The Business of Wellness: How Thirst Juice Co. Launched the Juice Bar Scene In Boston
It’s not just boutique fitness that needed a leg up in Boston: Circa 2013, the major metropolis couldn’t claim a fresh juice or smoothie shop. But a market gap met determination and excitement in Heather Stevenson, and in November of 2014, Thirst Juice Co. brought juice to Beantown—and started educating locals on how to feel better by incorporating fresh juice, made of carefully curated fruits and veggies, into their diets.
From Corporate Lawyer to Juice Maker
In 2013, Heather Stevenson, was an associate at NYC’s Sullivan & Cromwell, practicing residential mortgage backed securities litigation immediately following the 2008 financial crisis. “I was working front-page type cases,” she says, “but after a while, I realized that I was doing the same work over and over again, even if it was for difference clients. There wasn’t a human element.”
After two and a half years, she started to question her whole career. “I didn’t know if I would look back on this in 40 years, and be happy with my trajectory,” Heather says. So she started discussing other options with her husband, also a lawyer—she could move to a smaller NYC firm, or they could make a bigger move to a firm in Boston, where she’s originally from. “We joked about opening a restaurant because we love food so much,” she says.
Heather’s inspiration struck as she considered what she was really passionate about. Having been a vegetarian since she was 10 (“I didn’t want to kill cute things,” she says), Heather was already aware of the power of plants. She and her husband also are hard-core runners. They’ve done more than a dozen marathons, and one ultra-marathon.
“During our training,” she says, “we’d drink so much fresh juice because it was such a great way to replenish nutrients we’d lost while running. And in New York, there’s a juice shop on every corner.”
Heather says that in considering a move, she started doing research about juice shops in the Boston area—and couldn’t find any. “We’d seen boutique fitness migrate from NYC to Boston, and we thought we could make fresh juice the next thing. The timing was just right, with there being a hole in the market and with our interest in bringing this to my hometown.”
That clinched it for Heather, and Thirst Juice Co. was born.
What Makes Thirst Juice Co. Stand Out
Launching a juice bar in an untested market could have been more than intimidating, but Heather says that she was full of energy around the idea and ready to make it work. “We’d seen people jump on the cupcake or fro-yo wagon in Boston and just go under so fast. We were determined to learn from that, and we made sure we had a solid business plan before we thought about opening an actual store.”
They were also willing to take the time to learn to create a great product. “As lawyers,” Heather says, “we spent a lot of time in education! I got really good at learning, and I was confident that we could learn to open a juice bar. It was probably a little arrogant of me, but we didn’t give ourselves the option to fail. We planned to succeed, even if we had to adjust our plan, like to become a juice delivery service instead of a store.”
Having a good foundation clearly set Thirst up for success—they’ve been profitable from year 1 and they opened a second shop in Wellesley, a Boston suburb, in November 2016. But a good business plan wasn’t all Heather brought to the table. She was also determined to bring education about plants and juicing to Boston.
“I wanted to educate people on how to feel better,” she says. “To be more aware of what they eat and of how to make better, healthier choices. That’s why we teach classes in our stores about how to juice or make smoothies at home. That’s why we talk about the sugar content of certain fruits. That’s why we include more unique greens in our blends.”
She says you won’t find anything unhealthy at Thirst—she and her team have deliberately concocted the juice and smoothie recipes to maximize nutrients, reduce sugar and give customers the most bang for their buck. When you’re paying $9 or $10 for a juice, you want to know that it’s way better for you than the $3 fruit punch you can buy across the street.
Thirst also prides itself on bringing experts to the store for community education. They’ve hosted speakers on ingredients, they have events in-store and they write about things like superfoods for their blog. “We want to serve as educators to the whole of Boston,” Heather says. “Almost everyone can use more fruits and veggies in their diet.”
In-store team members are also part of that plan. At all times, there’s at least one team member working who can answer any question a customer might have about an ingredient, or a juice or smoothie blend. “We teach our team to actually help customers with their questions and guide them to the best blend for them,” says Heather.
Heather’s Advice for Wellness Entrepreneurs
Heather says that getting to know as much as possible about the juice industry, not just the wellness industry itself, helped ensure Thirst’s success. “We stalked NYC juice bars to see how they were doing things,” she says. “I used to know all the blender brands each chain in NYC used!” But she says they didn’t do it to copy them. “There were things that were working in NYC that we didn’t want to have to reinvent in Boston.”
She also says that it’s key to have a real plan, to make sure all the numbers work, before officially launching. “I left my job in May of 2014 with a plan to open in August of 2014… but that didn’t happen! We were only okay money-wise because I knew we had saved enough money to push out that open date.”
Her friends and colleagues from the corporate world were also a big help when she was planning the launch. “They’re the people who know and trust you and will be advocates for your success,” Heather says. “We asked what their favorite juice or smoothie bars were, what they’d change about the places they went, what best practices they saw. A lot of [health and wellness] stuff is expensive! And they were a good resource to understand our future client base.”
Creating a Scene
Since opening in 2014, Heather has seen juice and smoothie stores pop up all over Boston. She may have brought the market there, but it’s grown exponentially in just a few years. That’s part of the reason why Thirst’s second location was deliberately not in the city.
“It was just so saturated,” she says. “We didn’t want to have to compete with all the other shops, so we decided to tackle the suburbs.” And the profits from Boston’s shop made a move to Wellesley possible. “It was a natural fit because it already has a strong health and wellness community—they already understand how important food is, and we have a loyal following.”
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