If there’s one thing South Block is known for, it is culture. On the surface, South Block might seem like just a smoothie bar, but its roots go much deeper. The brand is obsessed with creating deep connections to its community, and that is all thanks to Amir Mostafavi, founder and CEO. 

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, Mostafavi credits his work ethic and grit to his father, who immigrated to the U.S. at 19 without knowing any English but worked his way up to a doctoral degree and owning multiple businesses. Additionally, his mother instilled in him an intense connection to the community in which he lived. These are all life lessons Mostafavi carries with him. 

While South Block—which made an appearance on QSR’s annual 40/40 List—now boasts 12 units and three more on the way, it had humble beginnings on a college campus in Washington, D.C. The DMV-based brand began in 2011 while Mostafavi was still a student at George Washington University.

This initial concept, then called Campus Fresh, was located on the second floor of the campus gym, with no exterior signage to bring in customers. However, it didn’t matter—by plugging into his community, Mostafavi brought the guests to him. 

“When I started my first juice bar at George Washington University, we were very involved in student life, activities, and the community,” says Mostafavi. “People started coming in because they heard about us through word of mouth. They heard about the great product and the good vibes.” 

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So, when Mostafavi had the chance to take his smoothie concept on the road, he did. Nestled into the heart of Arlington, Virginia, the young entrepreneur secured a 700-square-foot building on the backside of two towers—the North Block and South Block—and started his journey. 

“The name South Block really stood out to me because I knew I didn’t want to call it something generic,” says Mostafavi. “I wanted the name to represent our mission, which was to build healthier communities and this location was perfect to prove that concept.” 

The first South Block location was small, awkwardly placed, and had little foot traffic. However, Mostafavi stayed true to his initial belief that connecting to your community is the core of what makes a business successful. 

“We’re going to build a community by offering an awesome product, being involved in the community and other businesses, and building a great culture,” Mostafavi says in a recent interview with QSR Uncut. “That’s what we did. People started finding us on the South Block.” 

Through the pandemic, a spotlight was placed on health and immunity, which the brand felt ready for. 

“COVID was a challenging time […] but we were fortunate enough to have a product that people were looking for, we had technology in place through our app, and we were already doing some third-party delivery,” Mostafavi says. “So that really helped.” 

From the made-from-scratch approach to its products and its people-first philosophy, South Block became a hit with consumers. Another key factor in South Block’s success was its commitment to being an approachable brand for every customer. 

“Diet and nutrition can be a very personal choice, and people have different opinions,” Mostafavi says. “At South Block, we are an equal opportunity for dieters. Whatever your belief is, we have something for you.” 

South Block certainly offers something for everybody. The brand features handcrafted smoothies and bowls, revitalizing juices, and more. Not only that, but the brand serves a much bigger purpose—giving back to its community. 

Mostafavi started a nonprofit organization in 2019 called Fruitful Planet, which uses proceeds from South Block’s juice sales to feed underserved people, whether that’s through food banks or local elementary schools. 

“We’ve donated over 60,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to people in our community since we started in 2019,” Mostafavi says. “It’s something we’re really proud of, and want to continue to do in every community that we open in.” 

As a growing brand, South Block has an exciting future ahead. South Block’s 15th location will be inside the new Amazon headquarters opening in Arlington in 2023. Not only that, but a capital raise is in the works, along with a growing team of leadership. The brand hired its first COO and is poised for growth in new markets. 

“It’s been a lot of growth, but it’s been slow and steady. We’ll never grow to where we’re sacrificing our culture, people’s experiences, or the quality of our product,” Mostafavi says. “We’re confident now with everything that we’ve put in place that we can grow at a larger scale by maintaining these things.” 

Mostafavi sees the Amazon headquarters location as his catalyst in building a national brand. He believes the company is “15 to 50” in terms of locations and is ready to move forward with that prospect. 

While he hasn’t closed the door on the idea of franchising, he wants to focus more on corporate growth and ensuring that there is ample control over quality, culture, and connections to community. He believes that the true magic of South Block lies within the product and its people. 

For Mostafavi, the keys to a phenomenal company culture are simple: don’t be a jerk and make it about more than just the job. This is also incredibly important in an industry with high rates of turnover and labor shortages.

“For me, making the business about more than smoothies is what keeps me motivated,” Mostafavi says. “It’s so important as a business owner to put your team in your dream […] make what you’re building an opportunity for everyone around you as well.” 

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Story, South Block