Brandi Battle-Brown took the glass beehive-shaped beverage dispenser sitting on the café counter as a sign that sometimes, things are just meant to bee — pun intended.
Battle-Brown, owner of Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar in North Side, is the winner of the Main Course competition, in which The Valentine museum, in partnership with the Metropolitan Business League, Richmond Black Restaurant Experience and Hatch Kitchen RVA, sought one local chef of color last winter to become the museum’s resident restaurant tenant.
Battle-Brown won two years rent-free at the museum’s café space near the garden, where she’ll offer her full menu of cold-pressed juices and smoothies, fresh salads and sandwiches — even colorful “Wellness Shots” that blend all sorts of herbs, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar & Cafe opens at The Valentine April 5 and will operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the courtyard of the museum at 1015 E. Clay St.
Melody Short, Metropolitan Business League’s director of marketing and communications, called Ms. Bee’s a “gem for the neighborhood.
“We couldn’t be more excited for Brandi,” Short said, particularly because the immediate area around the museum lacks healthy food options. She said Ms. Bee’s fresh grab-and-go items will appeal to busy downtown workers and visitors who only have time to get breakfast or lunch on the go. “She now has the ability to fill that void — it’s a perfect fit.”
The Valentine Director Bill Martin said Battle-Brown’s food made her a finalist but her enthusiasm for her products and their artful presentation pushed judges to declare her the winner.
“This is a healthy, fresh alternative — there’s really nothing like it in this neighborhood,” Martin said, adding that the space was a fit for her business model. Ms. Bee’s relies on machines like juicers, and needs prep areas and refrigerated cases, but she didn’t need other kitchen staples, like a hood vent, for example, which the space didn’t have.
“It’s a very limited space ... but it does support her model of doing raw foods,” Martin said. “In many ways, it’s the perfect fit.”
Battle-Brown, a Richmond native, opened her North Side juice bar in January 2020 at 114 W. Brookland Park Blvd. But even as the pandemic took hold, she never closed, she said. Instead, she thrived throughout 2020 from customers who sought changes to their health and were looking for healthy alternatives.
It’s a story she knows well. Battle-Brown said she had a health scare five years ago, and it caused her to take charge of her health. She began eating more raw fruits and vegetables and cut out meat, and learned the benefits of juicing.
“I could see changes in my body,” she said, not just physically, but also mentally. “My body felt so clean without putting bad stuff in it.”
As she made changes, others noticed, and she started selling her juices. Battle-Brown joked that her first sales were made from the trunk of her car. She moved on to do pop-ups at local gyms around the area. When she was ready to open a retail shop, she chose North Side because she wanted to share her healthy habits with an area lacking healthy options.
Early on, even though people couldn’t come into the juice bar because of social distancing, business boomed, she said. Customers would write notes and press them against her storefront windows to place orders, or they’d message her and ask her to drop deliveries on their front porches.
Her house-brewed teas, like her signature Black Seed Ginger Tea, sold by the gallon. They’re still popular, as are her smoothies, including her best-seller Brookland Park Energizer, made with beets, swiss chard, ginger, lemon and apples.
All of her items are free of sugar, dairy, soy — even gluten. She offers chicken, seafood, tuna and vegan Karat Tuna salad, which is made with carrots and vegan mayo, among other sandwiches. Vegan options include a barbecue sandwich made from jackfruit rather than meat, and vegan chili.
The museum café now mimics its North Side location — both have cheerful floral murals on the walls, with bees, of course, in bright colors. Battle-Brown said when she learned she was a Main Course finalist, she was allowed to see the café space.
Sitting on the counter was a glass beehive-shaped beverage dispenser, leftover from previous tenants.
“This is for me,” she told herself back then. “I’m supposed to be here.”