Juiced up: Business is booming for a socially-conscious local chain

Photo: Elli Williams Photo: Elli Williams

Mike Keenan probably would have been happy with just one Juice Laundry. But he and his wife Sarah are now floating five juice joints in Charlottesville and beyond.

Keenan’s socially-conscious Juice Laundry is ostensibly all about cleansing—cleansing the body through pure ingredients and cleansing the spirit through a business model that gives back to the community and environment. “Our larger purpose,” opines the chain’s website, “is to improve the way everyone thinks about health, nutrition, and his or her body.”

And while the mission is laudable, Keenan says he and his wife understood early on that caring-capitalism might not make the cash flow like OJ. “If we were a corporation being dictated by shareholders who wanted to squeeze every dollar out of the profit margin, we wouldn’t survive,” Keenan says. “We don’t operate that way. In the world we want to operate in, we have to relate to people that you either pay for something up front, or you pay for it down the road.”

The sales job hasn’t turned out to be difficult. Not long after the Keenans opened their flagship Preston Avenue location, they were “bursting at the seams” and opened a second store on the Corner. A modest outpost followed at the UVA Aquatic & Fitness Center. Then, the little Laundry left the local, moving into Washington, D.C., and, most recently, Richmond.

The Keenans’ company certainly isn’t the only firm finding its way on the socially responsible business bandwagon. Defined as businesses specifically focused on leveraging their market power to improve some element of society (think the buy-one-give-one model of TOMS shoes), SRBs are catching on. Exact numbers are elusive, but anecdotal evidence suggests the number of U.S.based SRBs has grown significantly in recent years, and an October report from the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing showed 85 percent of investors are now interested in putting money in SRBs.

“This is a recent phenomenon,” Keenan says. “Maybe five, six years ago, we couldn’t be doing what we’re doing today. There wouldn’t have been enough people. But it is becoming more and more commonplace, and we are going to reach the tipping point where this becomes the norm, rather than the exception.”

As other SRBs crop up around Charlottesville, D.C., Richmond, and the nation, Keenan still believes Juice Laundry is doing something special—if only for its complete commitment to decreasing food packaging waste through compostable, non-plastic products, serving food intended to make people healthier, and sourcing sustainable ingredients that are 100 percent certified organic, vegan, and gluten free.

“We’re passionate,” Keenan says. “The restaurant industry is one of the larger offenders in terms of environmental footprint. If we can spread what we’re doing to our people and our community, we want to do that.”

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