Ever want to do something only 15 other people have done? And for a good cause? Continue reading
The James sisters poured into their juice shop one and two at a time, chatting, dancing, obviously loving being with each other. After we made our introductions and they rounded up some bar stools and folding chairs to get seated, Julie pulled out a picture of her daughter on her phone to show us. And we already felt so welcome.
Julie, Caitlin, Jessie, Jenny and Jane James opened Drought Juice in Plymouth, Mich. They own and run 100 percent of the business, and they treat their 16 employees like family, too. Their flagship shop was formerly a candy store, and they’re in the midst of moving to a space three times its size. They sat in the middle of where they usually bottle juice, and we stood at the juicing table and got to talking.
PWP: How did you decide to start Drought?
Julie: We were at different points in our lives, and weren’t very fulfilled. Jessie was in New York at the time, Cait had just moved there, I was married and transitioning to not being married, Jen was in college and on her way to New York, and our sister Jane was working at a yoga studio. We were all transitioning but wanted to be together, doing something that would sustain our future. It started off a little as a joke. I think the conversation specifically was between Jessica and Caitlin, talking about how there was such a drought of things to do, on their way to go get juice or a coconut shake. They were like, “We should start our own juice bar and call it Drought.” There was nothing like that in Detroit. Why wouldn’t we start that here? So it just kind of evolved.
PWP: And then what?
Julie: Right off the bat we decided what we wanted it to be: all raw, organic, glass bottles.
Then, when we got to the point where we needed money, we used Kickstarter. We were one of three projects in Detroit. We needed $13,000, so we shot a couple videos and made our goal! When we got the money, we bought our first Norwalk juicer and started in our parents’ kitchen—destroying it. Literally the ceiling was splattered in kale. We created recipes and a juice cleanse, and oddly enough one of our first clients was Michelle Williams when she was in Detroit shooting “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Jessie: She was a client at the salon where I worked in New York, and was moving to Detroit for 10 months for the movie. So she was asking what to do, where to eat. My friend who did her hair referred her to us. She ordered it, everyone on set saw it, so our first customers were like A-list celebrities.
Cait: Since then, the film industry shooting in Detroit has become a niche market of customers. Michigan and Detroit in particular get a bad rap as a good place to do business, but if anything, there are so many markets not even nearly saturated that you get the benefit of being one of the only.
Julie: We got a lot of business from that, and the business model that came from it was private ordering and just delivering it to people, so we opened that option to everyone who wanted it.
Jenny: That’s where our sister Jane came in.
Julie: She teaches yoga at one of the best places in the area, and one day she texted us: “I leaked your menu.” She really started the word of mouth, and eventually we had enough business to lease this space. It took us a year to find it, but then we got it running and up to professional standards—though when we first opened we didn’t have a stocked cooler.
Cait: People would walk in and be like, what are you doing? “Oh, we make juice, but you have to order it two days in advance!”
PWP: Who got into juicing first?
Jessie: Where we lived in New York, there was a juice bar at a health food store around the corner. Every time we went in, there was a line wrapped around the store. It was really, really good juice—one of our favorite places to go. We were like, this is crazy! People LOVE juice! But it should be faster and quicker, and you should be able to grab it and go.
PWP: It’s crazy to think that you had this idea—and now you own a juice bar!
Julie: We’re like modern-day mystics. I mean, we don’t possess any mystical powers, but we’re into manifesting our own destinies. Thoughts become things. If you think all day long, “This sucks, this sucks…” that’s what you get. The craziest things have happened in our business because we decide they’re going to happen and talk about it a lot. I mean, why are you two here and two other girls aren’t? You’re putting actions into your thoughts.
We think about Drought every single day. We work on it every single day.
PWP: What have been some big lessons you’ve learned having Drought?
Julie: It’s hard to be taken seriously as a female business owner. It happens to us all the time.
Cait: People will still call and ask for our dad. And we’re like 30 years old. There are a lot of lessons in confidence, standing your ground. But it’s nice because it teaches you that you have control of your life. This is my business. If you have a question, you can ask me.
One of the things about Drought is that we try to give off the idea that juice is not absolutist. People kind of think we all must be vegan and live off juice and not eat any solid foods—everything must be organic all the time. Our business is an effort to surround ourselves with what we want to do and want to be like.
“We get to creatively express ourselves. We get to design every aspect of our lives.” —Jenny James
PWP: How much juice do you drink every day?
Jenny: Well, we get the extras, depending how much you’re at the shop.
Julie: Once we did a kale challenge—16 oz. pure kale juice!
Cait: It’s amazing—makes you feel great. I think most of us take the approach that we want to feel good. These are nutritional powerhouses… you can’t even eat the nutrition you can drink in them. We’ve had them all nutritionally analyzed. We have a green juice that has 16 grams of protein in 16 oz. It’s unbelievable.
PWP: What makes you happiest?
Julie: My daughter makes me happiest, and so does working for myself so I can raise her. I think about how grateful I am every single day that I can see her right when she wakes up, and that all of her aunts are helping raise her.
