Dine Piece: Michael Armstrong & Melvin’s Juice Box
Way before juicing became a “thing,” Melvin was pouring out his signature recipes to health conscious Manhattanites.
Words Rachel Murphy Photos Jocelyn Baun
A mix of tourists, fitness types and suits bustle through Melvin’s Juice Box at the Dream Hotel in downtown Manhattan. Behind the counter, Melvin juggles the hungry customers, taking orders with a wide smile while whizzing together a concoction of fruits and vegetables.
Way before juicing became a “thing,” Melvin was pouring out his signature recipes to health conscious Manhattanites. At the Dream’s new location, he teams his fresh pressed juices with a healthy menu from executive chef (and avid sneaker head) Michael Armstrong.
Born in Hilton Head Island, S.C. — not Jamaica, like most assume by his chill demeanor and dreads — Melvin began his career at Integral Yoga in Greenwich Village over 23 years ago.
“I had no idea I would ever be surrounded by that much fruit and vegetables,” he says. “I had never made a juice in my life but somehow I just had it.” He worked stints at Whole Foods and LifeThyme Market before opening his own Juice Box at the Caribbean food oasis, Miss Lily’s on Houston St., two years ago.
Michael, who’s originally from Seattle, WA recently moved back to New York by way of TAO restaurant in Las Vegas. Ironically, the healthy menu at Melvin’s proved a challenge for the experienced chef. “It seems like sandwiches and salads should be easy, but there’s a lot more to it,” he says. “The perfect sandwich, the layers of ingredients — every aspect has to be perfect.” Michael enlisted Melvin’s help to create the menu. “He got me back there and taught me the philosophy, and why this type of juicing works,” Michael says.
Juicing is one of the latest food fads to be served up in recent years and liquid emporiums have mushroomed throughout the city. But, if Melvin’s smooth skin, clear eyes, or positivity are a result of his diet, we might yet be sold. “Obesity goes hand in hand with American culture,” he says. “We get a lot of fatty foods from all cultures. That’s why the greens are so important.”
When Melvin isn’t behind the blender, you’ll find him skating near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. “I’m the king of New York on longboard,” says the 47-year-old. “It mellows me out. When the younger kids see me they’re like, ‘Man we want to skate forever.’ [I tell them] if you drink your greens you can.”
As a rap fan, Michael, 34, was glad to trade in Las Vegas’ electronic music scene for the birthplace of hip hop. “I catch the occasional show when I can,” he says. “At the minute, I’m listening to the new Black Milk album, Statik Selektah and Pusha T. I’m a huge Action Bronson fan, he knows his stuff in the kitchen. I grew up in the mid ‘90s so I still listen to Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang and Gang Starr.”
An OG sneaker head, Michael spends his day running around the kitchen and has finally found a pair of sneakers — or seven — that he can work in. “Problem is, most running shoes aren’t slip resistant,” he says. “One night in TAO, Justin Timberlake came in unannounced. I ran into the walk-in cooler to grab something and my feet went out and I went down! After that, I discovered the Roshe Runs — they have traction.” Outside of the kitchen, it’s Nikes or Jordan’s. He holds a soft spot for Asics and New Balance too.
Overseeing the hotel’s food service is stressful, but like many of his customers, Michael has found a retreat in the Juice Box. “I have a juice and a ginger shot every day — that’s new,” he says. “It’s getting into the season where everyone gets sick, and so far I’ve been able to avoid that.”
Whether it’s the juice or Melvin’s low-key vibe that keeps everyone coming back we’re not sure. “I try to be as positive as possible,” he says. “Hopefully the next person will pass it on when they get some love from me.” With reggae beats and the tang of fresh juices in the air, sitting in Melvin’s you could be oceans away in some tropical paradise — that is, until a cab honks and you’re slapped back to the hectic reality of midweek in Chelsea.
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This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.