Pete’s General, a popular bagel shop, recently closed its doors in the historic Uptown neighborhood earlier this month and there’s already a new tenant set to move in.
Kelly Lessem, the founder of Squeeze Juice Works, alongside managing partners Kendra Hardesty and Meaghan Martin, will bring a vegan cafe to 495 7th Ave. North.
The location, which is undergoing an interior revamp, will be the third brick-and-mortar site for Lessem and will be called The Works, as it is a collaboration among the partners.
“I’m very familiar with this building. I would get bagels and coffee here,” Lessem said, stating how she has family members who live just steps from the building. “Since the beginning of Squeeze and the evolution of my own health, I started with juicing and it keeps growing every year into more plant-based foods. For years now, we wanted a creative space where we could experiment with plant-based foods.”
Lessem’s first brick-and-mortar Squeeze Juice Works store opened in 2013 at 675 30th Ave. N. The second store is at 18 22nd St. S. in the Grand Central District. She explained how the kitchens in the existing locations are set up for cold juice production and salads.
“I’ve been working with Meaghan, who has operated Lucy’s Vegan Corner, she and I became friends and thought about how we could collaborate,” Lessem said. “When the spot was available, I thought it was a natural, cool progression with my general manager Kendra who has been working with me for eight years developing the menu.”
Lessem bought the existing commercial oven in the store from Pete’s General owners Steven and Sara Peterman; the duo are moving into a larger space. Lessem said The Works will serve some of Pete’s General’s bagels.
“This location will allow us to solely focus on food production and extend it to the other shops,” Lessem said. There are plans to eventually have a subscription model where food can be picked up or delivered to customers.
The Works will offer all of Lessem’s plant-based juices, smoothies and salads found at the Squeeze Juice Works locations.
“Meaghan is endlessly researching and going to vegan festivals, and does a fun vegan take on Americana food like Philly cheesesteaks,” Lessem said.
As the location overlooks Round Lake Park, Lessem wants to create charcuterie-style picnic packages and vegan bento boxes for customers who may want to sit by the water.
On the side of the building, there will be a to-go window, and Lessem plans to renovate the outside picnic table area with fresh paint, add some plants and a small water feature.
The Works will gradually open next month. Lessem wants to have close friends and family test the menu items during the first few weeks before opening to the public.
The hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week. Lessem said she is thinking of extending hours in the evening during pop-up events.
The roots of the plant-based concept
Lessem created Squeeze Juice Works through her own health crisis.
During the time when Lessem started to explore the purpose of her life through her career path, she was hit with a health challenge.
She started experiencing symptoms of slurred speech, double vision, facial paralysis and choking.
She hopped from one doctor to another and was eventually diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a rare neurological autoimmune condition that can affect one’s ability to chew, breathe and/or swallow.
Looking for natural Western medicine alternatives to support her health challenge led to discovering the natural benefits of juicing.
Lessem said she had an internal and spiritual revelation that she needed to help others on their nutritional journey as well.
“I thought it [the relevation] meant feeding people’s spirit, as I was a yoga instructor at the time and massage therapist. The guidance said back to me, ‘No, like literally feed people,'” Lessem chuckled.
“I keep that in my thoughts all the time, that this is something I should be doing.”