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Growing a Wealth of Health on North Avenue

Aug. 23, 2016
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Through the combined efforts of citizens, nonprofits, and public and private entities, the problem of poor nutrition and food insecurity is slowly but steadfastly being tackled. The Innovations and Wellness Commons (1617 W. North Ave.), an endeavor led by Walnut Way Conservation Corporation, opened last October in a renovated century-old building in the Lindsay Heights Neighborhood. The building houses The Juice Kitchen, Outpost Natural Foods’ first “pop-up” store, a commercial kitchen used by Milwaukee Center for Independence, and Fondy Food Center’s office.

“It’s about collaborating to address the needs of the community and find a comparable way of working together,” said JoAnne Sabir, who owns The Juice Kitchen with her husband, Maanaan. “It’s exciting to see all these partnerships come to fruition.” The Sabirs had also worked at Walnut Way; JoAnne was associate director and Maanaan was men’s wellness program coordinator.

The Juice Kitchen was originally formed in 2012 by the Sabirs after their son Taj was diagnosed with a genetic disorder. They sought natural remedies for his care and began juicing watermelon, a natural expectorant. Taj later suggested that his parents start a business named “The Juice Kitchen.”

Taj, now age 12, is doing well and the Sabirs, with a brick-and-mortar location in their neighborhood, have expanded varieties of juices, smoothies and health shots made fresh in house. Items can be altered to accommodate food allergies.

The Sabirs researched food properties and blended fruits and vegetables that taste good and benefit the body. The popular Purple Haze, designed to increase blood flow, has beets, sweet potatoes, apples and lemon. Another customer favorite, Soul Food, is rich in vitamin C with sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, carrots and strawberries. Energy juice has cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, lemons, apples and oranges. The flavors blend harmoniously and one taste doesn’t dominate over another.

Maanaan also creates weekly juice specials. Many of their vegetables and herbs are sourced from Walnut Way and Alice’s Garden. Gallon and half-gallon quantities, meal replacement juices and detox packages can be ordered in the store or online.

The Market at Wellness Commons is Outpost’s first “pop-up” store. It started with a vision to bring limited quantities of products from Outpost to the neighborhood, while being flexible with offerings.

The Market is less than 750 square feet and harkens back to when family owned corner grocers flourished in vibrant urban neighborhoods. It opened with a small array of produce, hot soups, salads, grab-and-go items, shelf-stable groceries and some body care items.

“One of the interesting things with co-ops is that we listen to what the community wants,” said Margaret Mittelstadt, Outpost’s community relations director. “We observed shopping patterns and habits and adjusted our product selection along the way.” The prepared foods and salads are popular, so they’re adding more of those.

Lack of transportation can affect food accessibility, Mittelstadt observed, and the megastore boom of the 1980s pushed many small grocers from urban neighborhoods. “I think we’re coming full circle and exploring what small stores might look like again, because there’s lots of neighborhoods in Milwaukee that perhaps benefit from having smaller food retail moving back,” she said.

A barbecue celebrating The Market’s one-year anniversary is planned for 4-6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6. Area residents are invited to give feedback, enjoy good food and connect with neighbors. 

Groundbreaking for Phase 2 of Wellness Commons will occur this October in the adjacent parking lot. Tenants are yet to be announced but will include wellness services and a kids’ engineering program.


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