In the hubbub of Williamsburg, Tiny Empire‘s small, pristine space is where people who like juice stop in for a healthy drink in a creative environment. The shop’s artistic ambiance stems from owner Anthony Spadaro’s alternative youth. “I was part of a strange teen angst movement called vegan/straight-edge; ultimately a continuation of punk,” he tells CH. “We hung out in skate shops, backyard half pipes and health food stores in upstate New York; caused trouble, skated and drank juice (sort of the antithesis of what people think of when they think juice). The activism fell off a while back, but juice has remained pretty constant. I came to the end of a career as a tattooer a few years ago, and it seemed obvious to pursue something based in juice/health, so I opened a juice bar in Woodstock, NY in 2010 (not Tiny Empire), and then Tiny Empire in 2012.”
NYC illustrator and obsessive people-drawer Jason Polan has left his touch all over the walls, be it the handwritten menu, cute anthropomorphic fruit or his drawing of the store’s business permit; he also has a bottled smoothie (“The Polan”) named after him. Just as much as the juice shop supports local art and healthier lifestyles, even regulars might be surprised to learn that Tiny Empire sponsors pro surfer Mikey DeTemple and pro snowboarder Forrest Shearer—and this year, artist (and avid performance driver) Richard Phillips’ new Spec Miata racing project. (You can keep an eye on the bright green and black two-seater as it’s being built via Phillips’ Instagram).
Creative expression is as important to me as the health benefits of organic juice.
Though the skateboarding has been replaced mostly with Thai boxing, Spadaro still stays plenty stimulated. The whole reason Tiny Empire was founded was to raise money and start a rally team, Spadaro admits with a grin, though he can’t get behind the wheel until he and his creative director Javas Lehn (of Javas Lehn Studio) go to rally school first.
“Creative expression is as important to me as the health benefits of organic juice,” says Spadaro. “Tiny Empire’s mission is to combine the two elements and have fun.” He and Lehn developed the story for Tiny Empire, which connects his passions for art, skateboard and snowboard culture, the renegade spirit of punk, New York City, and health and longevity.
What they’ve done so far is host events like the Pterodactyl Party, an art show featuring Polan’s work. “We had three of Jason’s drawings made into neon and hung them in the store: one huge pterodactyl, one brontosaurus and the word ‘pterodactyl’ which hung in the front window (some people still think this place is called Pterodactyl),” says Spadaro. “We invited a ton of people, served cold-press juice cocktails and Jason painted people’s portraits with beet juice all night. Since then, working with Jason has ranged from ridiculous. ie: ‘The Everything’—a smoothie with every ingredient we have in our kitchen (it costs $50 but is free if you can finish it) to our new T-shirts that have a walking strawberry drawing of Jason’s on the front.”
He continues, “Over the last two and a half years, we’ve told some of the story but [still] have a lot to say. 2015 should be very interesting.” Upcoming events include a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Friends of Haiti in NY (to help rebuild agriculture systems in central Haiti), and of course, seeing Phillips’ Mazda Miata in action—but more excitingly, Spadaro is hopeful that Tiny Empire’s second location in Manhattan will open sometime this spring.
Tiny Empire is located at 142 N 6th Street, Brooklyn. View their full menu (and they’re open to substitutions and additions) on their website. We recommend their greenest green juice, the #11, as well as the vanilla shake-like #7 smoothie (and adding kale).
Images by Nara Shin