By Colette Herbstman
During the dog days of summer, avoiding rich foods and complicated sauces seems like a good idea. In fact, the idea of a fast or at least a cleanse sounds refreshing. Denise Mari, the founder of the health and wellness lifestyle company, Organic Avenue, is an authority on the subject. Her path to healthier living began in early childhood with an innate love of animals.
Denise’s younger sister was only eight when she died after being diagnosed with leukemia. Her death motivated Denise to become more proactive with medical professions, asking them questions rather than blindly following their advice. She also began to make connections between lifestyle and health.
In college, Denise continued to educate herself about how what we eat can affect how we feel. She met her first vegetarian and realized that omitting certain foods from her diet was possible. She began to read labels on food products. “Oftentimes I was seeing words that I couldn’t pronounce and hidden animal products in things that you wouldn’t think would have animal proteins and enzymes,” she said. Those discoveries prompted her to think more and more about food and health.
Denise’s belief in the spiritual and her love of animals helped to confirm her dedication. “I just had a really strong spiritual belief that we didn’t need to harm or kill another being or destroy the planet in order to eat healthy,” she said.
As Denise became more aware of what she was eating, she became curious about the vegan movement. After attending a meeting of the Big Apple Vegetarian Society, she learned about the raw food diet. “I could totally grasp the concept that if you eat something in its unadulterated state, it’s probably the healthiest for you,” she said, pointing out that such foods have not been killed or cooked. Yet, she wasn’t ready to make the switch. In fact, Denise took ten months to make the transition from cooked to raw foods.
Many would assume that, making such dramatic changes in diet, including an initial cleanse, would negatively affect one’s energy levels, perhaps making it difficult to stay focused and alert. Denise had quite the opposite reaction. “As the process began, I had clarity of thought and energy,” she said. Her skin cleared up and her emotional health greatly improved as well. Denise realized that if other people were going to live this lifestyle, it would have to be more affordable and accessible. “It just came to me that this would be a great business; if you could go in to a place, pick up something and not even have to read the labels!” she said. “And you could have everything without a sense of deprivation. That really put a bug in my system about creating a business that would provide the best kind of quality products all in one place.”
In 2002, Denise began formalizing her business plan, not just to offer New Yorkers healthy food, but also to provide them with a healthy lifestyle. “When I started the business from my home on the Lower East Side, we had products and clothing and classes and movie nights, consultations and lectures,” she recalled. “It was a concept that developed a new lifestyle that people could live.” Denise went on to develop that concept for three and a half years before finally moving the business to a storefront. She credits much of her success to the meeting the right people at the right time. Many had the information she needed to grow her business and educate the uninitiated. (In photo above, Denise poses with co-owner Doug Evans).
For those timid about making changes, Denise offers the assurance that Organic Avenue is designed to accommodate one’s lifestyle. She doesn’t want people to leave feeling deprived or overwhelmed. “We have these five-day programs which are really just starters and introductions to the lifestyle,” she explained. “There are five of them, so people can transition through them, but at the same time they are really doing things to incorporate into daily life. You don’t necessarily have to be doing them 100 percent of the time. You always want to strive to do more and you’ll feel the cleansing benefits in health and all the aspects of your lifestyle.”
Denise believes deeply in the connection between poor diet and serious illnesses. She advocates adopting a healthier lifestyle as a key component to improving health. Her goal is to get information to people early on, even if staving off disease is not the main concern. “Let them make the transition because they want to lose five pounds,” she said. Once they are familiar with eating healthier, that lifestyle becomes the norm and they may very well avoid that negative diagnosis.
Of course, adopting a healthy lifestyle presents challenges for someone living in a city where entertaining is part of life. “ My business creates a little bubble for me,” said Denise. “Rarely am I in a situation where I’m around alcohol or am around really awful, awful food. And when I am, because I’ve been invited somewhere, I prepare. So I have a lot of empathy for those whose lifestyle is social events…you really need support.” She advocates making small changes over time. Denise sees Organic Avenue as a global force. “My intention is to get these stores (Organic Avenue) as local as possible and to get the website working in a way that’s accessible for people who don’t live close by,” she said.
For more information about Denise Mari and Organic Avenue, visit her website, www.organicavenue.com or visit the new event space, The Space of LOVE* (116 Suffolk Street, NY, NY).
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Organic Avenue I love the LOVE*
Favorite Place to Shop: Giggle (baby store.. new momma here!)
Favorite New York Sight: Flowers in bloom in spring.. grass breaking through cracks in pavement…trees in bloom in West Village
Favorite New York Moment: Every moment is pretty unique here in NYC…hmmm…a favorite…transportation strike… everyone walking everywhere.. it just felt right!
What You Love About New York: It challenges you to become your best.
What You Hate About New York: Eww.. I don’t like that word .. but if I have to say it.. I hate the pollution!!.. noise and otherwise.. the city could use a bath and a helping hand to step up its game and shine! truly shine.