo

On a balmy summer day, the warm sun seems to drive a steady stream of customers through the doors of SoCo Oasis and Sprout Brothers Juice Lab on Main Street.

Inside the establishment’s walls of verdant green, there seem to be two camps of customers: those who make a beeline for the frozen yogurt dispensers, and those who stand at the refrigerated case in the front of the store, pondering which variety of cold-pressed juice they’ll choose.

This is proof that all is going according to the plan of the shop’s creators.
A juice bar and frozen yogurt emporium under one roof may seem an odd pairing, but Erik Bruun says the two have turned out to be surprisingly compatible.

Bruun is the chief executive of SoCo Creamery, a Berkshires-based premium ice cream maker whose walk-in parlor is just around the corner on Railroad Street. When the town’s soft-serve frozen yogurt store went out of business last year, the building’s landlord approached Bruun with a proposal to take over the establishment.

“I thought it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, since SoCo offers only hard ice cream, and customers were asking for soft and frozen yogurt,” he recalled.

Bruun decided to take a chance on the business, since the equipment was already in place. The self-serve frozen yogurt and toppings bar turned out to be a huge hit, particularly in the summer months. But when sales dropped sharply in late fall, Bruun knew some product diversification was in order.

The fact that the regulars at the frozen yogurt shop seemed to have a keen interest in health and nutrition got the wheels turning. Bruun had been friends with the late Steve Meyerowitz, who was also known also as “the Sproutman.” Meyerowitz was an authority on juicing, detoxification and food-combining techniques; he wrote nearly a dozen books and appeared on the Food Network and PBS touting his philosophy on health.

“I knew Steve’s sons Ari and Noah had continued their father’s business as The Sprout Brothers and put their own imprint on the company,” Bruun said. “Their philosophy of cleanliness in the sense of food is consistent with SoCo’s message. Ours is a clean product; ice cream may not be good for you, but you can trust what you’re putting into your children’s bodies.”


From online to downtown
The Sprout Brothers now operate Sproutman, named after their father. The online company sells wheatgrass products, kitchen tools, books on health, and a variety of organic sprouting seeds to be grown in-kitchen and used for juicing.

The brothers, who were raised in Great Barrington and still live here, loved the idea of creating a juice bar and healthy food emporium with Bruun.

“My brother and I would travel all over the place and see elements of our perfect juice bar, but the actual thing didn’t seem to exist,” Ari Meyerowitz explained. “Our town needed a healthy, café-style hangout that can be a home to locals and make the visitors feel that we are still the coolest small town around.”

Meyerowitz described their partnership with SoCo Creamery as co-branding relationship with a shared vision.

“We have the advantage of our father’s research and experience,” he said. “He led multiple juice-fasts every year, and we grew up drinking all kinds of juice. So we created a rotating menu of juices. The initial six came straight out of our father’s last published book, “Sproutman’s 7-Day Just Juice Diet,” as a way to bring him into the shop. Others we came up with simply by playing around with flavors at home.”

The brothers spent considerable time perfecting the ratios of their drink ingredients and deciphering the specific yields of each fruit and vegetable in their formulas. Once that was perfected, the brothers decided to make an impact on their juice’s presentation. It was on a visit to a juice bar in England that the Noah and Ari gleaned the idea for showcasing juice ingredients in mammoth lidded glass jars.

“Rather than have a menu board, we have a showcase of glass jars filled with the raw ingredients so customers can see exactly what’s in the juice they’re ordering,” Oasis manager Nicole Bessey explained. “It has a lot of advantages for both customers and the employees who make the juice. We need it to be easy for the customer to decide what they’d like, and the pre-measured ingredients in a jar cuts down on the prep time.”

Varieties rotate with the season and availability of ingredients, but some of the mainstays include Sproutman’s V-8 (celery, parsley, kale, cucumber, tomato, lemon, tamari, garlic), Sweet Beet (beets, carrots and Granny Smith apples), and Green Granny (Granny Smith apples, cucumber, spinach and ginger). Also popular are the Wellness Shots (ginger, cayenne, and lemon), Citrus Blast (orange juice and Spirulina) and the Meyerowitz favorite, the Wheatgrass Shot.


Colorful concoctions
When a customer selects a jar of raw ingredients, each piece of produce is methodically forced through a cold-press juicer that sits on the store counter between the yogurt toppings bar and the cash register.

“Cold-press juicing allows you to consume pounds of healthy food without taxing the body’s digestive system,” Ari Meyerowitz explained. “By removing the fiber, juice enters your bloodstream faster than everything except oxygen and completely skips the digestive tract, allowing you to consume quantities of foods that are good for you without causing your system to work overtime.”

The 12-ounce juices retail at about $8 per serving, depending on the ingredients.
On a recent afternoon, Oasis employee Camille Beckwith patiently churned the ingredients of a “King Kale” drink through the press. As the bright green liquid dribbled into the plastic cup, the pulp pile beside it grew. In small increments, Beckwith pushed handfuls of kale through the juicer’s top and packed it down with what looked like a tiny wooden baseball bat.

“I think my favorite juice to make is the Sweet Beet,” she said with a smile. “The carrots and beets together make the juice look like a beautiful sunset.”

Just added to the menu for summer is a lemonade drink made with Granny Smith apples and lemons.

Beckwith said that whenever possible, the produce is organic.
“Sometimes you get customers who have a ‘that’s not for me’ attitude toward cold-pressed juices,” Bruun said. “But then you give them a taste of something made with a Granny Smith apple, and they like it. There’s an emotional obstacle for some that takes some overcoming.”
For those firmly in the yogurt camp, the back of the store has self-serve frozen yogurt dispensers and a full topping bar.

“This is the other half of what we didn’t do at the creamery,” Bessey explained. “We have four flavors of yogurt and four sorbets, including a fat-free yogurt and a dairy-free sorbet, and it’s all sourced from Ronnybrook Yogurt in Ancramdale.”

Bessey had a hand in the interior’s sleek, monochromatic design, the result of a brainstorm with area designer Larry Chernicoff to create a modern look with repurposed pallets used for the wall and menu boards.

“Since people are responding so positively to the juices, we added a small healthy food section in our refrigerator,” Bessey said. The offerings in this section include vegan wraps, Berkshire Bark chocolate and homemade cookies from the nearby Market Place Kitchen.

Meyerowitz said that although juice bar’s not quite a year old, feedback from the community as been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’re still building momentum, but we’ve heard a lot of praise for our vegetables-in-a-jar design, which we are quite proud of,” he said. “Our goal is to make healthy living accessible to everyone, and the store is a vessel to interact directly with people in a way we weren’t able to before.”
“Ari and Noah’s philosophy is consistent with our values of paying attention to what you eat,” Bruun said. “Their juice is an image-enhancer for us. They’re local with a national following, and that’s something we aspire to.”


For more information on SoCo Oasis and Sprout Brothers Juice Lab, visit www.sococreamery.com or call (413) 717-4035.