Melena Walby and Roy Burriola pose with Ruby the juicer, the backbone of Peace Tree. [Photo by Travis Holtby/ Moab Sun News]

It’s time you were introduced to Ruby. If you are a fan of the juice at the Peace Tree, she is the unsung hero behind your beverage. From the apple, ginger, carrot and cinnamon of the Autumn Rush, to the spinach, beet and cucumber of the Total Veggie, if you have had a juice at Peace Tree it was Ruby that made it, said Melena Walby, general manager.

Ruby is the name of the Peace Tree’s juicing machine. For a restaurant that has built itself around smoothies and juices, a juicing machine is important.

Ruby has been with Peace Tree since it was first opened back in 1997 by Karen Whipple.

“When we started it was only 800-square-feet,” Whipple said of the building. “We only served breakfast and lunch wraps, smoothies and juices when we started.”

The idea for a juice shop in Moab came to Whipple when she and her family walked into a Jamba Juice in Salt Lake City. They thought it would be a great fit for Moab, but when they approached Jamba Juice about opening a franchise in Moab, the company wasn’t interested. Whipple wasn’t going to let that slow her down, so she rented the 800-square-feet that now make up the northeast section of the dining area, and Peace Tree was born.

Natural and organic food is something that Whipple has been passionate about since her early thirties, and it seems to show in the drinks she makes.

“We have always gotten a good response on the juices we have available,” she said.

With the success of the business through the early 2000s, Whipple decided that it was time to expand. However, the rest of the building that she wanted to expand into was in need of renovations. Those renovations took all of 2010, but when the Peace Tree reopened its doors in February of 2011 it had all of the equipment and space of a fully-fledged restaurant.

With the increase in size Whipple hired Walby early last year to help her run the front end of the restaurant. Then, three months ago she asked Roy Burriola to help run the kitchen. The goal was to transition from a wrap and juice joint to a full service restaurant that serves three meals a day.

“We are trying to create a complete menu where you can choose from pasta to salads to steaks,” Burriola, who has been working in commercial kitchens since he was 12-years-old, said.

One of Peace Tree’s goals is to foster an appreciation for real, healthy food. There isn’t even a deep fryer in the restaurant, almost none of the food is frozen and all of the vegetables are organic. And no healthy restaurant would be complete without a range of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals; and the Peace Tree is no exception.

“Everyone who comes in wants fresh and organic. Something for up on the trail that isn’t greasy or gross when they go to eat it later,” Walby said.

Moab isn’t the only place in Utah with a Peace Tree; Whipple also opened one in Monticello, and another in Blanding, though that one only lasted a few years.

But with the success of its Moab and Monticello branches Peace Tree is thinking about expanding further in the future.

“Expansions are always on my mind,” Whipple said. “Durango would be the first place we would do it.”

Before any expansions though, Peace Tree wants to make sure that they get all the changes to their flagship Moab restaurant right. In the coming season Peace Tree will be expanding their menu to include lots of new smoothies and more dinner options.

“Roy and I are trying to put more stuff together for the dinner menu. More steaks and fish,” Walby said.

The new menu is being designed based on what the Peace Tree’s customers want, not just what the management likes, said Whipple, who prides herself on keeping up on the trends in health food.

There will also be some remodeling to the interior of the restaurant as well as live music almost nightly during the tourist season.

“This year will be great. Things just keep getting better and better,” Whipple said.