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Article by Cheryl Rice
Photos by Shana Sureck
Barely a year and a half ago, Josephine Joiner was in a bad place. She’d been laid off from a job she loved, working in marketing with a popular fast-casual food chain. That job had allowed her to do many things that made her feel fulfilled—working in different stores, restructuring their takeout procedures and training employees to deliver exceptional customer service. She enjoyed that job and she was good at it, but then it was gone. “Losing that job was a defining moment for me,” she said, “A major depression set in.”
Joiner says those were some rough months. While she was trying to figure out what to do next, she was stress eating and gaining weight. When she realized the toll all this was taking on her body and mind, she turned to healthy foods to try to feel better. “I started making salads and smoothies, and working out. I just wanted to be happy.”
Meanwhile, she was looking for ways to turn her love of good food into a career. A native of New Orleans, Joiner’s first dream was to open a real creole restaurant. She connected with an authentic creole chef in Connecticut, but that plan never got off the ground. Then one day, she found herself in a smoothie bar in Hartford—and she loved it. “I thought, ‘I can do this!’” she recalled with a smile. Rather than see her as a competitor, the owner of the juice bar was happy to help her get her dream started. He gave her some insight about the business and even shared some recipes.
She then started researching the nuts-and-bolts of the juice bar business. “I’m the research queen!” she laughed. “I found out it was so much more feasible than a restaurant. It involves about half the costs.”
It was at this point that she reconnected with the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center (EC/WBC). She’d first taken a business planning class nearly five years earlier when she was looking at starting a clothing line. She was matched with business advisor and attorney Lacey Banks McGill, who helped her figure out how her ideas could make money. Banks McGill taught Joiner how to break down costs and forecast profit. “Now I can do that with any product I sell. I know how much I’ll make,” said Joiner.
The EC/WBC also helped her get a HEDCO loan to get started. She researched locations, trying to balance good traffic and visibility with a reasonable cost. She found the right spot on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. “There are good plans for this area,” she said. “I like that there are long-term tenants here, and the traffic is good.” From April to September of 2016, she secured the loan, found the location, and worked on renovating it. She also had to get the necessary health inspection. The day after she got health department approval, she opened her doors.
Joiner just celebrated one year in business. She has big plans, both short- and long-term, but she remembers Lacey Bank McGill’s advice. “She told me to use my first year to learn the business and understand my costs better, so I’m doing that and not spending too much now.” She has established numerous loyal customers who stop in regularly and she’s growing her brand with an active presence on Facebook and Instagram. She also had a cart at the new Dunkin Donuts Park for Yard Goats games this past season.
This is only the beginning for Juicy J Juice Bar. Next up, Joiner is looking to add more food items to her menu, like sandwiches and wraps, and then get on GrubHub and UberEATS. She also is making “local and organic” a top priority. She wants her produce to be straight from the farm and her dream is to establish close relationships with Connecticut farmers. “I’d like to see pictures of the farmers we work with on our walls,” she said.
Joiner already has a vision for a worldwide Juicy J franchise. Her research showed that healthy fast food is a trend that’s growing in Europe and Asia as well as here, and with smart investment and good planning, Juicy J can help lead the way.
She’s building a foundation for that now. As she enters her second year in business, she is planning on hiring and expanding her outreach with young people to teach them the importance of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Serving the community and her customers is a theme she returns to often. “You have to have standards as a company,” she said. “I want my employees to reflect our dedication to service and good health. That’s the only way we’ll grow.”