NORWOOD PARK — Three years after being diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma and six months after a bone marrow transplant knocked her off her feet, Kathy Olejnik went to see her childhood friend, Helen Paredes, to ask for help.
She wanted to start a business.
"We've been friends since the fourth grade, and we'd been through all kinds of trials and tribulations together," Olejnik said. "But this wasn't something we'd been planning — the stars just aligned for us."
On Friday, the partners realized their vision and opened the doors to Be Juice'd, 6046 N. Avondale Ave., planting a colorful hangout for neighbors to pick up healthy drinks in the heart of downtown Norwood Park.
The cafe blends seven original juice recipes, packing a day's worth of fresh produce into a single zesty, tangy beverage. That's on top of five smoothie varieties, and a new batch of soup cooked up by the owners every morning.
Olejnik formed the cafe after multiple trips to Miami Beach, where juice bars are a common stitch of communities' social and commercial fabric, she said.
"I went to a lot of these places that have this welcoming and warm atmosphere, where everyone has a smile on their face," Olejnik said. "Chicago has a lot of places like that, but they're more often bars. I wanted to create a place close to home where kids and young adults can come hang out, listen to music and have a healthy drink."
Recovering from a serious illness taught her the health benefits of juice as an alternative to a morning espresso, she added.
"A lot of us in Chicago are so busy that we don't really take time to take care of ourselves," Olejnik said. "We want to offer a way to power you through your day other than coffee, which will more often just give you jitters and then make you crash."
In March, Olejnik brought the idea to Paredes, her friend since they went to class together at Portage Park Elementary School.
Paredes had just left a job in insurance sales to start a business of her own, Paredes said. Once she and Olejnik agreed to join their visions together, "everything just fell into place."
They scouted a vacant storefront across the street from the Norwood Park Metra station, cobbled together a proposal and brought it to Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st).
"They told me what they had in mind, and my immediate reaction was, 'We've got to do everything we can to make this happen,'" Napolitano said. "A place to hang out with a healthy vibe like that is exactly what this neighborhood has been lacking."
Olejnik and Paredes scored a lease and got to work, gutting the 750-square-foot storefront and filling it with new equipment and decor. With the help of Paredes' father, who owns a construction company, the duo transformed the musty former antique shop into a funky living room-style setting.
By December the storefront was awash in color, with paintings and ornaments from local artists covering nearly every surface. A cluster of shelves is stocked with candles, soaps, lotions and lip balms shipped in from nearby businesses like Distinct Bath & Body, 6051 W. Irving Park Road.
The juice bar's "artsy and eclectic" vibe is evidence that the neighborhood is trending younger and more vibrant, said Alyssa Trip, director of the Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce.
"Norwood Park is really exploding right now — we're starting to get a lot of foot traffic near the train station here," Trip said at the opening Friday. "We couldn't be more excited to have this here."
While visitors scanned the menu and lined up to order for the first time, Olejnik and Paredes bolted around the bar, taking payments and pressing juices. Olejnik's lymphoma is in remission, but the frenzy of opening a new business still takes a special toll, she said.
"I'm exhausted, but it's a good kind of exhausted," Olejnik said. "When you find something you really want to do, all the stress and anxiety just fades into the backgroud."
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