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Canyon Rim Downtown Salt Lake Downtown Salt Lake

Good health, community engagement and bike repair converge on the Canyon Rim.

Published in Catlyst Magazine, 29 July 2011

I remember how welcoming the local London pubs felt on my first visit there years ago. Within the warm, eclectically decorated neighborhood pubs were such diverse sightings as single people dining, young people socializing and elderly married couples tipping their evening pints. It was as if these were actually places for the neighbors to get out of the house and converge, the drinking being almost beside the point.

I had a similar experience visiting the Blue Star Juice and Espresso Bar in Canyon Rim recently. It is an updated version of the local watering hole. You can select breakfast and lunch sandwiches from the hanging chalkboard menus. However, drinks are the stars at the Star. From the extensive array of crisp fruits and vegetables, you can create your own healthy just-juice blend in any size you like. The coffee beans for the espresso bar are roasted onsite, ensuring some of the freshest sips in the area. And yet, since Blue Star has a drive-through, there must be a reason the parking lot was full the morning I was there and patrons of all ages and types were relaxing in the various crannies and patios—working, talking, studying or just hanging out.

The soul proprietor, George Starks, says that the four-year-old café has only fully formed its identity in the last year. It's casual, relaxed, and sporty. Starks believes Blue Star's success has stemmed from having a genuine interaction with patrons and the community; "the most important thing, other than having a really good product, is the experience you create for a customer."

A hallmark of the Blue Star experience is one of engagement. The staff is friendly and happy to meet you. The café continually supports numerous charities and community events. Starks encourages people to submit their own creative ideas on not only juice, coffee and sandwich blends, but also on the restaurant's décor and events. "Although this is a real juice bar, and is focused on active lifestyles, it also a community-based café. There is a very stable customer base that is growing through word of mouth of people who are engaged in their lives, living with a purpose, and who like to meet new people, too."

So Blue Star is essentially a people place. It's an eclectic hang out with a variety of ways to simply be your self. Flop on the couch, flip on your laptop's WiFi. Or you can watch the World Cup on the overhead television. Hold a talk or jazz performance. Write your novel. Paint a mural. Sun gaze on the front patio; play the community piano on the back patio. Meet friends from church or from your morning bike ride. Many customers get their bikes repaired onsite at Wasatch Bike Support, which keeps the same seven-days-a-week hours as the cafe. This unique addition of the "drink juice while your bike is fixed" service was also a customer's idea, to which Starks said "Yes!"

In his previous career as a publisher, Starks was exposed to the national cycling arena and healthy lifestyles when promoting the children's book "Mike and the Bike." After selling his business, he bought the Canyon Rim building with a drive-thru juice bar in mind with the idea of introducing people to the kind of fresh juice bars he experienced around the country. The original drive-through concept eventually became the café just off the 2300 East exit off the eastbound I-80, near trails and Tanner Park, in addition to the new drive-through downtown. Blue Star also has a weekly presence at the Downtown Farmers Market.

Starks says growing Blue Star to its current popularity was one of the hardest things he's ever done. "I was in way over my head," he recounts. "I had no idea how challenging food and beverage service can be; it constantly changes. I was used to working with books, which you can leave overnight and they are the same the next day. There are so many facets to having a café. We've tried many concepts to finally learn what works."

Starks is happy with the result. "I have truly benefitted from the people who have come in here. We have amazing customers; it is a privilege to engage with them. Some have become my best friends." And why is it named Blue Star? George says it is the nickname of a friend who told him "not to forget the importance of remaining a kid at heart and not lose the simplicity and wonder of life."

Catlyst Magazine, 29 July 2011 »