I Went to the World's Wildest Juicing Competition
Joe & The Juice's "Global Show Off" is a high-octane orgy of machismo, motivational jabberwocky, and model-like men vying for the title of best juicer.
All photos courtesy the author.
Editor's Note 11/20/18: We're bringing back this ode to good-looking people who take juice super seriously in honor of John's Juice serving up seriously good-looking juice at Smorgasburg x VICE Night Market through the end of the year.
It is very possible that everyone inside of this Copenhagen warehouse doubles as a model, or at the very least a stock photo model. I'm not sure if I've ever seen more attractive people in one place.
I guess it makes sense; most of the people here work for Joe & The Juice, a Danish coffee and juice brand determined to take over the world with its caffeinated beverages, fresh juice, and habitually good-looking employees.
The reason these Joe & The Juice employees from around the world (and their plus-ones) have gathered in this violet-lit industrial space is not for a Zoolander-style walk off, but for something even weirder. Tonight is the company's Global Show Off, an internal competition to crown its best Juicer (what they call their "baristas").
The more people in Denmark I've told about my agenda of checking out Joe & the Juice, the more the phrase "Hooters for girls" comes up. The chain has a reputation of exclusively hiring babely men, so people naturally assume Joe & the Juice's aim is to rope in the young girl/thirsty mom market.
I stopped unannounced at a handful of locations assuming to find them packed with drooling women, but found a lot of dad-types on business more than anything. That being said, I definitely understand where the Danes I spoke to are coming from; a quick peek at Joe & The Juice Instagram doesn't do the brand any favors in dispelling that bro-y stereotype at all.
The inside of this warehouse probably wouldn't sway any opinions, either. I weave through a sea of ripped jeans and tattoos to get a spot near the stage where, any minute now, CEO and founder Kaspar Basse will be opening the event.
"A Juicer is not a machine," the projector screens read. The schedule of the night glows in the center of the stage and it looks just like a mullet—business in the front, party in the back.
First, some of the C-suite executives will give presentations, including an introduction to the new company manifesto. After that, the juice gods will break for dinner before the Show Off and afterparty.
The emcees kick things off around 6:30 PM. The beautiful youths gather around tables of chardonnay and tempranillo and turn their flawless complexions to the speakers. Basse, the Joe & The Juice patriarch, adjusts his TED Talk-worthy headset and ascends the stage looking straight out of GQ.
His speech is not what I was expecting.
Basse starts by telling the audience that they'd be "fucking stupid" if their only goal in life was to make money, and that they need to find a bigger purpose. He reminds his employees that they're Millennials ("I'm not even sure if that's a compliment") and that they have a choice between being entitled or seeing opportunities ("don't ever feel entitled").
I scan the warehouse and no one appears to be rolling their eyes. No smoke blowing out of ears either. The edgy-father-figure thing seems to be working. He continues.
He urges the crowd to never be indifferent, to find their passion, and to invite anyone to work with them. In a very Joe & The Juice moment, Basse tells the Juicers that it's OK to be vain.
He clicks through his presentation to the new manifesto video. While the visuals are pretty over the top (think fire-filled CrossFit montages), the video somehow manages to inspire me—a non-juicer—to be a fitter, kinder, more ambitious person. I get pretty pumped up watching the thing. The room erupts in chants of "JOE, JOE, JOE" when the film finishes.
Basse opens the floor to an audience Q&A. There is no foreplay: The first question jams right in there to address one of the company's most glaring flaws. The audience member, Ross Fellows-Patel from the UK, asks about the ratio of male to female employees and my non-chiseled jaw hits the floor.
One of the executives announces to the room that Joe & The Juice is made up of 6 percent women, which is so low it's hilarious (and pretty egregious for any company in 2017). A woman in the audience takes the microphone next and offers a puzzling response, saying that the company's competition appears to only hire women and arguing that the all-male criticism is a double standard.
The executives tell the crowd that they're fully aware of the issue, that they've never had an intention of being all-male, and that they're working on fixing the problem but want to do so in a natural fashion (versus putting a ban on hiring men anymore, for example). It's not great, but it's something.
