The Juice Truck
With the rise in popularity of all things health-related, The Juice Truck, founded by long-time friends Zach Berman and Ryan Slater, stands out as a jewel among other juice companies in Vancouver. An idea that stemmed from a post-university trip to India, it started as a mobile juice truck business in 2011 and has now expanded to a brick and mortar location in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. With their nutrient-filled concoctions sold at over 30 locations across the city and several community events being hosted at their space, Zach and Ryan are gradually persuading Vancouver folks to make smarter decisions, and there's buzz surrounding the brand that won't disappear anytime soon. I sat down with the enthusiastic boys to learn their story, gain some entrepreneurial insight and reminisce about traveling to India.
Photos by Alison Page
M: You got the idea to start The Juice Truck while you were traveling in Nepal and India together. How did that come about?
Zach: "We were hiking through the Annapurna region and got snowed in in Manang. People were drinking this vibrant orange-coloured drink, which we both thought it was sunny-D, but it was sea-buckthorn berry juice. It can grow at high altitudes, and there’s not a lot that grows there, so the locals were getting their nutrients out of this one fruit. We thought that was so cool that the local community was relying on this super berry for their daily nutrient requirements."
M: So you drank a lot of juice in India?
Ryan: "We had this mango juice we would drink at the Andaman islands every day and got sick every time (laughs), but we would just keep drinking it because it was so good!"
Zach: "It was New Delhi that kicked the idea into high gear. There was this juice stand near where we stayed in South Delhi. We’d go there once or twice a day and see the same regulars and the owner would recognize us. It was this community vibe – it was fun being around the same people every day. That got the idea flowing of how cool it would be to have a street side, community-driven juice bar. From that point on we started playing with ideas."
M: Can you describe the steps/process you took once you came back to Vancouver and decided to launch the company?
Zach: "We traveled for a year in total, and when we got back we decided we would go for the idea and go full speed ahead. We were only 24 at that point so I think we were naive enough and had that 'post-travel liberty' of believing you can do anything, so we just went for it."
Ryan: "At the time there weren’t any cold pressed juice places in in Canada. When we started researching what we were going to do, we became intrigued by the cold-pressed juice method. We bought an original cold-pressed juicer - the first thing we ever tested on - and it made a big difference in what we were trying to do, comparative to all the other juice companies that existed."
M: So you were the first company to offer cold-pressed juice in Vancouver?
Zach: "When we first launched, there was no cold-pressed juice in Canada so people were really noticing the difference. Now there are a lot of cold-pressed juice bars in Vancouver, but when we launched that was our major point of difference."
Ryan: "It provided us an opportunity to educate. It was something we could leverage, because we were essentially introducing something that was new to all of Canada, and partially very new to Vancouver. We were trying to create a movement in the health industry – and I think it worked because Vancouver’s such a health-focused city."
M: How do you feel about all those other juice bars popping up? Does competition concern you?
Zach: "We just focus on trying to do the best we can. Competition affirms the product in a way. Just like how all the micro breweries create a culture of beer drinkers, with all this competition it’s growing a culture of juice drinkers. Collectively we can all grow that community instead of necessarily competing with each other."
M: How do you divide the responsibilities of the business and what roles do you both have?
Zach: "Ryan's more the technical, logistics, numbers, concrete things. I’m more the variables (laughs)."
Ryan: "I’m more of a realist, and Zach’s more of a dreamer. We’ll come up with 20 different things and I’ll narrow it down to what makes the most sense. In some companies if you just have a dreamer it gets lost in the tangibility of what’s plausible. And if you only have a realist sometimes you don’t take the leaps."
M: Do you ever disagree on anything and have there ever been challenges working together?
Ryan: "Never. It’s actually quite natural. We’re so comfortable knowing what each other would do. We have separate roles, but I’d say that we agree on 99.9 per cent of the decisions we make."
Zach: "We’ve had challenges with the business but in terms of working together I’d say it’s pretty ideal. I think if we weren’t doing juice together we’d probably be doing another business together."
M: What inspires you?
Zach: "Life (laughs). Living in Vancouver, every time I go for a hike, my inspiration is just overflowing. Because I’m a dreamer."
Ryan: "We’ve always been inspired to own our own business, because our fathers ran their own businesses, it was natural that after graduating university and after traveling, we both knew we wanted to start our own company."
Zach: "We get inspired by our community, working with people like Keighty from Tight Club, the Distrikt and Culver City Salads. Having such a positive peer group and community constantly keeps us inspired of things we can do together or ways we can support each other. It’s a circle that keeps feeding itself."
M: Do you have any advice for other young, aspiring business owners?
Ryan: "It was evident in our fathers that there’s pros and cons to it. As your business grows, part of the value of it is to learn a lot about yourself, how you take on challenges and the way you react to them. I think for both of us it’s made us better individuals. I know more about people now, how relationships are better to be handled, how it’s easier to communicate."
Zach: "If you want to have a learning curve that never ends, open a business."
M: How did you come up with the name ‘Juice Truck?’
Zach: "It’s funny, it was our working name we came up with when we traveled, but then we brainstormed hundreds of other names and none of them really felt right. All of our advice was ‘that won’t work."
M: And what’s with all the pineapples?
Ryan: (laughs) "Zach has a highly obsessive nature with pineapples."
Zach: "Pineapples make me smile.They’re just fun."
Ryan: "It’s part of being a fun brand. We wanted to create something different than the corporate model that exists in the juice industry."
Zach: "Fun was always one of our key filter words. With all the events we do, with the general ethos of the business, we always ask ourselves, ‘Is it fun, is it something we want to do?’"
M: Do you have any goals or plans for the future?
Zach: "Our goal is to do two or three more stores in Vancouver. We’ve been toying with the idea of going to Calgary or Toronto as well, but we want to achieve a certain level in Vancouver before we look into expanding."
Ryan: "We can’t even comprehend in terms of speed how quickly time has gone by."