De-stress with fresh-pressed juice at Uzima juicery


Image courtesy of Uzima

A drink from Uzima on display.

By Punya Bhasin and Khushi Rai

Uzima, a juice store in Oakland, has reopened after being temporarily closed due to personal and logistical issues. 

Located at 3400 Forbes Ave., Uzima is purposely designed to bring awareness to mental illness. Because the juicery is near several colleges, Uzima aims to help support students’ mental health by hosting activities such as open mic nights. Some of the store’s notable dishes include the Unite acai bowl, which contains acai, banana, strawberries, granola and almond milk. Uzima also offers juices and smoothies with a variety of fruity flavors — mango, coconut, black cherry and more. Prices range from $8 to $13.

Sheronica Marshall, a co-founder of Uzima, said they initially opened Jan. 10, but had to close Jan. 11 due to a broken down machine and a need to focus on their mental health. 

“One piece of equipment is down, and so there are some mechanical issues that came up,” Sheronica Marshall said. “We also still have a young family with kids, and so family is important, and then the finances and time to grow the business are also stressors, so we just hit pause for a couple of weeks to say our mental health is important.”

Mayan Marshall, co-founder of Uzima, said it is evident that college students often struggle with their mental health. Marshall said he noticed a trend among his student employees — especially that they struggled with work when the store was busy and often needed help memorizing the juice recipes.

“Out of all the employees that we had there, I would guess that probably about half of them had some type of mental illness,” Mayan Marshall said. “They were battling something in a way that my wife and I could pick up on.” 

Prior to opening Uzima, Sheronica and Mayan Marshall both ran Salud Juicery. Since the opening of Uzima, Sheronica Marshall started a new initiative called the “Student Stores” projects, where students can share their mental health journey and put a portrait of themselves on one of the walls of the store. Each portrait contains a QR code that allows viewers to read the student’s journey. 

“We want to get a student portrait from every single university in Pittsburgh, every major, and every mental illness,” Sheronica Marshall said. “If you’re a freshman from any of these universities walking into our store, you should be able to find a portrait of someone that has either the same mental illness or major to see how they navigated throughout the school.”

Mayan Marshall said Uzima confronts and embraces mental illness rather than shying away from it. The walls of the store are covered with posters of celebrities, such as Kurt Cobain. The store also houses books that relate to mental health for customers to read while they visit. 

“We really try to make our store a refuge of a safe place so students can explore mental illness in all its wonder and diversity,” Mayan Marshall said. “There are a lot of people in society that really want to try to fix mental illness and try to eradicate it and solve it, and it’s our opinion that you can’t do that. You can understand but not fix it. We try to change the narrative around mental illness and make it more beautiful.”

Mayan Marshall said he and his wife were inspired to create Uzima after dealing with their own mental health issues. He said his family didn’t openly discuss mental health with each other, which led him to create a safe space for discussing these issues. 

“It’s something we kind of kept close to the vest,” Mayan Marshall said. “When COVID came around, I had an episode because I am bipolar, and through that my wife and I prayed on it. We thought that the best thing we could do, especially around COVID, is to make a store about mental health more than anything else.”

Harley Vincler, an undergraduate at Carlow University and employee at Uzima, said the juicery provides her with a supportive environment that allows her to explore resources and share experiences related to mental health

“They definitely open up awareness about mental health,” Vincler said. “Everyone helps out. Sheronica and Mayan are super cool, which definitely helps their number one focus, which is first you as a person and then work second. I shared my story verbally with Mayan the other day, and he voiced that he was there if I needed to talk. He also said he would help me find resources.”

Mayan Marshall said Uzima is trying to develop more informal mental health support systems for students in the Pittsburgh area. He said Uzima has a project called “Circle of Friends” that partners six students with a therapist to discuss topics that range from managing stress to finding an identity.

“Because of the pace at which mental illness spreads within the college community, we’ve heard feedback from students that universities do not really have resources to deal with the level of students coming in for help,” Mayan Marshall said. “It’s just the demand is outpacing the supply. Essentially, we want to build a community where people are caring for one another and hopefully Circle of Friends to be part of that.”

Sheronica Marshall said mental illness is much more normal and prevalent than most think. 

“You can have a smoothie shop anywhere,” Sheronica Marshall said. “I think we came to the conclusion that mental illness is quite prevalent among Generation Z rather than the need for a smoothie shop. That is what led us to rebrand the store.”