Cait: I think just being in charge of my own life. At other jobs I wasn’t able to work out when I wanted to or eat well, and I feel like a lot of things are dictated by your work schedule. Now if I want to change something, it’s my prerogative.
Jenny: I think the same things, plus being able to feel like you have a purpose—and it’s your purpose not someone else’s vision or workload that you’re putting your effort into. We get to creatively express ourselves. We get to design every aspect of our lives.
Julie: Including inventory systems…
Cait: …and sanitation plans!
PWP: Any last big lessons?
Cait: Qualifications and definitions of success are changing. Everything’s happening at a different rate, in a different way than even a few years ago.
Julie: Whatever you’re aspiring to be, you don’t have to put in years and years… the Internet’s awesome! You can do whatever you want. We didn’t have to know everything about juicing to get where we are right now.
Cait: Within the past six months, we opened another storefront in Detroit, got so busy we outgrew this space, and now we’re moving. About a year and a half ago, we were just hoping people would come in.
[Photos by Alysse.]
The GIF says it all. Our next interview features not one but five amazing juicers who turn organic fruits and veggies into ridiculously nutritious drinks. Drink up on Tuesday!
[Doodle by Lucca.]
“I think a lot of artists are in competition with themselves or with other artists, and I have no interest in any of that,” Lindsey Meyers says. “I don’t want to be anybody else or make anything else.” Lindsey summed up exactly the energy we aim to share with you every week. We hope you find her life, her business and the community she’s creating as inspiring as we do.
(She said so many valuable things, this interview barely covers half. Stay tuned for Lindsey Part II in the future!)
People with Panache: What inspired you to throw everything in and open Beauty and Brawn Art Gallery & Think Space?
Lindsey Meyers: A few things. I was a teacher and a nanny in my life before children. I adore kids and teaching, and was always an artist and then a full-time stay-at-home mom and an artist. So, I thought about it for a long time, with the pipe dream of having a studio. I drove by this spot all the time—it was in awful condition—but I saw the vision.
PWP: What happened next?
LM: Well, I’m very honest about my story. My ex-husband walked out on my two daughters and me in the middle of a conversation, and I had a mortgage and all the other things that come with that life. I just decided, this is my shot, and I’m not going to put on pantyhose and fetch coffee for someone anymore after all the things I’ve accomplished in my life. I put my house, my car and everything else I had in my possession on the line for collateral, wrote a business plan and went full force. I thought, if I fall, I’m going to fall big, but I’m going to try. And it came. I got a really small microloan of $5,000 and borrowed collectively $10,000 from my family, so I began the business with a mere $15,000.
PWP: What did you do about the space being in such terrible shape?
LM: I came in here with a two-by-four and a tire iron and just went to town. It was great. Took out the ceiling, took out the floor. It was a release for me of a lot of things to power through it. But it was also something I knew was necessary to bring to my community, the art community, and arts education nationally, locally and in Logan Square. I opened on St. Patrick’s Day 2012. It was a great opening. Very successful night. Knock on wood, the space has been really well-received. I just wanted it to be a place we could come as a community, whether you’re an artist or not, and just think and discuss.
PWP: You must meet inspiring people all of the time.
LM: I feel like I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, especially women. If I can be a source of inspiration for other women as a single mom who has no problem standing in line for food stamps, I can give back by doing a charity-based sale here, which we’re doing again in November. I’m not embarrassed by my situation and at least I can set an example for my children that we’re going to survive this and we’re going to be open about it. I do get asked a lot: “How did you start this? And why?!”
PWP: Well it’s an important question and a part of who you are.
LW: It is. And I don’t give fluff ever. I’m balls out. I have no trust fund. It’s difficult. It’s a third child pretty much. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s a reflection of myself, my community and my family, and that’s what I tell my daughters. Every time we come into this space, it’s my ass on the line and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and I want it perfect. I probably sound like a control freak but you can’t pay anyone to do those things at this point—my business is just taking off. Everything I do is very well-thought-out and I put 110 percent into it because I’d like it to be sustainable and grow. Here’s to trying anyway!
PWP: What is your background?
LM: I went to the Chicago Academy for the Arts for high school. Super cool. We built everything, and we thought about everything. So, my background is more performing arts than visual arts—music and theater. I was also a teacher, and I have a degree in psychology.
PWP: How did you come up with the name?
LM: It just came to me. Nobody knows at 18 what they want to be when they go to college; that’s completely rare. And then you have this window by 30 you’re supposed to be like… that’s it! And no one says: Go! Dream! Jump! Big! You know what I mean? The older we get, where can we sit that’s not a bar, that’s not a claustrophobic white-walled gallery where no one’s talking to each other? Here you can have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and discuss projects you’re working on and meet new people and network in a creative way. So that’s the “think space” part of it. And people come to me with the craziest ideas sometimes and we pull them off.
PWP: What do you love about owning this space?
