New York|Things We Love

Interview: Melvin, The Juice Master Of Miss Lily's Latest Venture, Melvin's Juice Box

The triple threat known as Miss Lily’s Variety, Miss Lily’s Bake Shop and Melvin’s Juice Box, the latest concepts to come out of the group behind Miss Lily's restaurant, has already been highly buzzed about. The neighboring space to Miss Lily's restaurant on Houston at Sullivan has already hosted a Jimmy Cliff performance, as well as an abundance New York socials, such as Stella Schnabel and Peter Davis. But the real heart and soul of the operation lies behind the juice counter, where Melvin Major Jr. makes his homemade organic juices. Customers come far and wide for a taste of Melvin's magical touch; he believes juicing is in his bones.

Where did this whole idea with the juice bar next door to Miss Lily's begin? With you?

No, not me...this started with Paul [Salmon] and Serge Becker, they were looking for a location and everything and it eventually it took off. I just stayed in contact with them about once a month for the past 2 or 3 years.

How did they find you?

Through a guy named Moe. I think he also DJs here, and he's Serge's friend, so he told them about me because he heard about this venture. He said you have to get with this guy Melvin.

This guy Melvin the juice master?

Yeah, this guy the Melvin the juice master. [laughs]

How did you become THE juice man?

I started first at Integra Yoga (on 13th street) and I think I was there for about maybe 2 years and then after that I went down to Whole Foods on Prince street, and I did it there for about a year and a half. And then I moved over to Life Time, I've been there for about 16 years.

What made you decide to start making juice?

Wow, well I grew up on a farm down in Hilton Head Island, so I grew up around vegetables and a huge huge farm, acres and acres of farm land, and when I went to apply for a job that was the only one available. I was like  'I'll do it!' [laughs] I don't know I just had a natural touch for it, and I just went for it, just felt things out. And it was beautiful.

How old were you when you did that?

I was about 22...23.

And how old are you now?

Wow! I'm 46...45, 45.

So it's been like 20 years or so?

Yeah, it's been a while.

Is that all you've been doing? Making recipes?

All I've been doing is that, because I felt a love for it and I was just happy doing it. I just stayed with it and stayed with it. I guess this was the pay off time. The big break for me. I definitely like to do it. I love to do it.

What's your favorite recipe?

My favorite one is the Sweet Christine with a carrot, apple, beet, lemon, and ginger.

I think that's the one I had, when I came here the other night...

We changed it to the Sweet and Dandy, because of the names. But yeah, Sweet and Dandy. The other one is the Body Good...

You know the Sweet Christine, what's interesting about it is that it had a little kick to it. Is that the ginger?

Yeah that's the ginger. We also have another one, a pink one, called the Catch of Fire. It has cayenne, apple, and ginger.

A little bit more about the process of making recipes. How does it all happen?

Wow, I don't sit down and experiment. I just feel it.

You just feel it in your bones?

Yeah I do, I feel it... I use greens I've never seen in juice bars. Years ago, most juice bars would use kale, I mean not even kale -- celery, cucumber, and maybe parsley. And that was it. That used to be back in the day.

I grew up in a farm so I always grew kale, collard greens, not green chard, but I knew green chard was always good. So i just started combining those three together, the green chard, the kale, and the collard greens with celery, apple, lemon, and ginger and it worked out perfect.

So you've also made juices for some celebrities I hear?

I did a drink for Christy Turlington... Russell Crow, Russell Simmons, David Blane daily, Liv Tyler, Gwyneth Paltrow. She talks about me all the time on her blog.

On goop?

Yeah! [laughs]

Are you in contact with her? Like do you give her recipes?

No no, not really in contact. Sara Jessica Parker, she comes in to places I've worked to get the Sweet Christine. It's a lot of them that come in. Susan Sarandan, and the one that speaks about me all the time, Sandra Bernhard. She's my girl. She talks about me all the time, comedy shows, everything. She's great. And Usher, wow so many. Quite a few.

So what does your family think about all of this, moving to the city and making juice for celebrities?

Wow. They think it's cool. As long as I'm not getting in to trouble. They think it's cool. Definitely. My mom understands that I love it. I have a love for it. It's like one time, she came up to visit me and I was like, I'll take the day off. And she was like, 'No, no. Go down and go to work. Because I went down there. I saw the line and people depend on you. So, you should be there for them. You should go to work.'

Once I started to hear that, I was like forget calling out sick all the time. I knew I had to be there. People needed their daily drink. People need their daily dose of energy and vice versa. They got something from me. I got something from them. And I just like to be out there spreading good and love. Good energy and pay forward. If I give it to you, you give it to someone else. It just makes for a better world.

Do you create drinks for certain types of feelings?

I do. But it's the hard core green juices, that do that body good. I go heavy on the greens. I don't look for a good taste, but it just turns out to be a good taste with all the combination of the greens added to the apple and the ginger. So that's good. It has a lot of anti-oxidants, chlorophyll. It just gives you a lot of energy.

Is chlorophyll good? Is that a good thing?

Yeah, yeah. You need it. It's good for energy. It's good for the bones. It's good for the body. It's something you need.

Is it mostly vegetable and fruit mixes?

It's 90% green juices and fruit shakes. Drinks made out of coconuts and stuff like that. We do offer protein shakes for people who've been coming in for years. I wanted to bring that with me to travel with, so they could come visit me, so it wouldn't be like a divorce. We could stay together.

The proteins I offer are vegan rice protein, and its very good. It doesn't have all the additives and sugars added to it. We also do a whey protein that's more for people who come from the gym looking to bulk up. So right after they leave the gym, they come here and get a fresh protein shake with berries, rice milk and unsweetened almond milk. Keeps the sugar down.

Making the menu for the juice box, did you discuss with Serge and Paul? Or did you just kind of do your own thing?

No, I did my own thing. Every spot that I went to, that was my own menu that I took with me, nothing stolen. Nothing from other places. I just got my own menu and it works well. So i just stick with it. Each place I went to, I basically just changed the name. Serge and his partners came up with the new names. And I look like I'm from the islands, but I'm not Jamaican. I'm from, it's called Geechy Gullah from South Carolina, down on Hilton Head Island.

So are you totally living your dream right now, I mean following your passion and having your name up there on the sign?

Yeah, yeah, it feels good. I'm still high about it. It feels really really good. And finally someone took notice of my work and the love I have to offer. The way I run the juice bar and the whole fix-up. It's about time. It helps out when you have owners behind you, backing you up and telling you this is what you deserve, don't cut yourself short. It's a very good thing here.