For the past three years, I’ve been on a health journey to try to figure out why the foods I love so much suddenly stopped loving me back. It’s like a classic text message break up: quick, painful, out of nowhere.
This March I finally did an elimination diet and discovered my biggest problem is gluten—luckily for me, it’s the trendiest of food intolerances. I also discovered I just don’t eat enough vegetables every day. I had no idea (a) how many veggies you’re supposed to eat, and (b) how few I was actually consuming. So my favorite way to get all those good for you greens became through homemade green smoothies. You can consume a couple servings of greens in one sitting, and with just a little apple or lemon, it tastes great, too. My latest favorite combo: spinach, kale, pineapple and cilantro.
I also discovered a new juice brand popping up around Chicago: Owen + Alchemy. Coincidentally, I learned that Owen is Anne Owen, a woman I quasi worked with at Modern Luxury media, my first job out of college. Naturally I had to track her down and find out how she went from being the publisher of Miami magazine to owner of a juice bar.
What I love about walking into Owen + Alchemy is the ambiance. It’s the complete opposite of your typical, super bright, sterile, all-white juice bar. Like Anne is daring you to make the healthy choice, the aesthetic is sexy and sophisticated—the walls are solid black and white, and the only pops of color come from the juices and live plants. In addition to juice, Anne offers smoothies, nut milks, bowls, salads, snacks such as coconut jerky, custom herbal teas and, of course, cleanses that can be customized to fit your needs (a.k.a. you don’t have to give up chewing to do a juice cleanse). What more could you want?
People with Panache: Speaking of journeys, how did you go from magazine publishing to juice?
Anne Owen: I definitely took a roundabout way, starting with magazine publishing right after college. I knew I wanted to be in New York, and I started at Cosmopolitan magazine as assistant to the publisher. What I thought was my dream job ended up being the worst two years of my life—the Devil Wears Prada story. At one point, which I guess is bound to happen, I got burned out, so my best friend and I put all of our stuff in storage in the Bronx and booked a ticket around the world. It was supposed to be a 3-month trip and ended up being 9. We roughed it completely; we backpacked. I’ve had bed bugs, leeches on my feet, amoebic dysentery. We almost died a couple times. We weren’t prepared for what we were doing, but it was definitely life-changing.
I ended up back in Chicago and needed a job—then I found Modern Luxury. Everything I hated about national publishing I liked about regional. You get to talk to movers and shakers in the city, from artists to people in hospitality to people in the government. I loved it. Then, the company said they wanted to launch in Miami. At first they didn’t want me to do it, but I was persistent enough that they eventually sent me down there, and I launched Miami magazine and a couple other titles. I ran it for almost 7 years. It was awesome—and exhausting.
I always knew publishing wasn’t my dream, but I happened to be good at it. I love a new challenge, and I fell into this trap where I kept getting paid more, kept facing new opportunities and challenges.
At one point I started getting very into plant-based eating, which I think kept me sane. I was known for carrying juice around with me always. My assistant was going to dress as me for Halloween once, with a black wig, a magazine and a bottle of green juice. I started doing a lot of research on the effects of plant-based food and what the food industry is doing to the environment. But working at a magazine, I was promoting something I didn’t really believe in—killing trees and this luxury lifestyle that’s so wasteful. There was this huge dichotomy between what I really believed and what I was doing—and not just 9 to 5. Entertaining six nights a week, it becomes your identity, too.
I went to New York on a business trip, and I went to Juice Press, which is kind of the original. I walked in—I was so excited—I got a bottle of green juice and it had about 20 ingredients. I had an a-ha moment like, oh my god, this is the way to make plant-based food accessible, convenient and delicious. I always wanted to have my own thing or my own brand.
At the time, the big salary was hard to leave, so I got cold feet. It took another year until I was really miserable; I was hosting a dinner for mortgage brokers. I had to wrangle all these real estate people, and I know nothing about mortgage brokering. I thought, ‘This is not what I want to be doing with the rest of my life.’ At that point, I was working with an intuit/therapist, and after one visit to her, I left ready to quit. So I called my boss and resigned. I knew I wanted to start my own thing; I knew I wanted to do something plant-based, eco-friendly.
I was coming back and forth to Chicago to help my mom with marketing her math tutoring center. I’d been gone for 7 years, but I was really pleasantly surprised with Chicago. It had this allure, this grittiness, that I had never realized. It felt like a real city. People had intelligent conversations—not that you couldn’t find that in Miami, but it was different. People value different things here. Could I do this in Chicago? After coming back and forth for years to see my family, I was always frustrated by the lack of healthy plant-based options.
PWP: It has gotten so much better, even over the last 5 years.
AO: I think 100 percent better. It’s really exciting that it’s fully happening here, and I don’t think there’s any turning back. People are embracing it. We were really nervous, because knowing Chicago, it’s meat and potatoes. There was an education process that happened when we first opened.
PWP: How would you describe Owen + Alchemy?
AO: We wanted to do something different and unexpected. We use the term plant-based because I think there’s a stigma associated with vegan or vegetarian. We wanted to make it more approachable, organic, with a little intrigue. We liked the quote by Hippocrates: “Food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” so we went with this idea of a riff on an apothecary—a modern take on the Old World. I partnered with a classically trained chef, but then I wanted to incorporate Eastern medicine and mentality—a lot of that is using food as medicine—so I also partnered with a woman who practices Chinese medicine to provide access that people wouldn’t otherwise have.
PWP: I really do get that Old World apothecary vibe! How do you balance the research on the benefits of a plant-based diet with research on how juicing can involve too much sugar?
AO: My original partner, Jared Van Camp, is type 1 diabetic, so obviously he has to watch his sugar intake. I also traditionally drink mostly green juices and vegetable juices, so our menu skews very green and savory. And I think we do the fruit juice responsibly, so if we’re going to have a fruit juice, there are legitimate health benefits.
We do have a juice cleanse, and we have a juice and food cleanse. With the juice cleanse, we partnered with the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern; their naturopath helped us create our cleanses. I’d get really angry when a lot of these juice bars would offer an ‘easy juice cleanse’—all fruit juice. That’s not healthy. You shouldn’t have that much sugar in a day. We’ve got more nut milks on the menu, too. We try to guide people, recommending juices if they try to make their own cleanses. It was also important to me to have food and smoothies on the menu, things with fiber. You can’t exist on just juice.
PWP: It’s true! I appreciate that balance. What do you hope to accomplish going forward?
AO: For me, it’s important to educate people on the benefits of plant-based eating. If everyone ate a little bit more plant-based and substituted one meal or one snack, if we could just shift the amount of animal-based foods that we eat, it would do a lot for not only our health but the environment.
PWP: I’ve actually started doing that recently—eating plant-based for at least one or two meals a day. I feel so much better when I do! Besides unlimited juice, what do you love about owning Owen + Alchemy?
AO: I really love the people I met here in the plant-based community. It’s such a sweet, progressively minded group of people. Honestly between that and the other small business owners here, I feel super supported. People actually want to support you, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be anything in it for them. Health and wellness have become a bigger part of my life, which feels good; that’s a byproduct and the challenge of having the business. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
PWP: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
AO: Life exists outside of your comfort zone. And I constantly need to be reminded of that.
[Photos by Kate.]
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