More Than A Juice Bar: Safi Juice Wants To Help Communities Get Healthy

Interview by Thomas Agnew
Photos by Sarah Bader

“It’s bigger than juice.” Safi Juice owner Sharif has taken on the task of making Pittsburgh a healthier city by offering his fresh organic products from his newly opened brick and mortar headquarters in Garfield. In our interview, Sharif spoke about wanting to teach individuals and eventually the city the real benefits of juicing, how he wants to build an initiative to combat obesity rates, and more.

What made you commit yourself to a healthier lifestyle?

My father and my mother. When I was younger, that’s what we preached in the household. Living a healthy lifestyle whether you had money or not. Just growing up it was second nature. As I was getting older, there has always been a relationship with food and your physical physique. I had a lot of pains that was going on in my body and I thought well let me get back to what I know. Basically, back to the basics. I was cutting out food for my diet and committing myself to the healthy lifestyle that I was raised on.

How did this go from making your life healthy to working to make the community healthy?

Well, I always realized this is bigger than me. When you first start you want to make some money but as you learn when you get into business, it’s not about you but the customer. I wanted to create an experience for the customer that they could have healthy items that were affordable and delicious. When I got to the business part of this, it was removing me from the equation and putting the business above myself.

What make your product the ideal choice for consumers to buy into?

Two things I believe; its the best product in the city when it comes to juice and smoothies. That’s just me believing in the product that I created. The meaning behind “Safi” means pure in Swahili and Arabic and I wanted to create a product that was pure and for the people. I started off just making deliveries bringing the juice to the people. A lot of people can enjoy my product because it’s created for the everyday individual, the person on the go, the person who might not know too much about health who wants to know more. The brand is not just a product but its also the knowledge behind the product that I’m trying to deliver to the people.

How did you settle on beverages and not the food industry (restaurant, grocery, etc)?

With me, I come from an era where there were just juice bars and that’s kind of the feeling I wanted to bring back. I didn’t want to be a cafe, didn’t want to be a coffee shop, really just wanted to be a juice bar with food items related to the business. The basis of everything is juice and smoothies. That’s the foundation of the business. The nutritional value from juices and smoothies are mind blowing and you don’t need to always have to have restaurant food or cafes, there’s a lane for that. The majority of the items will always be beverage related products. That’s the direction this business has to go to survive.

You can teach the people the health and importance of drinking fruits and veggies and organic nut milks that are made on site and there’s a great benefit to having them in bottles if you can’t always get it fresh. When you start bringing in more food items, the cost sky rockets and that’s just something I didn’t want to do.

Outside of the shop, do you have anything you’re going to deliver with the brand?

I’m working on a health initiative that I’d like to present to the people of Garfield that focuses on childhood obesity. It’s an issue that as a nation is an epidemic. It’s something I’d like to tackle with the business. I have this opportunity to strike a blow at it. I want to get the childhood obesity percentage down to single digits. I think with this health initiative, which will create education programs for kids to learn about healthy eating and for their parents too, it will offer organic food nights. It will help teach people how to eat organic and fresh foods.

That’s where I’d like to see this business go. I think that just having a brick and mortar is not enough. The brand can be as big as this city. I want to be one of the healthiest cities in America and I think Safi can take us there.

How important is it for you to bring health opportunities to the black community?

Obesity rates are killing black and brown communities across America. Why not have a balance to what we eat to whereas we put more fruits and veggies in our bodies. We need to incorporate more fruits, veggies, and water into our diets. I know kids who are 6 or 7 don’t know what a fresh strawberry taste like but they know what McDonald’s taste like. They know what Burger King taste like. That’s something I’m trying to change.

The first community I have to fix is the community that raised me. I was raised in a black community so if that’s the case, this is where we need to start. There’s always been a problem with gout or high cholesterol. It’s always higher in black and brown communities. Safi can be the solution to these problems.

First thing to do is create a product that’s healthy then it has to be cost effective. We don’t want to bang people over the head with price but you also want to make money so you stick around a little bit. That’s why I’m mindful of the prices I put on the bottle. I hear both sides; “it’s kind of pricey” or “wow, it’s extremely affordable compared to other juice companies for what it is.” I want to make sure the average individual can afford my products.

I’m very conscious about the prices on the bottles. These are the people that actually need your help and the people that need my help. I want to be there for them. That’s why I’m passionate about being there for any community. Primarily the black community because these are the faces I see everyday and have seen growing up with people hurting and dealing with serious health issues that I want to help with.

For more information on Safi Juice, visit their website at: http://safijuice.com/

Written by Thomas Agnew