The other speakers break down business details and share inspirational stories.
Joe & The Juice vice chairman Morten Albæk talks about "The Asshole Theory," a philosophy that says you can either be an asshole or not. "If you're an asshole at work, you are an asshole at home," he said. "You are one human being." COO Sebastian Vestergaard—who started in the company as a Juicer—tells us all that "we built a company where you can replace me in head management."
With the thought leadership out of the way, it's time to eat. I gawk at the well-dressed Scandinavians chomping on bao buns and French fries before meeting with legendary Juicer Marcus Alex Lohse, who has won the competition a bunch of times. He's coming out of retirement for tonight's event.
Lohse tells me the competition is as much about creativity as it is about juicing execution. In the past, Juicers have brought in strippers, blended photos of their competitors, lit their chest hair on fire. I'm trying to pay attention to him, but I'm also intrigued by the guy chugging chardonnay from the bottle while his friends cheer him on.
People start heading back into the warehouse and we're getting closer to Show Off showtime. I dip backstage and watch the 11 competing Juicers warm up. Some pop their heads outside of the curtain to scan the swarming crowd.
I watch Jack Muhamad Sufyan gracefully tosses ice cubes from one scoop to another. He has traveled more than 6,000 miles to be here from Singapore, where he manages the Tanjong Pagar Centre Joe & The Juice.
"Are you nervous or excited about tonight?" I ask Icelandic competitor Þorsteinn Þengill Helgason.
"Excited," Helgason says, his tense expression suggesting otherwise. I take the hint and leave him be.
The competitors then gather together for a pep talk. There's a sense of friendly camaraderie going on backstage; even though they're squaring up against each other, it's like everyone is on the same team.
The energy in the warehouse is palpably rising; everyone's beyond stoked for this juicy mayhem. Finally, the emcees take the stage and people go nuts. There's singing, dancing.
The first competitor up is Alexandre Debut from Nice, France. He runs out with all of the confidence in the world, but then the first few tricks don't land. I see a change in his expression; he's fighting to keep the good vibes going. He rips off his shirt to the delight of the crowd.
Juice is flying. The front row is losing it. I can't imagine how hard it is to balance a cup on my foot in front of hundreds of screaming people. This is probably not how the guy practiced beforehand.
Three minutes later, his turn is over. The French competitor looks disappointed and awaits his score while a cleaning crew comes in to prepare the setup for the next Juicer.
The following competitor, Kevin Benjamin representing Australia, seems to experience the same emotional roller coaster as the first.
There's the high of running up to the table, music blaring as your friends and colleagues give you a rock star's welcome. Then you start to toss and twirl your blender with less precision than you're normally capable of. Your adrenaline is firing. You drop things. Your mental game gets thrown off. You struggle to stay positive. Even though they appear to love you unconditionally, the audience cools off with each misstep.
Everything goes up a notch when Team USA's Dean Riviera takes the stage. His entourage—donning bizarro American accessories like star-spangled neckties—turn into the greatest hype men of all time. As the American flag flails around in someone's hands, my heart wells with patriotism.
Riviera takes off his sunglasses. He's wearing a backwards Yankees hat and some sort of American-themed onesie (plus gym shorts).
"DJ, SPIN THAT SHIT," an emcee yells. The blender tricks begin. A "Joe" chant begins. A "USA" chant begins.
His entourage has taken the stage behind him. Riviera is juggling fruit. He pours juice into a cup behind his back. He jumps up onto the table while his entourage jumps around like they're moshing.
Then the American makes it rain.
As the crumpled US dollars fall onto the crowd, his entourage explodes. People are leaping in the air. The Juicer goes back to juicing.
I am dumbfounded when Riviera doesn't get all of the points possible. Before I can be too pissed about it, my fellow Americans are off stage and the Icelandic Juicer is up.
Things aren't going so well. "You gotta speed it up, Iceland! One minute left, one minute left. Come on, people, give it up for Iceland!" the emcee encourages.
Iceland isn't happy with his performance at all. He storms backstage after his performance before he's awarded his points.
