Mohammed Hassan admits that he let his fitness level decline once he graduated from Eastern Michigan and began working in his family’s businesses.
But as the father of a two-year-old son, Mazin, and with another baby on the way, Hassan felt it was time to get back in shape. “We’ve got some action going, and I decided I needed to get back to the way I used to be,” he says.
He bought a juicer and began experimenting with recipes he discovered online. “I’d never really tasted ginger or spinach,” he says. “I changed my life with juice.”
It led to a new business, too. In mid-June, Hassan opened MI Juice Garden at the corner of Platt and Ellsworth. The initial menu includes a variety of juices squeezed to order, as well as grab-and-go bottles and acai bowls topped with ingredients such as granola, fruit, and coconut chips.
The centerpiece of his operation is a six-foot-tall Zumex orange juice machine, into which he can load a dozen whole Valencia oranges at a time. The oranges slide down a chute, go through a pair of rollers, and their pale juice is squeezed out.
Nearby sits a refrigerator case loaded with produce–vegetables such as carrots and celery, and all kinds of fruit, including strawberries, papaya, mango, pears, melons, and apples. A stash of fresh ginger and a supply of turmeric also are nearby.
When a customer places an order, a staff member prepares each drink by hand. That juicer compresses the leftover pulp into discs, which Hassan then takes to the nearby city compost center.
Customers can order single-variety juices, come up with their own concoction, or choose from a list of signature drinks–such as the Hulk Smash (cucumber, celery, green apple, lemon, spinach, and ginger) or the Tropic Thunder (carrot, pineapple, mango, and ginger).
All the drinks cost $11 per pint. Acai bowls are $7.99 (add $1 for peanut butter or Nutella) and wellness shots, which have black pepper plus different fruits and vegetables, cost $3.99 each.
Hassan stresses that he’s not selling smoothies or slushies, but a pure juice and spice product.
“You see the freshness of the juice and the deliciousness of what you’re getting,” Hassan says. “There are not a lot of places you can go to customize the juice.”
A graduate of Central Academy, Hassan attended Central Michigan, then transferred to Eastern, where he met his wife, Huda. He and members of his family run a variety of businesses around town, including Broadway Auto Services and what he calls “the glass store”–Bongz and Thongz on E. Liberty.
While the family has owned several local food places through the years, Hassan aimed to replicate the juice stands that are ubiquitous in Jerusalem, his family’s ancestral home, and other parts of the Middle East.
“I always said, ‘why isn’t there a spot like this?'” in Ann Arbor, Hassan says. “I wanted to bring that alive.”
The juice bar has four two-top tables, and a row of Adirondack chairs, large and small, whose backs are shaped like the Lower Peninsula. Hassan envisions those being used by family groups.
Hassan expects to feature different flavors of lemonade and perhaps add snacks to the menu, but he won’t expand too far beyond his signature product.
“We’re here for the juice,” he says.
MI Juice Garden, 3980 Platt Rd., (734) 929-4836. Daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.