Former NFL wide receiver David Tyree is best known for the “helmet catch,” a crucial moment in Super Bowl XLII in 2008 that helped propel the New York Giants to victory over the previously undefeated New England Patriots.

But the football field isn’t the only place that Tyree has made history. He and his wife, Leilah Tyree, are new franchisees with Clean Juice, an organic juice-bar chain based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they just opened the brand’s 100th store, which is also its first unit in the state of New Jersey.

“With Clean Juice, we’re offering high-quality, USDA-certified organic products that fit people’s lives and routines, and we’re so happy to be a part of that solution,” David Tyree says. “We have great expectations for our store; this is the chance to offer not just a high-quality product, but also to lead people to a higher quality of life.”

The Tyrees, like all first-time franchisees, spent the months ahead of their grand opening navigating the ins and outs of franchising and perfecting their knowledge of their chosen brand. But, unlike most other first-time franchisees, the couple has also been dealing with a crisis that made opening their store much more difficult: the coronavirus pandemic.

The two weren’t the only Clean Juice franchisees to open up their first units during this complicated period in the restaurant industry. CEO Landon Eckles says that the company’s corporate arm had no choice but to keep serving its franchisees and guests through the crisis. “First and foremost, I think we had a responsibility to continue to stay open and serve our people,” he says. “The majority of our stores stayed open. Even though we had to press pause on some of the new stores for a few months, we kept going, because no one else is doing it like we’re doing it. We feel like the pandemic was an opportunity for us to really serve.”

Eckles opened the first Clean Juice unit in 2014 with his wife, Kat Eckles, as a way to spend more time with his family and make fresh, organic food accessible and available. Landon Eckles says that these values that pushed him to start the brand are still the ones at the company’s core. The chain is still young, and its franchising program is even younger; the first franchised Clean Juice opened in 2017. The rapid growth of the brand—largely through franchising, as just 13 units are company-owned—is a testament to its strong company culture.

When the Tyrees discovered the juice bar, they were on a cleanse while visiting friends in the Charlotte area. In search of options that wouldn’t break their cleanse, they visited Clean Juice. The couple became immediately interested in not only the organic juices, shots, smoothies, toasts, açai bowls, and Greenoa bowls on offer at Clean Juice, but also the values behind these products. “We’ve always desired the better way, meaning that, if there’s something more efficient, higher quality, or with higher integrity within our ability, we go after that,” Leilah Tyree says. “Clean Juice provided a high-quality product and values that we could really feel good about.”

Eventually, the Tyrees reached out to Clean Juice about their interest in the brand. Within a matter of months, the couple had participated in a franchisee discovery day and were awarded a store in Morristown, New Jersey.

Neither had previous experience in foodservice franchising—Leilah Tyree previously worked in healthcare before becoming a full-time homeschool teacher to the couple’s seven children—but the two say that Clean Juice provided easy access to its corporate support, making training easily available.

“I’ve been at home with our kids for the last several years, and for me, franchising with Clean Juice was less about whether or not I was able and more about how I was going to be guided,” Leilah Tyree says. “And the team has been absolutely wonderful.”

Kimberlee Burrows, a new Clean Juice franchisee in Atlanta, shares similar sentiments about the brand’s corporate support. Before opening her store, Burrows worked as an executive with both McDonald’s and Arby’s. She says she chose to franchise with Clean Juice because of not only its organic product, but also its core values—its emphasis on a “higher calling.”

Burrows signed an agreement for three juice bars, and opened the first in May. She delayed her opening day by six weeks, taking the extra time to install plexiglass shields at POS stations and establish mask requirements and social distancing protocols. Through this process, she says, Clean Juice corporate was in the trenches with her.

“Working with McDonald’s gave me an awesome framework to understand how franchising works,” she says. “McDonald’s always talks about franchising from the three-legged stool standpoint; you have franchisees, suppliers, and corporate. McDonald’s has been around since the ’60s, and Clean Juice is basically a baby company. But the fundamentals of the company, and that three-legged stool relationship, is strong.”

While Burrows says she was nervous about opening in spite of the pandemic, she reports that customers have shown up and sales have been climbing steadily each week since the opening. The Tyrees even set a grand-opening sals record. In the case of both franchisees, opening during a pandemic was a benefit in more ways than one, providing the new operators a chance to walk through fire with those at corporate, gauging how supportive brand leadership will be in future crises.

“With your first-ever entrepreneurial endeavor, you’re paying for a blueprint and a roadmap,” David Tyree says. “We’re excited that we got on board with a company that gives us guidance and that lets us know we’re important to the company and that they have our backs.”

Franchising, Story, Clean Juice