The familiar question long stands and causes many to be on the constant search for the healthiest diet: “Does it matter what we eat?” Jennie Harrison might just say so. After caring for her mother who was diagnosed with lung cancer, Harrison’s interest in health and nutrition peaked when she began exploring possible dietary remedies and wrestling with the question herself. With a fervant passion for the power of juicing and whole foods, Harrison opened what is known today as Bambu Café and offers the tastiest potential that juices and a clean diet can offer.
photography by John Kazaklis / styled by amy schaus
Several years ago, the health-conscious consumers of Polk County could only dream we might one day have a fresh juicery to call our own. It seemed that such a place could only be found in a sleek metropolis. But Jennie Harrison’s Bambu Café is thriving at Old Towne Square in Downtown Winter Haven.
Harrison has always been in the hospitality industry. She got her start at a young age serving and bar backing. She has always been an entrepreneur, previously owning a consignment store with her sister. Bringing years of experience to her own venture, Bambu Café, Harrison says she chose the name Bambu because it’s green, natural, and sustainable — a theme carried throughout the business.
Juicing first captured Harrison’s attention when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. She began researching ways to get her mom more nutrition, and juice bars were readily available in South Florida where they were seeking treatment. She found some of the doctor’s logic to be counterproductive when they suggested her mom could eat whatever she wanted. Although her mother eventually passed away, the benefits of juicing were clear to Harrison.
In 2014 Bambu got its start in a small space behind Jessie’s Lounge, where owner Harrison set up shop as a massage therapist, and offered nail designs and facials. Known then as Bambu Body Bar, her intention was to have a few juices and smoothies available for sale while offering massages and facials — the idea being for whole body health, all things good for the body. Even though Harrison soundproofed the rooms, she quickly realized the popularity of her fresh juices began to interrupt her massage clients.
After several customers asked for food options to go with their smoothies and juices, one of Harrison’s friends offered to help out with the café. Together they decided she should have a few options like soups and salads. Things took off from there, and soon Harrison traveled to California for two weeks to explore their juice-bar scene. When she returned home, Harrison knew it was time to grow and expand Bambu. It took about six months for Harrison and her husband to find a space, finally landing on the place she had been searching for, in Old Towne Square. After an extensive renovation that lasted an additional six months (Harrison impressively did much of the work herself), Bambu Café reopened last year.
Although she is the first to admit she is not a nutritionist, Harrison is always researching and learning new ways to keep her clients healthy and happy by offering simply good, clean food. Her tuna salad alone has a loyal following. (I say, she must have a magic ingredient!) It’s more than just your basic tuna salad and is infused with flavors like dill, and banana peppers. Chicken salad comes simple style, with options like curry and chipotle. Egg salad over the funky little beet salad is my personal go-to. Bambu also provides homemade almond butter and peanut butter for sandwiches or for use in smoothies. The café also serves hand-crafted kombucha. If you’re not familiar with kombucha, it is a fermented tea made with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. (This sounds questionable, but it really is delicious!) Kombucha is great for your gut health and digestion. If that sounds too daring, get the Nuttin’ Honey smoothie or a good old-fashioned Green Jeans juice. Check out the chia seed pudding for a healthy twist on an old favorite.
“Creating customer loyalty is important,” Harrison says. Her repeat clients make up the majority of her business. To her staff, she is always stressing the importance of knowing people’s names and orders (and they always remember what you like). You can also request your kid’s chocolate peanut-butter smoothie “Popeye style” and they will sneakily add spinach! (Not that I would ever try to pull one over on my three-year-old …)
In addition to being health conscious, Harrison is also very aware of her carbon footprint. She is always exploring ways to make her operation greener. The extra juice pulp goes to the chickens whose eggs are used in the café. Beyond that, customers who have pigs, sheep, and goats regularly pick up pulp to nourish their livestock. Harrison even saves the banana peels for a family that has rescue tortoises who love to eat the peels. To top it off, Harrison is currently researching ways to implement more earth-friendly disposable options. She recycles everything she is able, and Bambu Café throws away only one bag of trash each day. Harrison would like to see all of downtown move toward a greener mindset. Even just more recycling options, she says, would make a huge difference in the town’s carbon footprint.
The future of Bambu Café plans to bring lots of exciting additions. The goal (as always) is to provide healthy, clean food and drinks. That includes adding more vegan options to the menu, as well as expanding café hours to include a healthy happy hour. The availability will include hand-crafted and infused cocktails. Harrison also plans to offer some juice detox cleanses. Delivery and catering will be available as well as event space. Grab-and-go breakfast is on its way, with local artisan baked goods as well as some quiche options. Harrison says she is looking for all these changes to be implemented by the end of summer.
Bambu Café is located in downtown Winter Haven, across from City Hall. It’s currently open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thank you, Jennie Harrison, for keeping us all a little healthier and for taking care of the planet, too.