Tiny Empire’s Anthony Spadaro on building a juice bar brand

Anthony Spadaro of Tiny Empire
Anthony Spadaro of Tiny Empire Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Anthony Spadaro’s Tiny Empire is turning into a tiny empire of its own.

This week, the raw diet enthusiast opens a second location of his juice bar, which specializes in organic juices, smoothies and food.

A former tattoo artist for 15 years in NYC, Spadaro, 41, first branched out into the business with Press and Blend, a juice bar in Woodstock, New York. In 2012, he relocated back to NYC and opened Tiny Empire on North Sixth Street in Williamsburg. On Friday, he will open a second location at 234 Lafayette St. in SoHo, with Melissa Love now at the helm as executive chef.

We spoke with the Williamsburg resident about his expanding business, the city’s bustling juice bar scene and how he stays healthy.


What did you learn from your experience in Woodstock that helped you opening in NYC?

I learned a lot of public opinion about health, wellness, fitness and just the experience with customers … and what preconceptions they might have. One thing I noticed — it kind of amazes me, but there still seems to be this idea that for something to be good for you, it should taste bad. That was pretty inspiring because I completely disagree. … The basic concept is you can pick up anything in the store and it’s good for you and it’s high-quality with very little processing and a great flavor profile.

What was your experience with juicing beforehand?

I became a vegetarian as a teenager. Although that didn’t last, juicing did. That was a part of my lifestyle at that age, so I’ve been into it more than half my life. Living in the Catskills, I had amazing access to really high-quality, organic produce. I was eating largely a raw food diet, and I started writing things down in a notebook and figured out how to scale them up and build a brand at the same time.

Where do you source from now?

Because of the amount of produce that we’re going though in the city, it’s necessary to use an organic distributor. But ultimately, that company has been sourcing a lot of farms that function in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

What does the name Tiny Empire mean?

I hired a creative director, and we started with the idea “less is more” — that was the outlook in terms of recipe development. We started to stylize that and talked about New York a lot and the New York experience — why would somebody pay $3,000 a month for a closet basically? Because the opportunity is so great. He called me one night after two beers and said, “I got it — Tiny Empire.”

What’s popular at the Williamsburg location?

I think our most popular smoothie is the No. 11, which is a kale, coconut water, raw cacao-flavored smoothie. Probably the most popular food item is our Middle Eastern kale salad, which has a dressing that’s pumpkin-seed based. And our most popular juice is definitely the No. 4 — green apple, celery, kale, lemon and ginger. Those three things are pretty rock solid. We have some new menu items coming out for the SoHo launch that will be up in all the stores. Hopefully there’s some contenders in the menu.

When did Melissa get involved?

She just came on as a consultant. All the recipes are my own, from the smoothies to the juices to the food. One of the things I’ve been looking for is someone to add to that and share some of that time and responsibility. We have such a common ground. She was a customer from the beginning.

How did the expansion come about?

I’ve been consistently looking for a second store since we opened. Finding the right landlord was important to me, being that you’re entering into a contract for like 10 years. And location of course, in terms of what type of people live in the area. In telling the story of this brand, it’s important to me to be in culturally agreeable territory. So I think that location has a lot of old New York still in it, and that’s quite desirable to me, as well as the newest of New York.

How is the SoHo location different from the Williamsburg location?

At each location, we partnered with a different artist. In Williamsburg I partnered with Jason Polan. That’s reflected throughout the store. For the SoHo store we’re partnering with Richard Phillips, who has a totally different style. Before we picked out materials and firmed up the design of the store, we had Richard create a mural inside the store and then based our creative direction, materials and layout to some degree around his mural. There’s a pretty strong renegade spirit there, he’s much edgier than Jason.

Do you think juice bars will become oversaturated, like with frozen yogurt?

I don’t think so. If you strip away a lot of the financially-driven decisions in food and beverage, you end up essentially with fruits and vegetables and grains and meats, cheese and fish. What we learned in the third grade. I think this is quite sustainable. Frozen yogurt is a pretty limited experience.

What makes your brand stand out?

I think the fact that it’s so personal. Although I’m not the face of the company, all the recipes are mine. I created those at home. I think the interest in art and creativity, and I think just the approach of not making a lot of insane claims. I don’t have like a diet program for you, sorry, because you’re different than I am, and I just don’t know. I don’t think there’s a quick, easy way to do anything. I think that being consistent, even if it’s a little bit of discipline, is the best approach to health, and that can look radically different for every person.

How else do you stay healthy?

Thai boxing — that’s my thing. I’ve been into one form of mixed martial arts or another for the past 10 years — jiujitsu, muay Thai for the past six or seven years — as well as a lot of outdoor sports — mountain biking, snowboarding, scuba diving, trail running. I go to Renzo Gracie in Williamsburg, a mixed martial arts gym, it’s two blocks from my new apartment. For outdoor sports, mainly the Catskills.

Do you have any healthy go-tos in the city?

I don’t think that’s my sort of outlook. I’m pretty interested in different cultural experiences that are in New York, which are getting slimmer and slimmer. What I find interesting are people who are going to long lengths to source, maybe it’s not the healthiest option, but maybe it’s a really interesting one that’s not available elsewhere. I’m quite interested in … the quality of food and the atmosphere. A friend of mine who owns a Serbian restaurant [Kafana] only gets his meat from a Serbian butcher in Queens. It’s quite different from what people expect a juice bar owner to look for. But it’s high-quality meat and vegetables — still all organic. It’s definitely not an exclusive outlook on eating.

Any further plans to expand Tiny Empire?

I’m looking for other locations. I think as the story is told a little bit more with the second location, the next location will become clear.