Leadership

How Salma Hayek's love for juicing led her to work with a successful health food exec

Juice Generation founder Eric Helms (L) with Cooler Cleanse co-founder and actress Salma Hayek (R)
Courtesy of Juice Generation CEO Eric Helms
Juice Generation founder Eric Helms (L) with Cooler Cleanse co-founder and actress Salma Hayek (R)

In the 1990s, Juice Generation founder and CEO Eric Helms met actress Salma Hayek before he opened his first brick-and-mortar location.

The duo has since collaborated on two product launches and Helms has seen his company expand to 19 stores around New York City, notching $35 million in sales per year, according to an interview with CNBC Make It, as part of a juicing industry worth approximately $492 million.

Helms and Hayek's friendship has humble beginnings, however. The executive, 48, says he moved to New York City fresh out of college and worked seven days a week as a swim instructor "teaching wealthy kids," he says. Dedicated to a life of health and wellness, Helms says he was a fan of juicing "before it was cool."

Juice Generation founder and CEO Eric Helms in one of the store locations.
Courtesy of Juice Generation CEO Eric Helms
Juice Generation founder and CEO Eric Helms in one of the store locations.

"If you wanted a juice, you went to a deli where there was a dirty window in the front and you could order a carrot juice," he says. "I just thought, 'Wow, I love juicing but why isn't there a really clean, cool place that I can go get different blends and hear good music and have a nice, pleasant experience, similar to a coffee shop.'"

Helms says he met Hayek, 51, through mutual friends and bonded with her over their love for juicing and produce. She returned to New York once Helms opened his business and the two remained friends.

While Hayek filmed movies across the country, Helms would send her juices. That's when she proposed partnering to create a home-delivery juicing program called "Cooler Cleanse." The successful launch made them one of the first, mainstream juice cleanses available on a national level.

For their most recent collaboration, Helms recalls receiving a call from Hayek, who was based in California and told him, "Come see me in L.A. and when you're here can you come to my house? I want to talk to you," he says.

"She took me to Whole Foods and we spent over $1,000 in food," he says. "We went back to her house, where she spent the day making masks for me out of produce with fruits and vegetables and it was very puzzling."

Hayek, who frequently Instagrams her love for fresh food and cooking, proposed an idea for a business centered on masks and scrub made out of natural organic ingredients with no chemicals.

Helms says after two years of thinking about how to fit a beauty line into Juice Generation, he and Hayek launched a beauty subscription service this past June called "Blend it Yourself." Every week, "subscribers get six or 12 organic frozen smoothies, put each serving in a blender and either drink the blend or apply it as a cooling soothing face mask."

If there is one thing Hayek says she hopes people take away from her partnership with Helms, it's this: "Never rush or force anything," she tells CNBC Make It in a statement.

"We worked together for about two years developing the concepts and recipes for both Cooler Cleanse and Blend It Yourself," she says. "So be patient. It takes time if you want to do things right."

Hayek holds the title of co-founder of the Cooler Cleanse and Blend it Yourself product lines.

Helms says that he was 28 years old when he decided to follow his passion for juicing and dedicated $100,000 from his private swim lessons savings to "put every dime" into opening his first store in Hell's Kitchen in 1999. He admits the start of the juicing business was "incredibly slow," with his flagship store getting about 40 customers a day.

But his big break came when a food critic for The New York Times reviewed his store. Shortly after, it became a favorite among Broadway performers.

"I think I was able to get through all those headaches of a new entrepreneur because I wanted [the business to grow] more than anything in the world," he says.

"I was in my little juice store every day in an apron, talking to customers, ringing up a cash register, making a juice, " Helms adds. "It was the greatest gift I could have because it informed everything for the next 20 years. It informed the menu that we created. It informed the values of the company."

Meanwhile, Hayek came across "a whole new world of juicing" when she moved to Los Angeles, California from Mexico in her 20s. In the forward of Helms' recipe book, she writes she had embraced freshly made juices from an early age. However, on the West Coast, it was mainly only accessible to "health nuts."

"Before Eric opened his first store, we were friends," Hayek says. "I would go to Eric's Juice Generation stores when I was in New York and he would send me samples when I was traveling. Since I have many years of experience with juicing, I felt I had some knowledge to share so I approached Eric about working together."

"It's always been a very natural progression for us," Hayek says. "Eric and I shared a similar passion for helping to reduce the way our modern lifestyle brings so much stress to our body."

Juice Generation founder Eric Helms (R) with Cooler Cleanse co-founder and actress Salma Hayek (L).
Courtesy of Juice Generation CEO Eric Helms
Juice Generation founder Eric Helms (R) with Cooler Cleanse co-founder and actress Salma Hayek (L).

Helms says he appreciates knowing someone like Hayek whose enthusiasm for the juicing and wellness movement matches his own.

Now, Helms says he has managed to keep Juice Generation independently-owned since day one by re-investing his profits into funding the next projects for the company.

Helms says never he forgets where he came from: "I was just a guy in my late 20s with not a lot of business knowledge, but a lot of energy, passion and desire to not to work for someone. I wanted to do my own thing and just sort of did it."

"I feel so proud that what I do, I think, putting a little bit of good out into the world," Helms says. "It's personally the most fulfilling thing to walk down the street and realize I'm really part of the fabric of New York City."

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