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On a sunny Friday morning in April, a mother-daughter duo walk up to an open window at Kobe An in LoHi on the corner of West 34th Avenue and Osage Street. While the Japanese restaurant and bar is open six days a week for dinner, there’s a new business operating out of the space in the daytime: Squeeze Juicery. The two gush at the sight of the shop, which reopened in April after a winter hiatus. “We’ve been waiting and waiting,” the daughter says to Brendan Fung, the 31-year-old Denverite behind Squeeze’s counter. “I drove by last week and saw it was open and told my mom immediately you were back!”
Fung—the proprietor behind the cold-pressed juice window—smiles back. During a trip to Sayulita, Mexico in 2020, Fung found inexpensive, cold-pressed juice for sale at every corner. The beverages were not only delicious treats on a hot day, they also fostered a community. Patrons gathered to share stories over juices like the “antiflu”—a mixture of orange, lemon, garlic, and ginger—in the morning to start the day. Prior to this trip, Fung says he had only had one cold-pressed juice as an adult, and he was inspired to bring the ritual to the Mile High City. “One of my core beliefs was making cold-pressed juice more accessible to more people, instead of just this lofty, expensive, glass bottle, white-walled deal [that is often found in Denver],” Fung says.
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Fung attributes this to the expensive and inaccessible nature of fresh foods and produce in big cities such as Denver or his hometown of Pittsburgh, where a glass of juice and/or a smoothie can cost up to $12 at some chains. In Sayulita, juice only cost $4 and was made to order with seasonal produce. “It was this beautiful experience where all these different locals were chatting with each other,” he says. “You could tell there was this semblance of community that was built around this experience.”
Fung fell in love with starting the day in a healthy, social way. When he came back to Denver, he failed to find that feeling at local juice shops—so he took matters into his own hands. He bought a cold-pressed juicer called a Hurom, which extracts juice from apples, cucumbers, lemons, and other fruits, mimicking the process of squeezing by hand. After a few months of testing recipes, he began wondering if his hobby could be profitable. Fung had never worked in the restaurant industry before—but was confident he made a fresh, delicious product.
To find a venue for his juicery, Fung reached out to a mentor and real estate executive who advised him to get creative in Denver’s booming market: Use a space that already exists. Fung drove around Lohi and RiNo looking for a business that could accommodate a walk-up juice window. Before long, he found Kobe An and pitched them his idea: He would operate their window during the day when the restaurant wasn’t serving, working Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m in the spring and summer. Fung could keep the restaurant clean during the day, grab packages for the owners, and broaden their audience by introducing his own customers to the building—in exchange for using the space for $500 per month.
“It was an insanely mutual, symbiotic relationship between the two of us,” he says. “[The restaurant owners] no longer have to come in during the day at all. And I bring a different clientele to this space that then has more of an awareness of what’s here at night, and vice versa.”
After Squeeze opened last spring, it began bringing in profits after just eight days of operation, which Fung attributes to the lingering pandemic. At the time, many Denverties were eager to leave their homes, but still weren’t comfortable venturing inside—so lines began forming at the juicery’s window, Fung says.
While Fung was accustomed to buying a $4 juice in Mexico, he charges a little more for his creations: $9, a price that he hopes is accessible yet accommodates the realistic cost of running a business in Denver. Juices are made to order with produce sourced from a local wholesale distributor and are completely customizable (in contrast to bottled juices at other retailers). Fung also offers wellness shots and oats bowls with fresh fruit, as well as a seasonal juice of the month (he donates half the proceeds from sales to a local nonprofit).
Business has been booming, and Fung was able to bring on a friend as an employee, freeing up time to pursue pop-ups and catering—opportunities to bring more visibility to the larger community. Fung is vocal about being part of the Asian American Pacific Islander and LGBTQIA+ communities to spread awareness about diversity in the Denver business scene. He strives to represent his communities in the city’s entrepreneurial and startup spaces—which he says are composed largely of white men—and therefore wears his success at Squeeze as a badge of honor.
“I represent a different kind of entrepreneur, hopefully,” he says. “I’m trying to create that awareness across Denver’s entire minority community.”
Fung isn’t sure what the next step is for Squeeze, but he wants to continue providing a community-centric gathering place for Denverites. “I know that I want to maintain the relationships that I have with people I come in contact with every day, and I want to be able to replicate this in different neighborhoods in Denver, because it does bring such value to the community, the businesses I’m partnering with, and my own self-worth as well,” he says.