Julie Nolet, a 2017 graduate of the University of Virginia is the Co-Founder and Manager for Corner Juice (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A. I grew up in the Netherlands and moved to Charlottesville when I was 10. It was a significant change for me—everything, including the portions of food, are much bigger here. I’m grateful that I grew up here though; I love the vibe of Charlottesville. I was supposed to go work in NYC after graduation in 2017, but I didn't want to leave.
When I was 17, we stayed in the Netherlands Antilles, an island in the Caribbean for a year. You're allowed to stay there if you have a Dutch passport. After 9-11, There was a lot of growing antagonism against foreigners. We were on a business visa for my dad, and we wanted to stay here in the U.S., so we had to apply for a Green Card.
Q. What was it like being forced to leave the U.S.?
A. It was a strange feeling to leave my home and apply for a green card. We had a house, two dogs, and I was in the middle of my sophomore year of high school. We won the Green Card Lottery, but you don't get your green card right away; it can take a while. That's why we had to stay in the Netherlands Antilles. We thought it was going to be a few months, but it turned into a whole year. We had to homeschool ourselves and eventually fly to Venezuela to the American embassy for our green cards. It was a lot, but I’m happy we were able to come back.
Q. Have you incorporated your Dutch background into Corner Juice?
A. For sure, the cuisine in Holland is something we try to incorporate into Corner Juice. Juice bars in Holland are more like cafes with healthy food; here, they seem to be more interested in being restrictive. There's a fixation with a diet culture. There are too many rules surrounding the idea of a healthy lifestyle. That’s what we’re trying to change with our store. We want to give people a more casual and pleasurable experience with healthy food.
Another thing I noticed about the United States is how much food is processed here. At Corner Juice, we make sure everything is locally grown, no chemicals, and have no preservatives.
Q. Where did you get the idea for Corner Juice?
A. As a student at UVA, I saw the need for healthier food options. The actual concept and creation were a bit serendipitous. Before I graduated UVA, I was talking to my friend Joseph Linzon (Joseph is a 2015 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce, and one of the co-founders of the popular Roots Natural Kitchen), about a need for healthier options for students. During 2017 our first location, 1509 University Ave, became available for sale. Joseph approached me with the idea, and I saw that he was already successful with his business Roots, and we thought, hey, maybe we can do this together. He bought the space, and I came straight from graduation, with my cap and gown on to get started. We had no formal business plan or menu when we bought the space. We spent the entire summer of 2017 coming up with ideas.
Q. That was pretty courageous. How did you know where to begin?
A. I worked in a smoothie restaurant and had a basic idea of what ingredients to use. Bananas and mangoes are a trendy combination; strawberry and pineapples are popular too. It was a place to start, but we weren't sure exactly what we were going to offer when we first opened up. We knew we wanted the food to be delicious, fun, and affordable. We partnered with Kevin McConnell (James Madison University alumnus), to help us expand our menu beyond smoothies and juices.
When we first opened, we had a downstairs yoga studio that we may open up again soon. It was a great way to help people focus on healthy living and come together as a group. The whole venture has been a learning process, and we're still learning, we're still a start-up. Things are coming out every day that we learn and incorporate in our business to make it the best it can be. Every day we're learning what it means to do healthy food.
Q. How do you describe what Corner Juice is?
A. We’re a cafe that provides healthy, delicious, and reasonably priced food options like sandwiches and toast, smoothies, and cold-pressed juices. We believe food is medicine, and want people to understand eating healthy doesn't need to be restrictive.
Our motto is to be all-inclusive. That dedication to inclusivity includes diet restrictions. Our kitchen can accommodate dietary restrictions such as tree nut allergies and gluten intolerances.
Q. What have you learned the most about?
A. As an owner, I take responsibility for making sure this place is running smoothly. I make sure it's clean, welcoming, and my team is knowledgeable about diets, nutrition, and the local community. When someone comes in and they tell me their stomach hurts or their nose is dripping I know what to recommend. That’s new to me. As an example, we have a drink called the Rabbit Hole that we call the Cold kicker. Carrots, specifically, are great for fighting colds. Pineapple juice is a great immune booster. Spinach is a great muscle toner and energizer. Beet juice is a vasodilator, which means it increases blood flow - so it's excellent pre and post-workout.
We want to keep our customers informed and empowered. At our downtown location, we have a display that lists the juices' names and what they're suitable for.
People will tell us they're on a specific diet and ask us what we recommend. They expect me to know. I’m constantly researching different diets so I can stay informed to answer their questions. I research because I'm happy to support them, but I also want to encourage them to be less restrictive.
Q. Where do you see the brand in a few years?
A. We opened up our downtown location in October of 2019. It’s fun to explore a different part of Charlottesville. At the Corner, you're surrounded by students. It's a different audience downtown; you have young professionals and families. It's also an interesting setup; it's a mini location about 450 square feet where the corner one is 5600.
The next step may be to open a store in Richmond, but there is no plan yet. I'm originally from the Hague. The last time I went to Amsterdam I noticed that there weren't many juice bars. I want to bring our ideas there, and I've talked to Joe and Kevin about it. They love the idea, but it's tough because the health department rules are different.
I honestly didn't anticipate Corner Juice becoming as big as it is. I love that people have welcomed us with open arms, and I'm grateful for that. It's incredible; we have such a strong one on one connection with customers. I'm proud of the culture and the vibe that we've created. We're not just a cafe; we're a community and a lifestyle.
STEPHANIE WOOD MARCH 25, 2020