When Kat and Landon Eckles started Clean Juice in 2014, brightly-colored fresh smoothies and pressed green drinks hadn’t quite hit the Charlotte area with full force. If you’re into this sort of thing, you know this already – many a Charlottean were anxiously awaiting. Starting a little after 2008, small shops offering healthy bites, from bowls to superfood lattes, popped up on corners everywhere in full force across major cities like L.A. and New York, but they had yet to become easily accessible across the Queen City.
The Eckles had what began as a simple concept driven by a worthy goal before they even moved to North Carolina: They knew they wanted to provide their community with organic, healthy options. That seed became, a few short years later, a booming business with an impressive 93 locations (in development or open) across 13 U.S. states. The married duo had found what Charlotte was waiting for. Their flagship store sits in Huntersville’s Birkdale Village, and remains a favorite destination for Lake Norman residents looking to grab a quick healthy meal or snack. The shop itself is small and warm, with a large counter where you can watch the “juiceristas” hard at work, topping smoothie bowls with sliced fruit, or stuffing leafy greens into a whirring metal juicer. It’s a breakfast eatery, an after-workout pick-me-up, and an anytime snack spot.
“Birkdale is our special baby,” Kat smiles. Kat and Landon are hands-on at the shop still today, where regulars often recognize them, and stop them to chat and swap health tips. “It was one of the easiest business decisions we ever made… Birkdale has a very special place in our hearts, and the Lake Norman community and guests were so supportive and welcoming to us. Very few places nationwide have the special charm and intangibles that Birkdale has.”
The two owners joined us to talk juicing, wellness, business ownership, and family.
How did Clean Juice, the original in Huntersville, first start?
Kat: During the time Landon was starting his career, I really began to be fascinated with wellness and learning everything I could about health. We knew we wanted to move south already, and Landon’s business background paired with my deep dive into the importance of an organic, plant-based diet. That was really the perfect recipe for this venture. We made the decision, to move to Lake Norman and open a juice bar, in 24-hours flat, and it was the best choice we’ve ever made. We love everything about this area.
Where did the inspiration come from for a juice bar in the first place, and why the emphasis on organic ingredients?
Landon: We spent a lot of time in New York City and watched the juice industry really grow and boom. We knew that we had a desire to have access to clean, organic eating while on-the-go, and figured people outside of markets like NYC and LA were craving it as well. Organic was a non-negotiable: We believe when you are grabbing a juice or smoothie, you’re doing so with the intention of choosing health and to do the best thing possible for your body. Most of the fruits and vegetables that are mainstays in juices and smoothies are among the most pesticide-sprayed (berries, spinach, kale, etc.). We knew we wanted the mission of Clean Juice to be providing the best possible ingredients for health and wellness, so, organic it was.
Has this business changed at all from its inception? You all have spread way beyond North Carolina now!
Kat: Although the business, of course, has evolved since that first store, we’ve tried to maintain the special magic that made Birkdale such a powerhouse, as well as to stay true to our roots. We have added a few things to our menu like a toast line, oat bowls, activated charcoal-based products, and, in 2018, we will launch a few warm beverages like golden milk and matcha.
Some people are a little intimidated by ordering “health food” like smoothies and juices – how do you work around that?
Kat: We know it can be overwhelming to take in our menu (and attempt to pronounce acai) if you are unfamiliar with the products we serve, so our menu is designed to reach every customer possible. There are sweeter, more palate-friendly drinks to start with, and then more green-heavy options. It’s so awesome to see our guests transform their health right before our eyes. We also wanted our juice bar to have a ‘family feel’, instead of a ‘sexy’ or ‘hipster’ feel… We really believe our products can be enjoyed by the masses, not just by a niche.
Ok, tell us your secret: You two have five kids and are running this rapidly growing business.
Kat: Landon is an incredible leader and manager of people and it was easy for me to see that he was the easy choice for CEO. I work full-time for Clean Juice, but my first priority is always to be the best mom I can be. I need the flexibility to be involved with school drop-offs, field trips, sick days and other special mommy moments. My business strengths lie in branding and strategic oversight, so I’m the Chief Visionary Officer. That said, we share an office and work every day together, so we both have a hand in all decisions.
Tell us about the decision to franchise. What’s next?
Kat: We didn’t set out wanting to franchise Clean Juice, but from the day we opened, we were asked multiple times a day about it. I was very protective of the brand, so we were both hesitant. But, of course, it ultimately changed everything for us. Clean Juice grew exponentially faster than we could have grown otherwise. There is an enormous amount of responsibility and pressure comes with being a franchisor, but we are learning a lot and feel blessed to be provided with the opportunity. As for what’s next, we really try to keep an open-mind about how the brand can stay current and fill a need in the market. We are thinking about adding grab-and-go food products in mid-2018 and are always looking at market trends and fun ways to move Clean Juice forward.