What’s the inspiration behind Village Juice Company?
After years of trying to fix some health concerns of my own, I stumbled into a plant-based restaurant in California and it changed my life. For the first time, my stomach didn’t hurt after I ate. I was amazed. By removing dairy, most meat, processed sugar and packaged foods, my digestive issues went away almost immediately. I felt instantly better and experienced more energy than I'd had in years. I decided to become a raw vegan for one year and educated myself on the benefits of eating a diet that is rich in plant based foods.
My mom, who had been the Director of Nursing in the Cancer Center, called me one day to tell me she had been diagnosed with heart disease and Stage 1 lung cancer. She wanted me to help her with her diet to see if it would boost her immune system and make her healthier. I moved home to North Carolina to help her. My dad, mom and I went all-in on a 100% plant based diet. Within 10 days, her cholesterol went down by 100 points, she lost 10 pounds, had more energy, and her skin was healthy and glowing. My dad's psoriasis went away and his sleep improved because he stopped snoring. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference in people's lives.
I was driven and inspired by the results I had seen for myself and my parents, and was curious about how I could help other people. I had worked in restaurants for years and had always loved the food industry and working with people. My husband encouraged me to make and sample juice to see if there was any interest for it here in North Carolina. The amount of support and interest I received was overwhelming. People were starving for fresh, healthy food. So, we made and sold our cold pressed juice, milks, and plant based desserts. After about a year, we knew we wanted to expand our offering with a full service restaurant. The goal was to create delicious, healthy food that was approachable for everyone. We also wanted to serve it in a space that was inviting and reflected the clean and fresh food we were serving.
How did you meet your co-founders? How do you work together?
I met my husband, Nathan, in Winston-Salem. We actually knew each other in high school but didn’t start dating until I returned home after living in California. Nathan and our other partner, Clyde, were roommates at Wake Forest University. As the business turned into more than a passion and hobby, we asked Clyde if he wanted to join in. He was excited to become a part of VJC, knowing my enthusiasm for juice, healthy eating and sharing that passion with others.
Your husband shifted from his legal career to help start Village Juice Co. Was that always been the plan?
When we started, Nathan continued to practice law for the first several years. In 2018, when we expanded from one to four locations, signed our first franchise, opened our commissary kitchen, and he joined the team full-time. It was never part of our original plan, but after we saw the potential for growth, he also wanted to be a part of a business making positive change in people's lives.
Working with a spouse can always present challenges, especially because it’s so easy to cross the lines of work and home life. Luckily, we work well together and complement each other in both environments. Between doing something that we care about with a strong mission and the excitement of the opportunity, the career change has been a pretty smooth transition. I think the key has been identifying our strengths and focusing on those areas. We work to reduce overlap and allow our strengths to shine through in the business.
What is it about health-focused restaurants that so inspire you?
The really inspiring health-focused restaurants are usually started by people passionate about helping people and serving food you can trust.
I love that and I want to be around people that are passionate about what they do. We all need more of that, especially right now.
How do you think consumers can best educate themselves on food quality and nutrition?
There is so much information available now. The key is educating yourself. Whether you read about it in magazines, online, or talk to people in the industry, the key is learning as much as you can. Like I mentioned earlier, most healthy restaurant concepts have passionate owners and employees. That’s a great resource. Ask questions and spark up a conversation. People who care about food quality are happy to talk about it and share their knowledge. I really enjoy talking to our customers and helping them on their health journey. It’s also a great way for me to learn something new along the way.
How does your company source and present its products?
We source our produce from a variety of vendors. We love having local partners. Depending on the season, we purchase produce from local farmers, many of whom we met through the farmers market. For produce out of season and region, we still use a local produce distributor. There are other great local partnerships we have, from our local baker, Camino Bakery, to local kombucha producers like Updog and Tribucha. Supporting local businesses, farmers, and our community has always been a priority.
Erin Morris, who is based out of California, was our first architect. Clyde’s wife, Elizabeth, is an interior designer and the designer for Village Juice Company. They really helped create a welcoming, curated atmosphere that sets VJC apart from other concepts.Our goal is to present everything in a very intentional and appealing way. Food that looks beautiful tastes better. Our training process emphasizes presentation. Luckily, everything on our menu is fresh and vibrant, which naturally presents (and photographs) well. Attention to the details makes all the difference. That’s why we not only care so much about how our food and juice look, but we also care about the space where we welcome customers. So much time and energy has gone into the look and feel of our locations. One of my good friends,
Talk us through your drink process – how do you create your beverages? Any stories you’d like to share?
It was a lot of trial and error. We made a lot of bad juice before we made any good juice. My primary focus when creating a juice is that it is good for you, not just fruit juice, and that it tastes amazing. We have some unique combinations created specifically to address certain ailments. Most of the base of my juices are cucumber because it is mild, full of nutrients, not too sweet and mixes well with most flavors.
How do you handle risk and competition?
With any new venture, there is risk. Luckily, we started small and validated our products and concepts along the way. As we gained support and momentum with each step, we felt confident that we were on the right track. Opening restaurants can be risky. Having strong products, people, and procedures makes all the difference. We take great effort to make those things happen. Our partners from marketing, to technology, to development, to experienced mentors help mitigate that risk as well.
We welcome competition. It keeps us on our toes and pushes us to do our best as a restaurant and company. The fresh QSR sector is booming these days and there are so many opportunities for growth. Being first to market is ideal but we try to differentiate ourselves as well when competition is more direct. Village Juice has a robust menu with a variety of products for everyone, regardless of your eating preferences. We stay on top of the new trends and make sure the quality of our food is always a priority.
Our attention to food quality, customer experience, technology, and innovation set Village Juice apart.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I have learned that I can do just about anything if I have the right people supporting me.
I also learned that success follows passion, not the other way around.
What’s your team culture like?
We’re a family, literally and figuratively. That comes with challenges and some advantages, but it’s who we are. When we work together, especially on large group projects, it feels like we can do anything.
Culture is important to us. This is what we live by:
Believe Food Matters
Connect with Community
Think Critically. Solve Creatively
What is your superpower?
One of my favorite sayings at Village Juice is “superfoods make you feel superhuman.” It’s in our Manifreshto. I felt pretty super about running 5 miles the day before I had my second daughter.
What’s your kryptonite?
I don’t like it when I feel like I am not in control of the business. I am so passionate about VJC that I always want to be involved with all aspects of the business from the high level decisions to the day to day operations.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I know running it is not all that unusual, but I love the way it makes me feel. I ran 5 miles a day during both of my pregnancies, including the day I gave birth to my daughter! My current habit is drinking one Get Real green juice and one Moose (our chocolate almond milk) every morning for breakfast and have done so for the past five years.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Exercise, watching the kids play sports, and travel. I also really enjoy reading cookbooks, baking, and creating new products for our stores.
What’s your favorite juice blend?
Pipe Dreams (green juice) made with cucumber, celery, green apple, kale, swiss chard, lemon, ginger, turmeric and parsley. It’s so refreshing and has four pounds of produce in each bottle.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Make sure you put the right resources (employees, partners, systems) in place from the beginning.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
It’s been so rewarding and empowering to start a company from the ground up and watch it grow. People rally around you and there is more support for women founders now than ever. To be successful, you’ve got to have thick skin, a strong team, and the dedication to execute.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“Start where you are.” There’s never going to be the perfect place or opportunity to make things happen and succeed. You’ve got to be realistic and focus on the present and what resources you have around you.
I also like “Just show up.” Whether working out or running a company. You have to be present physically and mentally. Sometimes taking that first step is the most important part of reaching your final goal.