Friendly service greets the guests who peruse a variety of organic foods at downtown Portsmouth’s Fresh Press. This pleasant atmosphere is cultivated by owner Aaron Smith, who has tailored a brand that centers holistically around health, integrity and authenticity.
Before opening Fresh Press in 2014, Smith was a professional BMX bike rider. Riding brought him to California for a few years. He couldn’t help but notice the cold-pressed juices, salads, and acai bowls “on every corner already.” Back then, the concept was practically foreign to New England. During Smith’s visits home, New Hampshire felt like “a void” in need of this food style.
“I’ve always been focused on health,” said Smith. He adamantly kept his body in top shape for riding. When he retired from BMX, he wished to continue his hearty eating habits and looked for a space to open a business.
After finding the right spot he jumped right in, bringing West Coast cuisine to New England and fostering nutrition and nourishment. He later opened another location in Boston.
“It was just so before its time,” says Anne McNamara, Smith’s girlfriend. Working with Smith now, she marvels at the idea of executing this concept eight years ago, when “the world wasn’t there yet.”
McNamara owns Club Pilates and Pure Barre. Three years ago, her employee, who also worked for Smith, suggested Pure Barre sell Fresh Press juices to their members. McNamara loved the idea, meeting Smith in the process.
“It’s a really good fit,” says McNamara, of their relationship and perspectives as business owners. They share ideas about recipes and fitness, looking for ways to keep their brains and bodies sharp. “We’re obsessed with optimal performance and anti-aging and wellness.”
Smith hopes to keep growing the business all over the country. Starting this winter, they are opening a new location in the Portsmouth Green shopping mall, near McNamara’s studios. McNamara says the fitness crowd is perfect for the product and the plaza provides parking –which is harder to locate downtown – making healthy food more accessible.
Smith is keen on making quality nutrition available. He delivers the freshest products and consistently researches the human body, making informed decisions not only for himself, but for the store, too.
Even as he changes the product, he never veers from his roots. Regardless of how well cheese and wraps were selling, he stopped serving them because he no longer believed in dairy or gluten in his own life. Similarly, now that he’s no longer vegan, chicken is back on the menu.
McNamara is impressed by the authenticity; Fresh Press evolves as Smith’s diet evolves. His philosophy is that there’s no compromise when it comes to your health, McNamara explains.
“I think it kind of speaks to the integrity of him and the brand he’s built,” she says.
McNamara and Hauser spoke highly of Smith, saying that Smith trusts his employees to try new ideas and never dwells on failure. They also said that his feedback is always positive; he’s constructive, but upbeat.
Hauser says that Smith treats his employees very well, and he’s a great friend to have. Outside of Fresh Press, they work out and swim together.
Previously, Hauser worked in higher education as a college counselor. A frequent patron at Fresh Press, Hauser was drawn to the fine produce and excellent atmosphere. He sensed that Smith truly cared about everyone – employees, guests, other businesses, and Portsmouth as a whole. “It always felt like home when I went in, and it always felt like I was part of something.”
Smith was an important person in Hauser’s life during a difficult time.
“I was really mourning the loss of my mom for a couple years,” says Hauser. When he was healing from grief, he needed a life change. “Smith was able to give me an opportunity to do something that I didn’t have much experience with.”
Smith offered Hauser a position at Fresh Press; it was so much more than employment.
To Hauser, this was a chance to try something new, regain confidence, and be himself. Fresh Press surrounds him with constantly upbeat and kind people and makes him feel useful. It’s a place where he’ll always belong. For Hauser, that’s paramount.
“He was patient; he was just amazing,” says Hauser. “I could never repay him.”
Smith’s benevolence shows in his ownership of Fresh Press; his staff thinks he’s a loyal, hardworking visionary.
“Aaron is a great business owner,” says Anna Lieberman, an employee since last June. Fresh Press has been an amazing first job for Lieberman – she thoroughly enjoys working for Smith. “He cares so much, and he puts so much into it.”
His hard work and zeal make for a successful environment full of camaraderie, says Lieberman. “I’ve made lots of new friends and everyone is super fun to be around.”
Smith aims to nurture this friendly ambience. He encourages his employees to learn every guest’s name. “I think the staff is amazing. They’re always so kind to everyone.”
Smith often sits in the front while he works. To the public and the staff, he is visible and accessible.
“I love just talking to people and seeing what they’re up to,” says Smith. “I think my favorite part is meeting all the new people that come in, including the workers and then just the customers.”
McNamara believes this plays a role in their great customer return rate – she’s never seen anything like it. “If you have someone who casually walks in, they come back the very next day because the food is so fresh and they like the atmosphere.”
Smith enjoys making people excited to stop by the store. “When they look forward to coming in because you’re making their day, that’s pretty cool.”
McNamara is fascinated by the diverse crowd Smith attracts, including motorcyclists and tattoo artists. She attributes this to Smith’s devoted attitude from BMX riding and his sincerely good-natured personality.
“It’s fair to say that everyone close to him believes that he’s the brand,” says McNamara.
From the moment that he started Fresh Press, Smith imparted a piece of his personality into the culture of the business, says Hauser. “I think Aaron’s done a really good job and really kept to who he is.”
Smith lives the brand every day, says Hauser. “He is the Fresh Press.”