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Qwench hopes to make a splash in Westwood with its coffee, fruit drinks

Qwench Juice Bar, which features health-focused drinks, commissioned a UCLA mural to attract students. Owner RJ Mattox hopes students will come to study and take social media pictures in front of the mural. (Emily Ng/Daily Bruin)

By Stephen Wyer

September 30, 2019 1:06 am

A new juice and coffee bar is offering healthier alternatives to local competitors for Westwood residents.

Qwench Juice Bar, a Los Angeles-based franchise that started in 2013, opened its doors in Westwood on June 24. The new location is on the corner of Weyburn and Gayley avenues in a building space formerly occupied by a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

The juice bar has a spacious white-tiled interior dotted with tables for studying and a UCLA-themed mural featuring images of John Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The decor is part of a strategy to position Qwench as a gathering place for students.

With a reported lack of businesses appealing to students and an over 20% vacancy rate in Westwood, the arrival of Qwench is an attempt to break from those trends.

The juice bar’s owner, RJ Mattox, said the impetus for the opening of the franchise came in 2017 after two other Qwench franchise owners approached him at a business conference with an offer to take ownership of the new location.

Mattox, a civil engineer and Gulf War veteran, had already intended to start a franchise with his friend and partner Rudy Vega but nothing worked out up until that point.

Mattox said his own belief in the importance of a healthy diet attracted him to the juice bar business.

“I had a health scare in 2008-2009, so I switched up my diet to some more healthy options and started consuming healthier products such as juice,” Mattox said.

The menu at Qwench reflects Mattox’s desire to provide a healthy alternative to surrounding juice and coffee businesses. Featured are the juice bar’s smoothies, ranging from the “OJ Blend” – made from Greek yogurt, orange juice and added flavors – to raw juice smoothies such as the “Clean Green,” which contains kale and celery.

The acai bowls are 32 ounces in size and flavors range from the “G-bowl,” a standard acai bowl mixed in with Greek yogurt, to the “N-bowl”, which mixes acai and Nutella.

Qwench joins a relatively small group of juice shops in the area, with Jamba Juice on campus and Pressed Juicery on Kinross Avenue. While there are numerous other coffee shops in Westwood Village, from Starbucks to Espresso Profeta, Qwench is distinct in specializing in both juice and coffee products to its customers.

Rahsonn McGlothen, a plumber who is a regular at Qwench, said he started frequenting the location after he first had an acai bowl on the store’s opening day.

“I like acai bowls – I usually got mine from Jamba,” McGlothen said. “The ones at Jamba are like a quarter the size of these. A couple of dollars more, but you get more for your money – this place has one of the biggest bowls I’ve ever seen.”

McGlothen said he felt Qwench could attract more customers if there was more advertising directed at UCLA students and local workers.

“There’s also thousands of maintenance workers such as myself in the area who go to places like Jamba Juice but would come here instead,” McGlothen said.

Mattox said he has received largely positive customer feedback about the food and drinks.

“One thing that makes us different is our recipes. No one has complained about our items on either side of the menu,” Mattox said, referring to Qwench’s bifurcated menu featuring both smoothie items and coffee. “We have healthier choices than other places like Jamba and Starbucks, and tasty items such as the peanut butter banana smoothie. Anyone that drinks that is instantly addicted.”

Healthier food options are the focus of Qwench Juice Bar. Mattox was motivated to open a business with healthier alternatives to competitors after reflecting on his own health. (Emily Ng/Daily Bruin)

Manager Argelia Cortez said while business was initially slow, it improved as customers were drawn to the variety of coffee and smoothie options available.

“We have two different kinds of menus – coffee and Qwench. People are shocked that we don’t just have coffee, we have blends. The employees have their own special ways to do the bowls and stuff. It’s really fun to work here,” she added.

The juice bar plays contemporary music and offers stadium seating by the mural where people can take pictures for social media.

“One reason students should come here is the environment,” Mattox said. “I want to create a gathering place where people can study, work, relax, etc. It’s a cool, vibing place that everybody can come to and feel at home.”

Mattox said he felt confident about business thus far. While Qwench opened during the early summer, when Westwood is less populous due to the lower number of students, Mattox said that consistency from regulars and positive customer feedback has been encouraging.

“We opened in the worst season possible, when everyone was gone,” Mattox said. “We survived. We got regulars. We have a man who comes in every day and sits in the same spot – he’s a movie writer. Honestly, I’m somewhat concerned about the surge of students that we’re expecting, but I think we’ll fare well.”

Joy Heller, a graduate student studying culture and performance, said she enjoys the atmosphere at Qwench and appreciates the friendliness of the employees.

“You can meet up with people to study there – it’s welcoming and comfortable,” Heller said. “I would go to this place before I would go to Starbucks or (Peet’s Coffee) both for the closeness to off-campus housing but also because it has a personal touch. The owner is nice and the people who work there are also nice.”

She added that while the proximity to student off-campus housing was of advantage to older students such as herself, Qwench could do more to advertise itself to students who live farther away from Westwood Village or on the Hill.

“I think in general students aren’t that aware of it yet because it’s pretty new and far from campus,” Heller said.

Addison Yuan, a graduate applied economics student, agreed that students living on campus might be less aware of the juice bar.

“The location is kind of far from the Hill, so I think this place has a pretty low profile, (and) younger students aren’t that aware of it yet,” Yuan said.

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Stephen Wyer
Wyer is a news contributor.
Wyer is a news contributor.
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