Mar 082006
Authors: Jenny Ivy

It started as a side project; a fast and efficient way to make a buck, while at the same time learning the ins and outs of owning a local smoothie bar.

Now, after only five months since opening Ma's Juice Bar, Denise Hakim has realized her epiphany to unite booze and a healthy fruit smoothie in the middle of a college town was the clincher concoction that is now catching the attention of franchise investors.

"It was literally two days before I opened when I thought to myself 'Why not take smoothies and liquor and put them together?'" Hakim said.

Seven years out of college, Hakim feels her decided career has finally commenced. And with a bachelor's degree in biology, this CSU grad who once aspired a career researching fertility, is finding her life is going in the complete opposite direction from where she started.

"I'm an entertainer/business woman," Hakim said. "And as a business woman, I still have a lot to learn. Things in life change. Suddenly I'm realizing I was meant to do this."

Regardless of her lack of hands-on business experience, Hakim is not totally in the dark about what it takes to run an establishment. After graduating in three years, Hakim went on to acquire an MBA in international business at Regis University.

Hoping to expand Ma's, located at 1300 W. Elizabeth Ave., Hakim is now in the process of mulling over contracts to make her bar into a chain establishment. So far, offers have enthusiastically come in from at least four investors anxious to make the Hakim's spiked smoothie bar into a household name.

Until then, Ma's seems to be quickly becoming the local "Cheers" of Fort Collins, where Denise knows just about everyone's name, and there's always a story to go with a face.

"Give me five minutes with someone and I'll know them; I'll know their personality," Hakim said.

Originally from Lebanon, the Hakim family name is no stranger to the Fort Collins community. Denise's father, Philippe, is the owner of Yum Yum's located next to Ma's.

Before the idea to couple booze with smoothies came the idea to use fruity drinks to compliment the Greek-inspired food at Yum Yum's. The original liquor license was intended to sell beer and liquor not with smoothies, but with food.

"I needed to feel like I've done something different for this community," Hakim said. "I'm a very intense woman and I'm very competitive. I saved my money and opened (Ma's) without any loans."

Often called the original "Ma" by many customers, the name reference is actually a misnomer; M and A are the initials of Hakim's former boss name Melvin Agui, who was her manager at an upscale restaurant on the upper west side in New York City.

Agui's boldness and perseverance to push his employees to succeed is what inspired Hakim to make the journey back home to Colorado in order to decipher for herself what she should do with her life.

"He always pushed me to the limit," Hakim said of her former mentor. "He is a strong man who does things very right."

Although relatively small in size compared to most bars around campus, on a Friday or Saturday night customers will find themselves spilling over seat capacity with nowhere to sit but on the chairs belonging to Yum Yum's, which is attached to the bar.

Being the competitive woman she is, Hakim is now focused on generating a stronger bar name and a more aesthetic atmosphere that could be more befitting for a chain establishment.

The road toward a franchise may be a long one, but Hakim's commitment, not to mention the 16-hours a day she spends at the bar excluding Sundays, is only gaining more and more attention from locals who can't get enough of her fruity adult treats.

"Life is not about getting the easy in," Hakim said. "Things happen in life for a reason. What makes you confident is knowledge and getting an education."

Jenny Ivy can be reached at

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