“If there was a juicing competition, Jessie would win,” Julie says. She’s the fastest juicer in the (Mid)West! Pictured from left: Jenny, Julie, Jessie, Cait.
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?
Caitlin says, “We go through almost 2 tons of produce a week—Jen singlehandedly moves it all.” And Julie (pictured): “I do the desk work so I have the smallest, most atrophied muscles.”
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.
The sisters explained how they started with a premium product and intend on keeping it that way. Their cold-pressed juice has a three-day shelf life, whereas store-bought has 18 months—but those choices are what make them authentic, nutritious and tasty.
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!
“We’ve really been perfecting our small menu,” Jenny says. “If you listened to everyone’s suggestions, and did everything, you’d probably be out of business.” (We got to try three of the juices—and they really, really have perfected them! We need an excuse to get back to Plymouth…)
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.
“Some of our best resources have been nonmonetary: people willing to help, business owners that have mentored us,” says Cait. “That’s way more helpful than any amount of money.”
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.]
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