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Starbucks Juice and Salad Bar Evolution Fresh Debuts

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[Photos: Ronald Holden]

For years, critics have been saying that Starbucks is basically a glorified candy store, full of unhealthy Frappuccinos and high-calorie granola bars. Well, the Mermaid has struck back with Evolution Fresh, a new concept based on cold-pressed juices. The first store, 1,100 square feet carved out of the existing Starbucks in Bellevue Square next to Crate&Barrel, opened yesterday, trumpeted by major articles in USA Today and the Seattle Times.

Not since Woody Allen's character, in Sleeper, 40 years ago, owned the Happy Carrot health food store, have we seen such an exuberant celebration of all things fresh and fruity, wholesome and grainy, though vegan and gluten-free were unknown terms back then. This is neither Jamba Juice (which concentrated until recently on smoothies), nor is it a crunchy offshoot of Starbucks. It's an independent concept that intends to break free of the Mermaid and her beans.

Starbucks paid $30 million for Evolution Fresh--a relatively minor player in the juice business--just four months ago. Their development team, headed by President for Global Store Development Arthur Rubinfeld, must have had a juice bar on the drawing board, and they sprang into action with a fleshed-out menu (breakfasts, lunch, dinner, snacks). Rubinfeld swears by a shot or two of wheatgrass, which has been tweaked with a bit of lemon juice to make it more palatable to non-believers.

Starbucks says it intends to roll out dozens of Evolution Fresh stores in the coming months, and to get Evolution Fresh juices onto grocery shelves and into its own stores. There's no Starbucks branding involved, so there's little downside if the public reaction to the concept is less than enthusiastic. If it flops, they would just spin it off. But the upside is huge; the health-and-wellness market is worth $50 billion a year; the "cold-crafted juices" category alone adds up to nearly $3.5 billion.

The opening tableau of the new store is a "juice wall" where "juice partners" or mixologists(!) mix your drink from spigots (carrot, beet, cucumber, greens, pineapple, etc.). For instance, a combo described as "Sweet Burn" is blended from coconut water, pineapple, apple, beet, cayenne and ginger. $4.99 for 8 ounces, $7.99 for 16 ounces. Smoothies like mango or pineapple run $6.99 for a 16-ounce cup.

There are hot breakfast scrambles ($4.95). though the eggs are delivered pre-cracked. "Signature Bowls" ($8.75) are assembled by cheerful staffers from a salad bar of ingredients. Extra sauces like lemon tahini are $1.50. Add chicken or beef, another $2.50. For another $1.75 they'll add a ladle of vegan vegetable stock, then--because there's no actual kitchen on site--use a steam wand to heat the whole thing to a reasonably warm temperature. Sandwiches are available ($7), as are collard-green wraps ($7.50). There's more to the menu (desserts) but the whole enterprise seems daunting, something-for-everyone, as if Evolution Fresh were catering to health-conscious 20-somethings without wanting to anger the hard-core raw-bar crowd.

"How does it taste?" asked Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, who showed up at 11 AM for a bowl of soup and a salad. Ah, there's the thing. The juices are full of flavor, but all those grains and seeds (buckwheat noodles, quinoa, lentils, wild rice, sunflower, flax, pepitas) cry out for some zip. Fortunately, there's sriracha sauce on the tables.

There's also a people-powered bicycle out front for free lunchtime deliveries in the corridor between NE 4th and NE 8th, as far east as 112th. Schultz tells Eater he'll have more to say about Evolution Fresh at the Starbuck annual meeting tomorrow.

· All Evolution Fresh Coverage on Eater Seattle [-ESEA-]
· All Eater Inside Coverage on Eater Seattle [-ESEA-]

Evolution Fresh

545A Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, WA