Writing by Beth Lebwohl
Photography by Chris Wiley
Good vibes, good times and good health are all in a day’s work for the city’s best-known juice joint
“It’s sustainable. The person who has three cups of coffee a day… that isn’t sustainable.”
owner of Juiceland
“I got my best goosebumps of the year in Brooklyn,” says Matt Shook, owner of Austin’s beloved juice bar chain, JuiceLand. “It happened when we opened up our new JuiceLand in Brooklyn this past August, and I got to play the song ‘Juice’ by Chance The Rapper to a group of teenagers who walked into the store.”
Shook makes this moment sound as significant as the Apollo landing, and I’m with it. His excitement is contagious, and he clearly delights in introducing people to stuff they’ve never heard of. Or tasted.
“Music turns people on, right? And juice does the same thing. It turns people on like a light bulb. These teenagers in the shop, they thought they needed ice cream to feel good, they thought they needed a margarita. But they discovered they needed juice. Because juice tastes good and it also makes you feel good.” That’s because fresh juice mainlines vitamins and minerals into the body, Shook says.
As we talk, he nibbles on a bar of chocolate and intermittently checks his phone. Shook is the easily distracted type, but it still feels nice to be in his atmosphere. He has a mug worthy of an old-time baseball player: masculine yet boyish, kind yet full of mischief. He’s got a thing for dad jokes. And, he’s a good storyteller.
Shook has charisma, and he’s used it to propel the success of ten JuiceLands sprinkled throughout Austin. The opening of JuiceLand’s Brooklyn store — the only JuiceLand outside of Texas — heralded Shook’s eleventh store opening in four years.
All JuiceLand stores share the same eclectic vibe: a mix of hip-hop flavor, psychedelic color, wall-to-wall superfood pamphleteering and the bright scent of wheatgrass. All JuiceLands share the same menu, too, serving fruit-based smoothies and fresh vegetable juices, along with nutritious grab-n-go meals.
Shook’s favorite menu item is a variation on the Bambaataa, a drink that features fresh pineapple juice, banana, mango, almonds, hemp protein, coconut oil and spirulina. (Shook likes to add hot peppers and greens to this drink, and he tends to swap out the pineapple for coconut water). He views juice as his daily medication – an effective one, he notes.
Like many medications, juice can be addictive. Shook understands this, which has helped him create (and satisfy) demand for juice in Austin. I ask Shook whether he views the ever-expanding JuiceLand as an empire. He says:
“I think of my business as a child. I want to be there for it. Little changes happen in the business every day and I want to see them. And I want to spend time with the people who work there.”
THE SHOOK BAMBAATAA
coconut water/banana/mango/almonds/hemp protein/coconut oil/spirulina/hot peppers/greens
fresh apple juice/banana/strawberry
One of those people is Leilani Galvan, JuiceLand’s Cheer Captain (i.e. public relations person). “She’s a perfect evangelist for our brand,” says Shook. “She lives it.”
He explains what it means to “live” JuiceLand.
“Leilani’s a dancer, a poet, a yoga instructor. She’s so full of life that she breathes life into the business,” he says.
Galvan, like Shook, is into juice. Her favorite menu item is the Cocolily, which she describes as a liquid salad combined with the hydrating power of coconut water. While she attests to the fact that JuiceLand carries quality juices, she attributes the store’s success to its culture of fun – a fun atmosphere and fun staff.
“It’s that simple!” Galvan says. “We know that delicious can be healthy and that being healthy allows us to really enjoy our lives and have a good time. This is the basic reason we have been so successful. It’s win, win, win.”
JuiceLand is known for giving off winning vibes, but the business’s path to success wasn’t always smooth. In fact, a shakeup occurred in 2011 when Shook and his business partner Keith Wahrer split. At the time, they owned Daily Juice, a juice bar on Barton Springs Road (which is now, incidentally, a JuiceLand). Investors were on board, too.
Seeing so many cooks in the kitchen, Shook decided to strike out on his own. He scrambled for loans from banks, family and friends. In so doing, he was able to leave Daily Juice behind, coming up with a new name, a new logo and a new juice menu. With the help of loyal staffers, he gave birth to JuiceLand. “It happened almost overnight,” he says. “I didn’t spend time looking back.”
As much as Shook now revels in being the captain of his own ship, he loves his crew. This explains why he peppers our conversation with praise about this employee or that one. For example, he credits Heather Cyr, Director of Shoperations (i.e. General Manager), with having kept a level head during JuiceLand’s recent growth spurt. As for how she did it, Cyr says, “I helped keep the communication open, not only with administrative staff and managers, but with new and old employees alike. I feel that keeping employees happy and on the same page really keeps everyone grounded and moving in the same direction.”
Shook refers to both Heather and her husband, Josh Turner, another JuiceLand manager, as family. But customers are his everything.
“It happened almost overnight. I didn’t spend time looking back.”
“All these JuiceLands – the original one on Barton Springs Road, the one in Hyde Park, the one on Cesar Chavez – they just started out as ideas, and now they’re serving communities,” he says.
I speak to customers to see how JuiceLand is doing on this count. “Which smoothie did you get?” I ask Confesor Lopez, a frequent visitor to the JuiceLand in Hyde Park, eyeballing his bright orange drink.
“I don’t know!” he says. “The weekly special one. Everything on the menu always looks so good… but you know what I’ve been wanting? That drink they sell where they open a whole coconut and serve it with a straw. It looks good, but I need to get a Hawaiian shirt before I order one.”
Lopez’s response typifies that of every JuiceLand customer I speak to; they don’t just like JuiceLand – they have an allegiance to it. I ask Shook why he thinks this is, and whether he feels JuiceLand stands a chance of being as popular in other (and perhaps colder) cities. He tells me the appeal of juice doesn’t vary by latitude.
“It’s sustainable,” he says. “The person who has three cups of coffee a day… that isn’t sustainable. But when you drink juice, that’s like going from playing tennis in flip-flops to playing in tennis shoes. That’s like going from riding a beach cruiser to riding a 10-speed.”
Once your body gets used to riding that 10-speed, there’s no turning back. Borrowing a phrase from Chance The Rapper, this is the curse of juice – and the cure of it, too.
Writing: Beth Lebwohl
Photography: Chris Wiley
Beth Lebwohl earned her writing chops here in Texas, where, for several years, she produced stories for EarthSky, a globally syndicated science radio program. In addition to her passion for the written (and spoken) word, Beth loves the graphic and decorative arts, tea, goat farms and the warm-hearted folks of Austin. She is a proud native of Queens, New York.
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