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The Birth of a Certified Veggie Cartel

They say you never forget your first time. I can vouch for that.

I’ll never forget the first time I went to Celis Produce.

I couldn’t tell you what day of the week it was, but it was warm and sunny – shocking, I know. My plans for the day involved connecting with a new friend and local creative, Kaylyn Durrance and eating coconut chia pudding bowls with bee pollen and mango for breakfast. By this time, I’d seen some buzz around Celis on Instagram and had a feeling Kaylyn would be able to enlighten me on the up-coming spot that everyone was starting to talk about.

“Have you heard about this new produce shop opening up?” I inquired. She’d met the owners already and had some insight to share. Intrigued, I asked, “Think you can get us in there today?” It wasn’t open yet but apparently, that wasn’t a hindrance to my rising curiosity and determination. Something in my gut was telling me that getting to know these guys was worth investigating.

Kale, Community, and High Fives

Twenty minutes later we were walking up to a front door that read “Celis Produce” with brown paper blocking out the windows. Eight hours later I’d been loaded up with two giant bags of free produce, and was eating a meal that Kaylyn and I made with the bounty, on a future fruit stand in the middle of the empty store with Alex, Felipe, and Camilo Celis, along with some other new friends I’d grow to cherish in the coming years. As I stood there in the bones of what would soon become one of the most important pillars of our creative community, eating sesame noodles and delicata squash with chopsticks, I knew that we’d just stumbled upon something special. Whatever was happening here was important.

Celis produce

It’s been over two years since that day, and now it’s a Tuesday morning in the early fall of 2017. I’m in the back room/office at the original shop that started it all, sitting on top of a big white cooler talking to Alex. The walls are covered in graphic signage from the experiences they’ve created for our community. The huge, silver walk-in fridge has been signed with love by hundreds of friends. I can still see what I wrote in those very first days before the shop opened,  “I AM HOME WITH THIS TRIBE.” Based on those words, not much has changed.

However, in the coming months, these boys will grow from one, OG location, to four hubs of culture, community, and kale throughout our beloved city of West Palm Beach.

“Let’s just say that things escalated really quickly.”

Apparently this kind of growth was never part of the plan, but to be honest, none of this was ever part of the plan. The original concept was a doorstep delivery service for fresh, organic fruits + vegetables. An idea that was thriving in other markets like California but that no one was tapping into here. Alex and Felipe knew that they wanted to leave the corporate world behind and that they wanted to create something together, as brothers, all three of them.

camilo Celis produceInspired by the awareness of this gap, and a father who runs a successful wholesale produce business, they set out to bring this concept to West Palm. Celis Produce as you know it today, complete with fresh pressed juices, smoothies, açai bowls, local art, and other treasures, that was never part of the original intent. In fact, to this day there is no business plan for Celis Produce. It’s been a journey guided almost entirely by feeling. By three brothers who are committed, above all else, to giving a s-h-i-…well, you get it.

Alex paints the picture of a scene where a guest comes in for “a smoothie, an experience, a warm smile, a high-five, a coffee…and even if they didn’t, they got it (I literally just got all of the above myself). And then they’re driving in their car, the radio is silent, and they’re like “What just happened there? That was beautiful.” – “We’re not in the produce business, we’re not in the juice business, we’re not in the market business, we’re in the customer service business.”

Their Growth Hasn’t Been all Sunshine and Roses

Make no mistake, though, the road to household name-hood and the expansion to four locations, hasn’t been all sunshine and roses (or whatever other buds Flower + Fringe is arranging and selling out of this little shop). The early days of Celis showed these brothers what it means to truly hustle. All three of them putting in twelve-hour days, slinging side-gigs to make ends meet while they waited for people to walk in the door and order a West Palm Beet.

“Those first 45 days were terrifying”, Alex says – the span of time between opening the doors to their own little slice, and when the WPB GreenMarket would open for the season, and where they built their community. When I asked them all to share a high point and a low point from the past two years, Alex, Flip and Camilo all spoke to the nail-biting nature of the first couple of months. With no investor to back them up, no reserves to act as a safety net, and not a single day off for over a year, the struggle got really real, really fast.

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“Think about the hardest week of work you’ve ever had, and multiply that by ten. And expect zero dollars in return.”

Every heroes journey is wrought with resistance, and our friends at Celis are no exception. But while there were those initial moments of uncertainty, Celis has seen many, many more peaks than they have valleys. From collaborations ranging from succulent arranging workshops with Flower + Fringe to yoga in the back alley with lululemon to taco tastings with Zipitios and gorgeous, sprawling four-course dinners that joined forces with no less than six other creative brands in our hood. The beauty in all of that is that they do all of this wanting nothing in return.

The experiences they create, whether they’re blending your smoothie, or throwing a dance party in a museum, or opening their doors in refuge during a hurricane, are born because it feels good, and because they love this town. It’s this unique brand of magic that has landed them a place in the pages of every major publication in our city, on our kitchen tables, and in our hearts.

organic produce celis

So here we are, a few days away from opening day at their new Palm Beach location and with two more coming down the pipe in the Northwood neighborhood and in the highly anticipated, Grandview Public Market. As we approach the summit, about to stand overlooking the rapidly expanding brand they’ve built, the Celis boys have some wisdom to glean upon those who are thinking about taking the leap into this crazy thing called entrepreneurship.

“Think about the hardest week of work you’ve ever had, and multiply that by ten. And expect zero dollars in return.” Alex says with a laugh, not to scare anyone away from chasing their dreams, but to illuminate the reality of entrepreneurship during a time where making that claim is, to be honest, really trendy. “But if you want it bad enough…” he adds “you’ll get it.”

“Have a plan and prepare yourself to work like you’ve never worked before, and understand that when you’re working, all the blood, all the sweat, all the tears – it’s for you. And your customers are doing YOU a favor.” offers the eldest of the Celis brothers, Felipe (who never misses giving me a hug or an elbow bump when I stop in). The last year welcomed a beautiful, perfect baby girl into Flip’s world, and that’s enough to make even the hardest working business owners grind harder and reach higher.

“Do what you love and can see yourself doing every single day, because then it’s a passion, not a job. You’re going to get a lot of negativity from people – don’t listen to it. Just believe in your dream and dive into it full force, and don’t let anyone or anything stop you.” gleans Camilo, who is as hilarious and warm as he is wise.

Family Driven (period)

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve watched this community fall in love with this family.  Whether they realize it or not, they’ve become a steady beacon of inspiration for those of us who dare to call ourselves entrepreneurs. I’ve personally thrown the boys many ideas for collaboration and they have never once said no. Not once. It’s the place I go for a cold brew, for an avocado, for a custom blended smoothie, for a conversation, and for a platform from which to offer our collective gifts to West Palm.

veggie cartel

If you’ve been paying attention, what you’ve probably learned by watching these guys grow into a legitimate brand and certified Veggie Cartel, is that high-fives matter, showing up consistently is essential and that you really do want to go where everyone knows your name – and how you take your green juice.

Story by Stefanie Osofsky of Apollo Connection Company

Download the Audio Version – (i.e have Stef read you the story)