LM: When I see my space full of life and we’re having an opening and there’s a DJ and everyone’s having a good time and there are kids and adults and artists who have never had a show—this is a big deal for them. Just the look of elation on their face is an accomplishment because I’m teaching them that art is a business, but it’s joyful too—so when I see it full of life, all the other things don’t matter. And the response that people have given me. Like thank you for opening this in our community. Thank you for caring, thank you for taking this and turning it into something beautiful.
PWP: Have you always been an artist yourself?
LM: As far as being an artist, I can’t think of being anything else. It’s just the only way that I know how to be. I didn’t grow up like, “I’m going to be a doctor.” I’ve tried this, I’ve tried that. Was always rather existential even from a young age in the way that I saw the world. It’s not that it didn’t impress me; it was always kind of strange, like is this really what this is all about?
PWP: How do you find your artists?
LM: It’s fun because there is no shortage of art. They’re everywhere in Chicago. I don’t really need to go somewhere else to find this art, it sort of finds me. That’s the icing of my job to be like, yes, have a show here, let’s do this! So that’s been really fun and exciting.
PWP: I love the idea of bringing all of these people together in one space.
LM: It’s hard because most galleries won’t take submissions from artists. It’s such a nepotistic environment and community, especially in Chicago. In the gallery scene, they take 50 percent of your work; I only take 30 percent, and I don’t charge my artists to hang.
The show that Steph Davies was in was called Public Storage. I literally met one of my artists, an incredibly talented photographer named Sophie Goodwin, while she was bagging my groceries at Trader Joe’s. One day I looked at her website—and it was like no shit. Never shown anything before, straight out of Columbia. Then I met Jessica Yocherer, who had never shown and lives in Milwaukee, at the Milwaukee Art Museum when I took my kids one day. I thought, how am I going to bridge them together?
And it was based on a poem called “Public Storage” by Kathleen Gardner, who I went to college with and is this crazy, fun, interesting girl, and I loved her poetry. I didn’t ask them to create work about that, but if they wanted to they could, so that kind of tied it in and they all identified with that poem. It was a great show. The work looked terrific together. Even when I hang, I try to do it non-traditionally. Typically group shows are one wall of this person and one wall of that person. I mix it up. I don’t have white walls, but I don’t want it to be too overtly “the anti-gallery.” I’m an emotional art buyer and art viewer. I want people to have visceral emotional experiences when they come here.
“Art isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life.”
I really stay away from “emerging artists.” I think it’s misinterpreted and misused in terms of a title for people. How long can you say someone is an emerging artist? Forever? Until they’re an established artist? Even when you fill out applications for art festivals, there are three categories: unknown, emerging and established. And I don’t know who makes that delineation of what you are. To me, we’re all emerging in some form and even if that’s their first show, they’re emerging out of something.
PWP: I’ve never thought about that phrase like that. I guess I just assumed I didn’t know enough about the art world to know the distinction.
LM: Yeah they try to make it seem like a hobby. Art isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life. Artists need things. Artists need health insurance. It’s not this alternative means, which is another thing I’m trying to facilitate, too—that conversation about making a sustainable life for yourself and making a living. I’ve done many day jobs for the love of making art in the middle of the night, and I would still do those things to make art.
PWP: How do you get noticed as an artist in a large city like Chicago?
LM: It’s persistence. I don’t believe you need to do crazy stunts to get yourself out there. Maybe that’s optimism but if you’re really passionate about something, you go out with good intention, and your reputation precedes you, you make a good name for yourself. There are a lot of artists who fall privy to that slacker, spacey, irresponsible lifestyle and I don’t think they’re going to get too far. You need to be mindful of what you’re doing in the public eye. But be true about it. Be yourself. It’s hard work.
PWP: It seems extremely difficult.
LM: If you look at it as a business, it is. I’ve had people say crazy stuff in front of me. We did a show once at the Flat Iron, and a man walked down the hall and goes: “Sure smells like desperation in here.”
You’re basically putting your soul on a wall and you’re watching other people investigate your soul and extrapolate this and pull that and sometimes it’s really interesting. You’re looking at something that was really meaningful for me to create. And some people will trash it in front of you and you’re like “Okay, it’s not for you, don’t buy it!”
The worst thing an artist can do is compare and ask for outside validation. It’s got to come from the truest spot inside of you. And then you just hope it’s well-received. And sometimes it’s a flop.
PWP: That can happen with anything. Not everything you do is going to be successful but you keep trying and eventually you’ll get there. Like you said—persistence.
LM: Absolutely. You find a rhythm in your work. You have to be willing to be part of your own creationism artistically and be willing to let it go if you do want to make a living at it. Optimistically speaking.
PWP: I don’t think you’re being too optimistic. I think you’re being very realistic actually.
LM: I just don’t want to do anything else.
[Photos by Kate and Lindsey, varied. ]
The first thing Kate said after interviewing Lindsey, our upcoming interviewee, was that she was going to save the entire interview transcript—Lindsey was too fascinating not to keep it all. Continue reading
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