It's an archetype everyone knows all too well: the child who refuses to eat vegetables. Kyle and Stacia Zirpolo tried it all, but their four boys wouldn't touch greens. Then they discovered juicing, and everything changed.
"It was like fireworks," says Stacia from a table at Virtjuice, the juice and smoothie bar she and Kyle own in Arroyo Grande. "They got so into it. The first thing they liked was cold-pressed green juice, which we really had to experiment with." After a bit of tweaking, she and Kyle built a recipe that included kale, spinach, celery, lemon and ginger. "We'd take a sip and get so excited. Not only did it taste good, it also made us feel amazing after we drank it."
The mental clarity and energy the Zirpolos found in juicing was infectious. Stacia started sharing samples of her juices and smoothies with other parents at school drop-off. Kyle brought jars into his workplace and asked for honest feedback. They watched documentaries about raw, responsibly harvested food and followed what juice bars across the country were doing. And then, before they knew it, they'd opened a smoothie and juice bar in a long-forgotten strip mall at the corner of Brisco Road and Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande.
"Everyone told us this was a horrible location," says Kyle, who grew up in Arroyo Grande, "but it spoke to us and we had a good feeling about it." They weren't the only ones: The other storefronts in the complex became Ember Woodfire Restaurant and Sweet Pea Bakery, both owned by like-minded Arroyo Grande natives who value conscientious quality, local roots and seasonality. Today, the three businesses strengthen one another and represent Grand Avenue's new wave of connected cuisine and products.
Though the Zirpolos call it a juice bar, Virtjuice is more like a hip, delicious pharmacy. Everything on the menu and in the boutique- from Whale Bird locally fermented kombucha and See Canyon honey to books like Grain Brain and shots of blue-green algae- is intended to boost customers' health using locally source produce and craftsmanship wherever possible. Much of the raw product that goes into their juices, bowls and smoothies comes from places like Bautista Farms in Santa Maria, Rutiz Farms in Arroyo Grande, and local farmers markets. Aromas of ginger and fresh greens fill the air. Brightly colored juices dance in blenders and warm wood covers most surfaces, including the sit-down bar where customers can watch their drinks being made.
"At an alcohol bar, people tell their problems," says Kyle. "This is similar, but here you try to give them something that actually makes them feel better and builds their health." Stacia recalls a police officer who came to Virtjuice in need of an antidote to his sinus infection. "The drink I made had celery, coconut water, cayenne pepper and lemon. He bought it, walked out and came right back in saying that I'd 'fixed' him!"
The backbone of many items sold at Virtjuice is almond milk, handmade by Kyle to the tune of about five to six gallons per day from local, organic Avila & Sons almonds. Rich, creamy and flavorful, Kyle's almond milk goes into everything from acai and pitaya bowls to the Carrot Cake smoothie. Like everything at Virtjuice, the almond milk is refined sugar-free and low on the glycemic index, so that even the most decadent treats- like a cookie dough or lemon meringue smoothie- never end in a blood-sugar crash.
Interestingly, the most popular smoothie at Virtjuice is the "Victoria's Secret Detox," a green smoothie named after a Victoria's Secret model who claimed green smoothies helped her body bounce back after childbirth. "I knew that if I named it that, women would order it," Stacia laughs. "Men order it too, but they're often embarrassed so they just call it 'The Detox.' It doesn't matter: man or woman, this drink makes you feel so good. If you're sick or need energy, this is the answer."
The Zirpolos are often asked about the name of the shop, which is pronounced VIR-chooz, like the word for the ethical standards. "We considered calling it 'Vice' because we'd become so addicted to juicing and the way juices made us feel," says Stacia. "But vice is such a negative word for something so positive. My cousin suggest Virtjuice, and the name just worked."
In fact, the name led the Zirpolos to give their core juices virtuous names like "Humble," "Moral" and "Respect"- all qualities that reflect the sense of health and vitality visitors feel as they leave the shop.