Sep 24, 2015 0 comments

Originally Published in Magazine

By Noel Bartocci

Photography By Matt Lewis (

I’m sitting in the beautifully stark storefront; wide open and white with accents of teal and wood. The ceiling slopes down in the middle of the room, inviting customers to move forward towards the counter. Their eyes are drawn beyond the menu and open kitchen, and lead to a large window in the back revealing the movement of the Schuylkill Expressway on the other side of the canal. It’s like a giant aquarium that captures the random motion beyond the wall.

“It’s all about the energy customers bring in. I wanted that energy to flow to the counter and past the kitchen,” adds owner, designer, and all around entrepreneur, Lenny Bazemore. His comment confirms my suspicions about the restaurant’s layout and how it draws you in.

I’m talking about The Juice Merchant, of course – Manayunk’s newest nutritional pit stop between the gyms, bars, and boutiques that adorn Main Street. Open since late June, the café has been serving juices, whips, smoothies, salads, and more to inquisitive passers-by with great success.

In discussing what brought the idea to life, Lenny explains quite simply that he loves cafés. “I’ve been to several different kind of cafés all over the world,” he said. “I wanted to bring a café here that was one of the best.”

The idea that would become The Juice Merchant struck him like a bolt of lightning. He conceptualized the eatery based on the notion that the community desperately needed a healthy food option. Having been a juicer himself for the last six years, it seemed like the obvious choice. However, the process from dream to reality required more than Lenny’s vision. He needed the right kind of talent and personality to properly guide his café into fruition.

Enter Head Chef Monica Sellecchia.


“I had my feelers out, browsing around. I wanted to get back in the city…I missed Philadelphia so much and I’ve always loved Manayunk,” explains Monica, a Temple alumna. She had spent the last decade or so since graduating honing her stumbled upon culinary passion.

“As a journalism major I remember being terrified,” she admitted. “Teachers would say, jobs are slim, find a niche to focus on.” After graduation, Monica found herself studying in Rome for two months where she spent time talking to as many people as possible in restaurants, the department of agriculture, and the food industry in general. It ignited in her a passion for food that went beyond simply writing about it.

“Upon returning from my trip, I got a job at Horizons [which is now Vedge in Center City]. They put me on the line and I was really excelling. I was like, wow, this is probably what I need to be doing,” she said.

She took that realization and can-do attitude to the National Gourmet Institute in New York. There she focused on holistic health, nutrition, and working with food as a healing tool. It was a wholesome education that organically blended with her longstanding vegetarian lifestyle (puns intended). After school, she found herself interning at a vegan resort in California, then back to the East Coast and eventually running kitchens in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to be at the forefront of opening a business, especially this; everything [at The Juice Merchant] rings true to who I am as a chef and I follow all of this in my personal life as well,” Monica said. She describes her culinary journey with an honest excitement that’s palpable. It’s impossible not to share in her enthusiasm.

“She found us through an advertisement that we put out into the world… but I had to chase Monica. She was my first round draft pick,” adds Lenny. “After going through a list of chefs, I just didn’t feel a connection with anyone, but I felt this amazing connection with her right off the bat. I felt like I knew her before.” Needless to say, Lenny was sure about Monica’s talents and persistent in his acquisition of them.

“I was a little hesitant,” she explains and later elaborates, “But getting a job here really was my ultimate goal from the beginning.”

Now that the creative team was finally in place, they only had the herculean tasks of creating the menu, finishing construction, and staffing the place. While Lenny worked on making the café come to life from his designs, Monica went to work on everything else.

“I created the entire menu. It’s my baby,” she said. Monica went to work on consulting and researching juice places and cafes from around the world. She also mined her own sensibilities and forays in creating healthy dishes. “I have some experience making these dishes in my personal life, so I figured, why not incorporate them into the menu?”

With the menu devised, construction completing, and local vendors lined up, one more vital ingredient still needed to be added – the right staff. Monica describes her handpicked staff as a mish-mash of the right people. “I wanted to hire people who I knew that I could build on their strengths. I didn’t want to bring people in and mold them into a certain brand or image,” she notes. What she ended up with is the perfect mix of full time, part time, young, and old, all exhibiting the qualities with which she wanted to fill the space. “I really wanted the staff to be who they are and contribute their fun, upbeat, positive personalities and just work hard to make this place incredible,” she said. The knowledgeable and effervescent people occupying the kitchen are positive proof that she succeeded in finding the right group.

If you ask Lenny, the Manayunk location is just the start of The Juice Merchant’s story. “I specifically designed this place to be franchised, so we’re going to pursue franchising; maybe here in Philly, maybe outside of Philly. We don’t know where we’re going to go, but we know we’re on to something good here,” he said. “The brand is great, the menu is great, and the overall concept is beyond what any community would need and benefit from.”

Monica echoes his sentiments, with an added eye of enriching each community they may inhabit. “As a team, social responsibility is really important to us,” she said. “We donate five cents of every smoothie and juice sold to Philabundance. We’ve made it a goal to give back to the community, to fight hunger, and really make a name for ourselves as helping out.”

She also clarifies that when she says community, she means Philadelphia and beyond. “We really hope to spread that awareness to other states, and hopefully go nationwide with it someday. Why not?” she laughs. “People walk in already asking if we’re a franchise and they’re really excited about the concept. That’s what we want to do; we want to heal with food…it’s basically a dream come true for me.”

Discussing (and witnessing, since Lenny gleefully showed me pictures of the café’s construction) the hard work and passion that it’s creators have imbued it with, it’s hard not to believe that our shiny new juice bar has a bigger and brighter future ahead.





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  1. Leslie CrawOct 20, 2015 at 07:50 PM

    Great concept! Please come to central Jersey.Our shore areas have some places similar to this but definitely not the same.

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