INWOOD — A holistic health coach is raising funds through an online campaign to open an organic juice bar and vegan café in the neighborhood, after her own health issues compelled her to leave a marketing job in order to study natural remedies.
Paola Martinez is hoping to raise $15,000 through an IndieGoGo campaign to open The HIP Bar — short for Holistically Inspired People — at 4732 Broadway, near Thayer Street, this April. The café will feature cold-pressed juices, raw and vegan snacks, and the owner's dessert-inspired smoothies, which are sweetened with only natural sugars.
Martinez, who lives in Harlem, wanted to open Uptown because she said the area is underserved when it comes to healthy options.
“I’m Dominican, so I know the neighborhood well,” she said. “I know that people often have to go Downtown when they want something healthy or different.”
Martinez is most excited about her signature smoothies, which she designed to help her existing clients and herself deal with cravings while cleansing.
“The biggest challenge in my own cleanse journey is that I was a sugar fiend — I love my cakes,” Martinez said. “It’s true for my clients, too.”
The smoothies come in decadent-sounding flavors like Carrot Cake, Red Velvet and Banana Pudding. However, Martinez said they are are made entirely of healthy ingredients — including nut milks and organic fruits and vegetables — and sweetened with items like dates, maple syrup and coconut nectar.
So far, recipes have been a hit with her clients.
“I’ve had an opportunity to try most of the smoothies and I am in love with the Cake Batter Smoothie,” said Michelle Lachman, a client from Martinez’s health-coaching business. “It’s hard to believe that it’s super healthy and tastes like cake.”
The HIP Bar will also serve cold-pressed juices, as well as raw and vegan snacks, such as salads with Martinez’s vegan pesto dressing.
Martinez initially sought a $30,000 loan from the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation in July, receiving assurances from the nonprofit that her loan would be approved.
But in November, after signing a lease for the space, WHIDC told Martinez it could not give her the funds because her guarantor was from out of state, she said.
“It was a shocker,” Martinez said. “This is my baby, so the thought of not opening soon is scary.”
Dennis Reeder, WHDIC’s executive director, confirmed the guarantor issue but said Martinez was informed of that problem a few weeks into the process.
While Martinez disputes that claim, she is now seeking other investors and is hoping to use IndieGoGo to make up half of the funds she needs to renovate the space.
A former marketing associate for Sony Music, she got into her current line of work after struggling with her own health crises.
After years of coping with thyroid issues and morphea, a disease that causes the skin to harden due to excessive levels of collagen in the body, Martinez found that she was chronically exhausted and that her eyesight was deteriorating.
She sought help from a naturopathic doctor who told her that she needed to change her diet. From there, Martinez eliminated starch, sugar and alcohol from her diet.
“Within six months I started to function better,” she said. “I could get up and walk around and not get tired from walking two steps.”
Martinez wanted to help others who were struggling with similar issues, so left her job at Sony and spent time studying natural remedies in Peru and Hawaii. She started working full time as a health coach in 2012.
Martinez sees HIP Bar as an extension of her coaching work, and she plans to host workshops in the café on how to cleanse, what to eat during pregnancy and how to make nutritious baby food.
“Part of being a health coach is not just telling people do this," she said, "but educating them so they can do it for the rest of their lives."