When you first walk into any I Love Juice Bar location, you are greeted by the scent of freshly pressed juice and the happiest crew of people working to create delicious food, juices, and smoothies. This is no accident—Vui and John Hunt, the husband and wife team who started I Love Juice Bar, are extraordinarily joyful people.
The twosome met in Atlanta where Vui was part of the team at Veggieland—a vegetarian and vegan restaurant. John had been an entrepreneur and was involved in manufacturing. Shortly after marrying, they moved to Asia. Their combined passion for healthy living and family brought them back to John’s hometown of Nashville.
As their family (which now included two small children) had worked toward acclimating to life in the South, John noticed he had been so absorbed in work that he had gained weight and that his health had taken a back seat. He pulled the juicer out of the pantry to start juicing regularly after watching the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead one night. Vui often can be heard saying, “nothing changes if nothing changes,” and she went to work revamping and updating dishes from her days at Veggieland to help him in his quest for better health. John followed what is now available as the “Juice to Dinner” and dropped 50 pounds of excess weight!
After years of dreaming about it, they decided to combine their skill sets and revamp a sandwich shop in Brentwood that was for sale. As they planned the menu, juice came up repeatedly as something they wanted to offer and it soon became the focus. They determined that if they were going to open a restaurant, it was a now or never venture. They officially opened in April 2013 with daily hours of 5:00am – 7:00pm.
The first year after opening I Love Juice Bar, the family struggled to find time together. Many nights John missed seeing their children during the week while Vui only had an hour or so with them between her work day and their bedtime. To manage the school drop off and pick ups and all the activities, Vui’s mom came to live with them for most of that first year. John’s family—also in the Nashville area—helped tremendously as well. They found that to keep everything in motion they needed to rely on many friends and family members. One parent would drive morning school drop off, and a friend would pick up the children in the afternoon and take them to lessons. They had a different person, either family or friend, every weekday to ensure childcare and activities were managed. The family would spend weekends together working on the business, including many hours at local farmers’ markets and numerous runs to Whole Foods—with children in tow helping as best as preschoolers can. (They were two and four years old at the time!) Vui and John discovered they needed to focus on quality time with their children and on being completely present when they did have time with them.
The duo wanted to be more available for their children and discovered that as they scaled the business up, they were not able to spend as much time with their kids as they had hoped. During the second year of operation, I Love Juice Bar launched a partnership with operations group and brand partner Fresh Hospitality. As they designed the franchising package at the break neck pace of seven months to complete, John and Vui entered a phase of developing the business rather than running the business. After almost two years as owners, managers, on site staff, executive chef and everything needed to run a restaurant, the transition into franchising gave them the freedom to work more from home and to call on their expanding staff to make I Love Juice Bar run as smoothly as possible. This transition opened up their calendars enough to allow more involvement in their children’s activities; just as they had hoped for when returning to the Nashville area. They can often be found volunteering at their children’s school, cheering at soccer games, and in the observation room at dance class now.
Additionally, as I Love Juice Bar opens new franchise partner locations across the Southeast, they are including their children in many excursions for grand openings. In Nashville, there are new I Love Juice Bar locations slated for Germantown, The Gulch, Hillsboro Village, and Green Hills this Fall. Thirty store fronts will be open nationwide by the end of the calendar year with many more in development stages scheduled to open in 2016.
The I Love Juice Bar and Fresh Hospitality team are available if you would like more information about opening a location near you. The unique perspective of the organization seeking to build relationships instead of solely selling licensing makes it one of the best teams to work with as a potential local owner. John says that the best advice he ever received from his mentor was that business is about problem solving more than making the right decision or wrong decision.
Vui has been back in the test kitchen working on a new restaurant concept—Vui’s Kitchen. It is planned to open in the Berry Hill neighborhood later this year. Offering the freshest Asian inspired cuisine in Middle Tennessee, Vui’s Kitchen will join the available franchise concepts in 2016.