I f you’ve seen the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, you might well have been tempted to forsake all solid foods plus fats, sugars, salts, carbs—all the fun stuff—for a full on, pureed, juiced-up cleanse. If you haven’t seen the film, check it out online and head immediately to your nearest juice bar for a little test. In my case, that’s the relative newcomer Pure Health Lounge. Even if not fully convinced of the need to subsist on an all-liquid diet, it’s worth a visit. The “squeezes” on offer at Pure Health are fresh, delightful and—you guessed it—purely healthy summer treats.
Pure Health Lounge is on Audubon, parked on that quaint little street right across from Koffee?. Ray Sbrega opened this clean-lined, modern-looking spot in January, an unlikely (and cold) time to start a new business dependent on foot traffic. But now, thanks in part to a nationwide juice-happy cleansing and diet trend, Sbrega’s squeezing, blending and cooking up a perfect storm of healthy eats and drinks for New Haven residents and visitors alike. Sbrega’s young, enthusiastic behind-the-counter team is always busy, always friendly, always helpful and always juicing. “People walk several blocks to see us, which is great—we appeal to pretty much everyone,” he says, taking a quick break on a weekday morning to talk business just before the lunch rush. “New Haven knows what healthy is.”
Sbrega checked around the region for a couple years, looking for the perfect spot for a new health store. He decided on New Haven: college town, filled with the arts, technology, medicine. “Demographically, it was exactly what I was looking for,” he says. New Haven’s got Claire’s fabulous cakes and vegan eats, the new organic coffee and tea spot at greenwell on Crown, and a handful of other equally health-conscious establishments. “There are a few health-focused stores and restaurants, but I thought that with the number of people in New Haven, and what they’re looking for, there’s room for one more guy like myself.” It was slow going at first but he says little by little, people are sniffing him out, tracking down his healthy treats. Now, with constant support from his wife Patty, he’s permanently located behind the brightly lit counter, greeting regulars by name and happy to suggest a helpful juice combination or blend up a custom order.
Pure Health is a franchise, yet Sbrega and team’s warm presence and attention to individual customers makes it feel like a local operation. And that’s what he’s going for. There’s free wifi, and Sbrega hopes people will feel comfortable hanging out in his shop. “They can come, work, stay as long as they like.” Juices and smoothies are the main attraction but there’s plenty more heart- and body-healthy fare on the menu. “Someone might not be a smoothie or juice person. But we have soups, sandwiches, wraps, paninis, breakfast too. But everything, everything we do is with health in mind.”
The smoothies are a fresh blend of locally sourced fruit, fat free frozen yogurt (optional), freshly made to order. Pomegranate Passion rules in New Haven. “It’s because of all the antioxidants, and it tastes great,” Sbrega says. “People have to come down here and try it—it’s an amazing smoothie. It’s the least sweet but definitely the healthiest.”
Squeezes are made to order using an array of pure juices from carrot, orange, apple, ginger and beets to spinach, kale, parsley and cucumber. Plan to spend just a little more than the price of a large latte for a big 20 ounce cup of juice. And try away; Sbrega’s happy to dole out extras as samples for the curious. The Pure team helps visitors find what they like, and are always happy to blend up something they’ve never heard or even thought of. “One lady came in and asked for a squeeze with literally a little bit of everything listed on the menu,” says assistant manager Alex Ciccione. “So we did it, of course!”
Anything goes, and the crew is there to please and work with your tastes. Ciccione says she’s learned quite a bit on the job. “You get to understand some of the ingredients in the squeezes. Like spinach cuts down sugar.” On the savory side, salads and sandwiches are made with natural, unprocessed chicken and turkey; wild alaskan salmon; and locally sourced fruits and veggies. There are also a few choice egg-centric breakfast options.
Ciccione says she’s satisfied and happy working for Sbrega, selling Pure’s menu. “The food’s delicious, and we feel good about what we’re offering to people.” Early on I wonder if she’s just drinking the Kool-Aid—or in her case, the fresh squeezed fruit and veggie juice—but after trying a couple of those delicious, refreshing, righteousness-inducing 20 ounce meals-in-a-cup, I think I’m sold.
Pure Health Lounge
99 Audubon Street, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 10am-5pm
203-624-0316 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Written and photographed by Uma Ramiah.