“Curious and excited and interested.”
That’s how Julie Nolet, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2017 with a psychology degree, would describe the many people who are poking their heads into the soon-to-open second location of Corner Juice on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.
Nolet had no idea her life would change after she turned down a job at a head-hunting firm in New York City and, instead, opened The Corner Juice with the help of business partners Joseph Linzon, a 2015 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce, and James Madison University alumnus Kevin McConnell. The brainchild of Linzon, a co-founder of the immensely popular Roots Natural Kitchen, and Nolet, Corner Juice has been well-received by UVA and the greater Charlottesville community.
In an effort to add healthier food options to the Corner, Nolet and her business partners created a small café that offers everything from sandwiches and toasts to smoothies and cold-pressed juices. Nolet said she hopes the warm teak wood interior and friendly staff provide a welcoming experience for her customers.
After debuting in its first location at 1509 University Ave. in August 2017, Corner Juice is set to open a second store next to the Paramount Theater in just a few weeks.
As UVA alumni, Nolet and Linzon believe Corner Juice fills a much-needed gap in healthy food options on the Corner (and now, downtown). In fact, the new Corner Juice is filling a location vacated by The Juice Place, where Nolet worked for a summer.
“We both wished a place like Corner Juice existed when we were at UVA, and so we were both like, ‘Wait, we have the opportunity. Let’s do it,’” Nolet said of their “aha moment” before beginning the process to build out the first location.
Nolet and Linzon feel they have a leg up on other businesses because they can connect so closely to the UVA student customer base. Having graduated only a few years ago, they understand the struggles of exam week and the joys of winning a national championship.
“The students are a really big part of this store and we find it easy to connect with them because we are alumni and we know what UVA is like,” Nolet said. “That’s the nice thing about UVA Orientation coming in, because they ask us for advice and it’s so nice to be able to give it because we went here and we get it.”
That connection also helps them remain flexible with student employees. Nolet described their company as a tight-knit family. “That’s also why we don’t just include anyone on our team,” she said. “It’s important that we find people who fit in with our culture.”
With an education in psychology, Nolet said she’s always wanted to work with people. “I love learning about people. I’m very good at reading people and their emotions, and that very much helps with standing at the register and making sure that everybody’s happy.”
Although she felt she mostly brought her knowledge of juice and people to the operation, Nolet is amazed at how much she’s learned about business over the past two years.
In the months leading up to their first opening, “We literally spent all summer, every single day drawing out logos, testing juice blends, driving to Richmond to figure out our glassware, labels and compostable paper goods,” she said. “So we learned together. We developed a sustainable business model, and did it all by ourselves.”
Linzon, the backbone of the team’s business side, has continued to be passionate about expanding the food scene in Charlottesville and beyond.
“I love doing this and I love the team we have at Corner Juice,” he said. “We consider food to be medicine. It’s the juice that powers us every single day. By fueling our bodies with healthy foods, we start to notice real benefits across many aspects of our lives. When you eat better, you sleep better, you feel better – it’s all connected. To know that our restuarants have been able to improve the health of people in our community, it’s so incredibly rewarding.”
On top of the strong connection Nolet and her team have with the UVA community, many other things make The Corner Juice a one-of-a-kind food stop. Nolet described the atmosphere they’ve created as welcoming and “a little bit European.” From the design to the Euro-beats that play over the speakers, there’s a sense that you’ve been transported to a quaint café in Nolet’s home country, the Netherlands.
In addition to the unique “vibes,” as Nolet termed it, she is proud of the food and drink offerings they’ve created. There’s a stigma that healthy food doesn’t taste good or that the menus are always limiting, she said.
“We started to get away from ‘We have to be 100% vegan.’ We don’t have to be that because most people want more variety. Corner Juice appeals to everyone, from people with plant-based diets, to people looking for a healthy meal with a little more protein or meat options,” Nolet said. “The kitchen is also able to accommodate those with dietary restrictions and allergies, such as tree nut allergies and gluten intolerance.”
The founders also did an immense amount of research to determine which ingredients needed to be organic and which didn’t.
“Spinach, kale, blueberries, strawberries: yes, they need to be organic [because] there’s no shell to protect those fruits and veggies. In fact, over 90% of our ingredients are certified organic. Bananas and avocados: that’s a tough shell to get through, so we are OK with those being conventional,” Nolet said. She explained that this research helps their business keep their prices low in order to open their doors to those students working on a college budget.
Above all, Nolet and her partners are striving to create healthy foods that are both nutritious and delicious.
“Basically, our motto is that healthy food is delicious, affordable and accessible,” she said. “You can find combinations of healthy foods with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants – all the things that a healthy lifestyle requires – and still make it taste good.”
Not only does Nolet believe wholeheartedly in the healthy café she and her partners have created, she lives it, too. She claims there isn’t a single item on the menu that she wouldn’t eat. When describing one of her favorite menu items, the House Acai Bowl, she said, “I’ve had it for two years, almost every day, and I still love it.”
As Corner Juice looks to the future, Nolet sees further expansion as a possibility. Linzon is currently acting as a hands-on general contractor for the build-out of the downtown location, and he is confident in the company’s ability to open a third location in the next 12 months.
“I think we can spread this concept a long way, and start looking toward Europe,” Nolet said. “Over the past year especially, and this summer, we’ve systematized the entire operation and that really set us up for future expansion.”