Clean Juice founders Landon and Kat Eckles are a power team. At home, the couple have five kids, and, in the restaurant industry, they’re growing Clean Juice “explosively,” as Landon puts it. A short four years since the first home store was opened and only two years since the first franchised location debuted, the Eckleses now have 58 locations, with plans to nearly double the brand’s store output by the end of 2019, bringing the expected unit count to 105 by the year-end.
Landon has a business degree and began his career in pharmaceuticals followed by real estate, while Kat stayed home with their growing family. One of her major passions during that time was wellness and healthy eating. She was concerned with the integrity of the food her family was consuming and bought traceable, organic ingredients whenever possible. She also began to realize that to be healthy, she needed to eat more of a plant-based diet—something she found hard to put into practice.
“I was a ’90s kid, and we grew up on mac ’n’ cheese and not a lot of vegetables. I always say, I’m a recovering Taco Bell addict,” Kat Eckles says. And although she knew she had to make dietary changes, she wasn’t thrilled by the prospect. “I was like, ‘Shoot, I have to eat a lot of vegetables, and I don’t really like them.’”
The solution was juicing those veggies and blending them in smoothies with a little bit of banana for sweetness. “I was getting three servings of vegetables in my morning smoothie. So, for me, it was the delivery system to get that nutrition that I knew I needed,” she adds.
FOUNDERS: Landon and Kat Eckles
HEADQUARTERS: Charlotte, North Carolina
YEAR STARTED: 2015
ANNUAL SALES: $17.9 million
TOTAL UNITS: 58
FRANCHISED UNITS: 51
But it was very time consuming to process such a mass of veggies on her own, and Kat knew there must be others who, like her, wanted healthy options on the go. She looked at existing concepts with franchising options, but none that she encountered were certified organic.
While pregnant with their fourth child, Kat persuaded Landon to quit his job in international real estate, move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina—where Landon’s mother had relocated about 10 years prior—and start a business. In June 2015, the first Clean Juice opened in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte.
Today, the brand serves a selection of cold-pressed juices and shots, açai bowls, smoothies of all varieties, and a few bites, too, including Avocado Toast, which is the best-selling item on the menu. All offerings are meant to be tasty and packed full of healthy ingredients.
The Recovery One smoothie combines hemp or whey protein with almond butter, almond milk, banana, honey, and strawberries, while the Tropical One blends banana, coconut oil, coconut water, kale, and pineapple. Cold-pressed juices use ingredients like turmeric, charcoal, and Himalayan pink sea salt. The beverage selection even includes a bottled cold-brewed coffee.
The team is also testing salads in an effort to add more nutrient-dense savory options to the menu by early summer.
Locations are designed to look clean and simple with a black-and-white color palette and clean lines. Each store sports an open kitchen and pantry so guests can smell the produce going in the juicer, Kat says. The goal is for the space to feel welcoming and bright.
“We make all of our products in front of our guests, because transparency is one of our core values,” Landon Eckles says. “That’s why we got certified organic, because we wanted our guests to know that all the materials we source for them are organic and that we don’t add sugar. We just want to be really clear with what we do because we believe that builds customer trust and loyalty.”
The Eckleses agree their gateway guest for Clean Juice is the stereotypical soccer mom wearing athleisure wear, but as the company has grown, they’ve seen the customer base expand to include everyone from teenagers to middle-aged men. “The millennial guest has been very kind to us,” Landon Eckles says. Its popularity among younger consumers has even led the brand to pursue college campuses, with at least five such locations slated to open over the next three years.
Most Clean Juice locations are about 1,200 square feet and can be found in suburban strip malls or lifestyle centers near popular fitness or lifestyle-brand stores. The company has a high concentration in the Carolinas, where it began, as well as Florida and Texas. Clean Juice also has outposts as far afield as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, and California. The goal is to maintain a 9:1 ratio for franchised restaurants to corporately owned stores.
Despite this quick growth, however, Landon says he and Kat have set the team up for success. “We feel like we have the team in place to handle that expansion,” he says. “Our home office staff is built of over 30 incredible people, from marketing to operations, finance, and development. We have made that investment to make sure our growth is sustainable.”
With her husband, brother, father, and best friend on that team, the Eckleses are bringing that family feel to the company.
Landon agrees. “We love our team, and it doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes the hardest thing is turning it off, spending time with our family, and making sure that work doesn’t come first,” he says.