Chasing fulfillment and more time together, high school sweethearts and business owners, Ismeal “Ish” Le Dezma and Heidy De la Cruz have opened a brick-and-mortar juice bar in Forest Park. Smooth-Ish, 7415 Madison St., serves up a healthy and colorful selection of cold pressed juices, wholesome smoothies, and hearty smoothie bowls.
“We are not super hippie,” laughed Le Dezma. “We don’t want Smooth-Ish to be intimidating. We’d like to introduce people to a healthier lifestyle and teach people about unfamiliar ingredients like goji berries, but we always want to be approachable.”
While De la Cruz considers herself a “fruit and veggie convert,” Le Dezma recollects eating a whole watermelon with a spoon as a child. He was raised with a generous backyard garden known for producing an annual bumper crop of cucumbers and tomatoes.
“I never really thought about it before, but as I child my snacks were fresh garden cucumbers sprinkled with lime and salt,” said Le Dezma. “Fruits and vegetables have always been part of who I am.”
“It’s true,” laughed De la Cruz. “Whenever we’ve needed a snack, Ish says he just wants a juice.”
Smooth-Ish is a natural extension of Le Dezma’s childhood veggie-focused snacking and love of juices, but this is a first foray into small business ownership for the engaged couple who have been Forest Park residents since 2017. Le Dezma works as a transport engineer and De la Cruz is a first-grade teacher at a Chicago public school. Both continue to work fulltime in their respective careers while trusted family runs the juice bar during the week.
Le Dezma, who enjoyed working in his uncle’s Mexican restaurant in his youth, began experimenting with juice combinations and smoothie recipes during pandemic related lockdowns. Over time his quarantine hobby became a more serious endeavor and he and his fiancé became focused on making their juice habit a viable business.
“I am all about Ish doing what makes him happiest and opening this juice bar is part of that,” said De La Cruz.
The duo hopes Smooth-Ish will serve as an introduction to a healthier lifestyle for some customers and become a destination for health-conscious residents and local families. The menu at Smooth-Ish is made up of a bevy of interchangeable ingredients to create inherent menu flexibility. Juices are cold pressed to order with nearly two pounds of produce being used in a single serving. The COGA has proven to be a popular choice among juice fanatics and features a sunny mix of carrot, orange, grapefruit and apple juice. De la Cruz is quick to recommend “The Beet” — a garnet colored combination of apple, beet, lemon and ginger.
The “banana and spice” smoothie is a creative menu offering made with banana, almond butter, almond milk, date paste, agave, ginger and a warming blend of spices including cinnamon, cardamom, anise, nutmeg. Since opening, however, filling smoothie bowls have been gaining in popularity. The berry bowl, with a base of mango, strawberry, goji berries, cashews, and almond milk, is a customer favorite thanks to filling garnishes including granola, bananas, chia seeds and a drizzle of almond butter.
For now, the recipes used at Smooth-Ish predominantly feature fruits and vegetables, but the owners intend to introduce protein powders and collagen peptides to their smoothies and juices in the near future. Additionally, the couple is developing recipes to honor their heritage. De la Cruz is excited to offer a healthy spin on morir soñando. The drink, traditionally made from lemon or orange juice with milk and sweetener, is a nod to the Dominican Republic. A healthy riff on Horchata, a sweet rice water beverage flavored with cinnamon, will pay respect to Le Dezma’s Mexican heritage.
Le Dezma and De la Cruz opened Smooth-Ish in late December and have been enjoying a gradual increase in business. Opening during the winter months allowed the young entrepreneurs to get familiar with owning a food related business in advance of a natural increase in business during warmer months.
They prize Forest Park for its small-town charm and city access, proximity to family living in neighboring suburbs, quiet lifestyle and community feel. They also noted Forest Park’s diversity was a draw when selecting a place to put down roots for their future family.
“We want to add value to Forest Park by participating in community events and doing things like sponsoring a T-ball team,” said Le Dezma. “We want Smooth-Ish to be a business that allows us to value ourselves and the community around us. Pleasing our customers is a top priority and we are excited to be a part of Madison Street.”
Smooth-Ish is open Monday through Friday from 8am-5pm and Saturday-Sunday from 11am-4pm.