To arrange a juice delivery from indie Astoria, Queens, company Urban Greens, founder Robert Urban texts me. “I start delivering around 3:00 a.m., like the milk man,” he says. At 7:00 a.m. (thank god), he arrives on my doorstep with a lunchbox filled with glass (milk!) bottles brimming with green, red, and yellow juices. A few days later, he swings by to pick up the empties, leaving a bag stuffed with colorful hot peppers from the garden in their place on my porch.
This is the way Urban has operated his tiny, neighborhood company for the past three years—with all of the produce grown in his organic garden on a quiet street near Astoria Park then cold-pressed into bottles in his kitchen, and neighborhood residents spreading the word about his products from Ditmars to Broadway.
That’s about to change. Urban Greens is all grown up and has left home for the Island of Manhattan, where it’s moved into a production facility in Hell’s Kitchen and is now delivering all over the city.
Urban is a California native (with flowy blonde hair and a laid-back West Coast vibe) who says he couldn’t quite find his professional niche for a while. After moving to New York, he missed the uber fresh produce he was used to, so he decided to start growing his own. After searching for a usable space, he found a 2,000-square-foot backyard just steps from his home that was unused, filled with garbage, and old bed posts. He tracked down the landlord. “I asked him if I could convert it into a beautiful garden, and I promised him strawberries in the spring and tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer.”
This particular landlord must have liked vegetables, because soon Urban had cleared the debris, built a planting bed, created rich soil from coffee grounds, and was harvesting enough produce to start juicing. (His original interest in juice came from time as an “extreme” athlete. “I craved green vegetables, especially in juice form,” he says.)
Urban grew all of his greens from the beginning. “I would bring garbage cans of produce back to the house and juice it in our home kitchen, and I shared it with everyone on the block,” he says. Word quickly grew, and Urban Greens was born.
Of course, his quaint operation didn’t lend itself to scale. So when he started to expand, Urban found a partner to provide him with local, organic produce, called Barefoot Organics. And the company just moved into a commercial kitchen inside the Out Hotel on 42nd Street, with delivery now centered on Manhattan.
But Urban says that while things are changing, the company will retain some of the indie features that make it stand out on the crowded juice scene, like sourcing truly local produce and using returnable glass bottles.
You won’t hear him talk about detoxing, either. “The biggest problem in people’s diets is not enough fruits and vegetables. We have the perfect product for that,” he says. “It’s not for cleansing, rebooting, or recharging.”
Either way, he’s bound to find Manhattanites are super thirsty for green juice these days. And hey, Denise Mari started Organic Avenue with a Vitamix in her Lower East Side apartment. Just sayin’. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.grabyourgreens.com