The UK's Juicer is up next, then it's the champ out of retirement, Lohse. It is immediately clear that this guy is leagues better than the other competitors. Like the American, he walks out there like he owns the place and works the crowd. He does little dances, whips a blender around.
He's pulling out all of the stops with double pours, fruit juggling. The man is clearly a pro. Unlike the other Juicers, he looks calm and comfortable the entire time, even when moves go awry.
For the grand finale, Lohse puts an empty cup on his forehead, pours it full of juice while taking a goddamn selfie with the crowd. Finesse.
The rest of the competitors continue to stunt accordingly. Last year's winner, Aleandro Karipidis, does a little strip tease. Germany slaps the shit out of some juice onto the crowd. Christoffer Elestedt from Sweden miraculously catches an apple on the edge of a martini shaker. Singapore wins our hearts a thousand times over.
The four highest-scoring Juicers move on to the next round. Team USA is not one of them which is, to me (a biased American), a massive travesty. I walk across the sticky floor to get a drink while the stage is prepared for phase two of the competition.
It's time to wow the crowd and the judges yet again. Some Juicers switch things up with wardrobe changes for the semi-finals. Water and juice flies everywhere. People can't stop hugging and dancing.
Karipidis and Elestedt are eliminated, leaving it to Lohse and Sufyan to battle it out in the finals. It's a David and Goliath situation, the seasoned four-time champ versus the newcomer.
Lohse takes the stage first and I can't imagine how he's going to top the selfie pour. There's no telling what he'll do. He starts with the usually swagger, masterfully dazzling the crowd with his skills like balancing a full cup of juice on his head (if only for a moment).
We're approaching the end of his turn and Lohse turns around to the stage behind him. He bounds over to CEO Basse and starts pointing at his watch. The cheering crowd is excitedly confused. Basse takes off the watch and hands it to Lohse. The Juicer goes back and jumps onto the juicing table. He throws the watch into the blender and turns it on. The crowd is dead, my eyes fall out of my head.
It's a move that only a man with Lohse's confidence can pull off, to walk up to your boss and destroy his watch in front of him. It's a hard act for Singapore to follow.
Fortunately there's something just so dang likable about the guy you want to see him succeed, plus he's talented. I never thought I'd see a bunch of European Millennials roaring a "Singapore" chant, but that's exactly what's happening right now. After failed attempts at a near impossible pour during each of his turns, Sufyan finally nails it for his last move.
It's time for the judges to deliberate and choose the winner. Lohse, Sufyan, and a swarm of people take the stage for the announcement.
Lohse is named the champion (his fate seemed rightfully sealed after that watch performance). While people pounce on Lohse in celebration, I watch Basse beeline for Sufyan to presumably congratulate him on the his efforts. Lohse is awarded a Joe & The Juice engraved Rolex.
It's time for the afterparty and I'm exhausted and covered in sprayed beer and juice. Some Danish DJs start their set and I start drinking Champagne to come down from the insanity. What had I just witnessed? Is this real life?
Outside of the warehouse, I catch up with the Americans heading to some after-after party.
"Hey, team USA, are you bummed? I felt like you should have been in the finals," I ask like a moron.
The Juicer looks at the ground and then looks at me: "It is what it is." I decide not to continue salting his wounds.
It would be the easiest thing in the world to hate Joe & The Juice. Between the man buns and the Cartier jewelry, the shit-talking is practically ready-made, yet I'm leaving the Show Off thinking it's wrong to discount the brand.
Is the company perfect? (Hell no. Hire more women, guys.) But there seems to be more to Joe & The Juice than being really, really good-looking, even if it's hard to penetrate that superficial level. The brand champions good sportsmanship, good health, and good causes (they sponsor children's educations in Benin, West Africa).
Post Show Off, we head to a Copenhagen nightclub and I survey the hazy room. Like the warehouse, the place is chock-full of genetically blessed Europeans. Someone asks me what I'm doing in Denmark and I mention Joe & the Juice. They mention Hooters, but, you know, for girls. I agree to disagree.
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