By Max Patten
The Corner on West Main Street has long been the go-to spot for burger bars like Boylan Heights, convenience store eats à la Sheetz, and late-night carbo-loading fixtures such as Insomnia Cookies. Yet times are changing, and smoothies and organic juices have recently joined the mix, as the demand for food that is both healthier and more environmentally conscious increases.
The Juice Laundry was founded in 2013 by UVA law grad Mike Keenan. Inside, natural materials and a clean, open environment makes for an interior that contrasts starkly with that of adjacent businesses. The menu—which includes cold-pressed juices, nut milks, and even vegan mac and cheese—is also very much on trend.
“We have more than just juice and smoothies,” says Julie Nolet, the co-founder of Corner Juice, a Juice Laundry competitor that offers not just food but also yoga classes. She started the business with the help of Joseph Linzon, co-owner of Roots Natural Kitchen, another healthy eating option on the Corner. Corner Juice partnered with Elements, a Charlottesville yoga studio, to round out its wellness appeal. “The best thing to pair with healthy food is healthy living,” Nolet says.
And vegan students are not the only ones buying smoothies. “We also see a fairly large number of persons who are either patients or visiting patients at the hospital,” says Cliffe Keenan, who works at The Juice Laundry and also happens to be the founder’s father. Keenan says he frequently explains the shop’s origins to curious customers. “They appreciate what the backstory is,” he says. “Some people assume this must be a chain. No, it’s not a chain.”
Corner Juice also finds itself at a nexus of local and student activity. “We get people that are visiting Charlottesville because of the Rotunda and UVA,” Nolet says. “We’re actually opening up a second location downtown so hopefully we’ll then get more of a different kind of client base.”
Beyond sharing vegan appeal through their food, both The Juice Laundry and Corner Juice & Yoga advocate sustainability. The Juice Laundry has no trash cans, prompting customers to divide their waste among three bins, and Corner Juice & Yoga has chutes for discarding materials that are recyclable or suitable for composting.
Cliff Keenan says his son “wants to make sure that we leave as gentle of a footprint as possible,” in contrast to the Corner’s older establishments, which still use styrofoam containers and plastic straws. Both Corner Juice and The Juice Laundry also encourage reusable bottles.
The two businesses occupy slightly different niches. The Juice Laundry justifies its higher prices, in part, with an in-store graphic showing the chain of ingredients that goes into its food. “We’re also 100 percent organic,” says Keenan. By contrast, Corner Juice’s menu is not completely organic. “That gives us the opportunity to make these healthy foods a little more accessible to a wider variety of people,” says Nolet.
Both businesses’ success suggests the wellness and sustainability model is more than a trend. “I think we’re on the edge of a way that many more people, especially young people, are starting to look at how they consume things,” Keenan says.
Corner Juice’s menu isn’t completely organic, which “gives us the opportunity to make [our offerings] a little more accessible to a wider variety of people,” says co-founder Julie Nolet.
Max Patten is a staff writer at The Cavalier Daily.