Jimmy Baeza, owner of Healthy Fresh, shows that it’s not too late for the health craze to stem towards the Bronx.
It is no secret that healthy food is hard to come by in the Bronx. The bodegas carry nothing but processed foods, Arthur Avenue (no matter how delectable) is brimming with carbs, and our own Fordham food services have struggled to bring us variety in healthy meal options. Along with this, the Bronx is statistically ranked “unhealthiest” among New York’s 62 counties, most likely because 1 in every 4 adults is deemed obese and 8 in every 10 adolescents say they eat fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Among this health mess, Jimmy Baeza acts as an activist of change, opening one of the first restaurants to serve gourmet salads, wraps, smoothies, and an entire juice bar. ‘Healthy Fresh,’ which opened just five months ago on Hughes Avenue and 187th St., brings the health kick to our own pocket of the Bronx, proving that healthy truly does lead to happy.
This is one of the first businesses in the Bronx really geared towards being “healthy” and “fresh” (pun intended). Why do you think it took so long for a place like this to open up in the Bronx?
Well even for us, it took a bit of time to get everything right. We had two similar businesses like this before, but it wasn’t in the right location and we knew that we had to find a place in the Bronx where people would be attracted to the fact that there is nothing like this around. This area has both families and students and is near the university, which has been really great for us. We knew we had a good idea in trying to bring healthy food to the Bronx, it just had to be done the right way and we had to find the perfect space. It took us a year to set everything up, but it was worth all of the time to make it perfect.
What inspired you to open up this type of business?
People are looking for something healthy that will go towards helping them live better. That is what we are trying to provide with this business. There are so many health benefits in the juices that we make, like combinations that help with diabetes and cholesterol and things like that.
Do you tend to see more Fordham cliental or local residents?
Definitely both. At first it was a lot of Fordham students coming in because there wasn’t a place like this around and I think all of the students got excited about that. But then we slowly started to get more local residents. There are a lot of businesses around here and so that brings in a lot of regulars and people working around the area. There are also a lot of families that come in for dinner to get salads and sandwiches. The Fordham students help us out a large amount, but you can’t rely on just that because then in the summer, you have nothing. So it is nice to be able to attract both groups of people.
Everything is pretty reasonably priced, especially considering that eating “healthy” is normally more expensive. How are you able to price everything the way that you do?
I used to work over at Tinos about four years back, and this really helped me get to know the area and the people that live here. I know that people in the Bronx can’t spend fifty dollars in one day on food, so we wanted to have prices that people could afford, but also be able to serve good produce. Every morning we go to the Hunts Point Market to get our vegetables. This market allows us to save a few dollars on things versus if we got our produce from somewhere else. Saving money this way helps us have the prices that we do.
How did you choose what you wanted to put on the menu?
We wanted people to have options. Today someone could want a salad and then tomorrow they could want a wrap and then the next day they want a juice. Our idea was to give people healthy options that they could afford versus having pizza, pizza, and pizza every day for meals. We wanted to bring variety to the community and give our customers options.
You seem to be doing very well and gaining a lot of customers. Were you ever worried about the success of everything, especially since healthy food isn’t as prevalent in the Bronx?
(Smiles) I knew this place was going to do great. That is one thing that I like to do, is to be positive. That’s me. You can’t go towards something thinking that it isn’t going to do well. I mean there is always a risk, but you have to go towards things being positive. I also think success comes from running a business catering to the customers and always being friendly towards everyone. For example, one day there was this kid, right? He came in with four other kids and bought a banana smoothie and so I gave him his smoothie and then looked over at the other kids and saw that they wanted a smoothie too, but didn’t have enough money to pay for it. So you know I saw these other kids and I told them to come with me and I went in the back and made some extra smoothies for them and let me tell you that every day since then, they have come in for a smoothie. You may lose a dollar today, but you will make two dollars tomorrow. It is just all about how you treat people and it makes me feel good to do that. I make good business, I make good friends, and everyone is happy.
Who exactly helps you run the business?
Well I had to get people that knew how to do the work. There are a couple of my brothers that help me out. You know in the beginning it is not easy, so you need people that you can trust and that can be flexible and really help you out. No one is going to truly help you besides your family.
Did any of the statistics about the Bronx being ranked “unhealthiest” go in to inspiring you to start Healthy Fresh?
Yes, of course, I mean people will come in here and say “oh this is the healthiest place to eat in the Bronx!” and they see places like this and will tell people how much they like the healthy food and that spreads the word. Then people will start telling people what is good to eat and what is bad to eat, and that power of word of mouth is not only what spreads things about Healthy Fresh, but is what helps people know that there is a nice way to live. We want to show people that its not just downtown Manhattan that has food like this; the Bronx can do it too.
That’s what makes this place so great!
Even though you do have well-priced items on the menu, a healthy meal here is still more expensive than say, a meal at White Castle. What is your take on the price difference and do you think that people will see the health benefits of the food they are eating outweighing the expense?
Definitely. Spending a couple of extra dollars on food that makes you feel good is the better thing to do in the long run. Say when you buy a pair of shoes, spending an extra 5 or 10 dollars on shoes that you know are better made than the cheaper ones is what a person normally does because they know that the more expensive shoes will last longer. It’s not too much of a difference in price, but does make all the difference. Also, if the customers come in and are happy with the food and the service and it is better than any fast food they could be getting for cheaper, that is what keeps them coming back and is what makes the extra money that they are spending worth it. And here’s the other thing, a lot of people who come in here and are buying the juice and things like that know that in downtown Manhattan, juice is $10 and way more expensive than you can get it here.
It’s so true. I bought a juice the other day in Soho for $8 and it was definitely smaller than the $4 juice I get here. I wasn’t too happy about it.
Exactly, comparatively to those places, eating at Healthy Fresh is affordable.
Going off of that, do you think that there is a real difference for people making the switch to eating more healthy?
Oh definitely. A guy started coming in right when we opened and he weighed 320 pounds. You know, he comes here everyday and last week I saw him and he told me that he now weighed 260 pounds. He told me that he wanted to put his picture up and show how much of a change it makes to eat healthy. It is stories like that that make me happy to be running this business. We are trying to help people; it is more than just serving good food. Even us, we may not know exactly how to eat, but at least we have an idea and that’s what is important. People always say that in the beginning, it’s hard to actually start eating healthy, but that once they do, they start to crave the food that is good for them and that is what we help people do.
Well, you guys are doing great and I’m really excited for what the future has in store for Healthy Fresh!
Thank you! I hope that more people continue to come in and see that health and happiness go a long way.
*This interview has been condensed and edited*