Amy Waldman is the founder of Purée Artisan Juice Bar, the first of its kind in Bethesda, MD when it opened in 2011. Last year, with three brick and mortar locations in Maryland and Virginia, Amy made the decision to move beyond the confines of her physical locations and began distributing her cold-pressed juice nationally. She sells her products on Shopify and is a very happy Judge.me customer.
In this article we learn about Amy’s foray into healthy living, the inception and expansion of Purée Artisan Juice Bar, and the challenges that come with moving a fixed-location, perishable-food brand online.
Nearly a decade ago, Amy Waldman’s life was picture-perfect, or least it appeared that way from the outside. The married mother of two had a fulfilled and busy lifestyle complete with the trimmings of success that included two beautiful children. Amy was not atypical in her journey--she was a young mother who took care of everyone and everything except for herself.
But on the inside, things weren’t so rosy for Amy. She was overweight. She was stiff. She gave her family all of her attention. Always tired, she could barely haul herself out of bed each morning. Although she had joy in her life, getting through her waking hours meant dealing with pain, although she wasn’t fully aware of it at the time.
“Everything seemed great, but inside I was a mess,” Amy says. “I was in an unhealthy place.”
She was only in her early 40s, but recalls feeling ancient compared to how she feels now. “That age is usually a time when people start feeling like they’re broken down, and believe that it’s due to age. I realized it’s not age, but rather lifestyle.”
Then one night when she was at home channel surfing, she landed on 89 minutes of footage that forever changed the trajectory of her life. It was a documentary film titled Crazy Sexy Cancer (2007). Amy was mesmerized by the movie that detailed Kris Carr’s struggle to survive a rare form of cancer. Modern medicine didn’t have a cure, so the 31-year-old actress took stock of her grim prognosis. Carr decided her best chance for survival was to flood her body with the juices of organic fruits and vegetables. She couldn’t control the tumors, but she could control what she put into her body to fight them off.
Carr’s story was a profound flash of insight for Amy, made even more potent because her mother died from cancer when Amy was a teenager. She figured that if this woman in the film, facing a deadly diagnosis, could take charge of her health in such a powerful way, then surely she could do it too.
The very next day, she went to the store and gathered her supplies for change: a juicer, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. She was ready for her first juice cleanse.
Although she was filled with hope and optimism, what happened next still shocked her. The results were nothing short of astonishing. “I did 18 days of straight juice and I lost 25 pounds, and I felt amazing,” Amy says. “I couldn’t believe it! I felt unbelievably light, free, airy, nourished, and pain-free. By day seven, I literally woke up feeling like a new person. I didn’t realize I was living with pain until it was all gone.”
Amy kept up her new healthy eating routine including a newfound love for yoga. Six months into her regimen, she had shed a whopping 90 pounds and felt better than ever.
“The first three or four days were the hardest,” Amy told me, “because my system was detoxifying. But after that, it got a lot easier.”
“Produce is very nutrient dense,” she explains. “By removing the fiber, you are able to consume larger amounts of the phytonutrients. There are over 2 pounds of produce in a cold-pressed juice. Nobody is going to sit down and eat 2 pounds of raw produce, but you can drink 2 pounds of produce and get the same nutrient density. And it’s delicious, hydrating, and fills you up!”
Amy’s epiphany didn’t end with improving her own quality of life—she started juicing for friends and family too. And while juicing had a tremendous impact on her health and the lives of those around her, it was admittedly a time-consuming undertaking. “I felt tethered to my kitchen,” she said.
Amy began checking around to see if the juices like the ones she was making at home were available for purchase commercially. She looked all over the Washington, D.C. area but found nothing that met her exacting standards.
She wasn’t willing to buy just any juice. The fruit and veggies had to be organic, and the juice had to be expressed using the cold-pressed technique rather than the centrifugal process. Centrifugal juicers have a spinning metal blade that generates heat, which destroys enzymes and oxidizes the nutrients, rendering the end product less nutritious.
During Amy’s search, she discovered that others like her were feeding their cold-pressed habit by shipping juice from companies in bigger markets such as New York City and Los Angeles.
“And I just thought, that's crazy because we don't have anything local,” Amy said. “Nothing I would consider a real juice bar that's organic, cold-pressed, fresh and really has high standards.”
Having descended from a family of entrepreneurs, a go-getter’s vision had been instilled in her from an early age. What’s more, like so many entrepreneurs before her, Amy’s idea was grounded in a need she had identified in her own life. What had started out as a personal desire for change had transformed into a mission to help others. Amy would see people that appeared to be in pain, eating the wrong foods or drinking soda, and would think to herself, “I want to tell them that there’s a secret. That it’s easy to take charge of your life with plants and juice and eating real food!”
It was time to take her newfound passion for juicing to the next step. If she was going to be tethered to her kitchen, she wasn’t just going to keep it in the family. She would share it all.
And so the seed for Purée Artisan Juice Bar was firmly planted.
In the beginning, Amy settled on opening a traditional brick-and-mortar shop. But it wasn’t easy.
When you talk to Amy, you get the sense that she’s quite methodical in her approach to problems and opportunities alike. That trait served her well in the early days of Purée. Mostly on her own, she was able to formulate a business plan, secure financing, scout her first location, hire a designer for the build-out, and deal with the local health department, as well the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates raw juice.
She also had to convince the landlord to take a chance on an unproven business. “I had to sell myself to the landlord,” Amy told me, “because we’re in a pretty high-end area in downtown Bethesda. They don’t want businesses coming in who are going to fail.”
The first Purée Artisan Juice location opened at the end of 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland.
However, Amy quickly ran out of preparation space at the small 600-square-foot store. So she began leasing space first at her synagogue, and then had to move to a a commissary kitchen to supplement production. With the space to imagine and create, she crafted tantalizing juices with catchy names like Green Goddess (spinach, romaine, kale, cucumber, celery), Black Magic (lemon, ginger, activated charcoal, cayenne pepper, alkaline water, hint of agave), Bunny Brew (carrot, beet, ginger), and Watermelon Gazpacho (watermelon, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, lime, cilantro, ginger, onion, jalapeño, black pepper, pink Himalayan salt). Eventually she added a collection of raw, plant-based food items and healthy desserts to her product line.
As the popularity of Purée grew, the requests poured in for Amy to open additional locations. But even before having the benefit of hindsight, Amy was aware of the pitfalls of rapid expansion
“I knew that one of the biggest downfalls for restaurants,” Amy told me, “was expanding too quickly. It's very hard. It's so much more challenging than people realize. So I was getting offers all the time to open stores and do this and do that. And it was hard, but I said no. And I think that was a good decision in the beginning.”
Instead of rapid expansion, Amy dabbled with less permanent solutions to test the market and learn the challenges of growth. She took on temporary sales streams, such as committing to farmers’ markets for a season, and setting up temporary pop-up juice bars inside gyms.
Finally, in late 2016, she opened her second permanent store in Fairfax, Virginia’s Mosaic District. And later, a third store was born when she was approached by Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., to open a shop in their new wing in early 2017.
“I just couldn’t turn that down,” Amy says. “They really wanted us there as a showcase for health and wellness for their patients, as well as their doctors. I felt like that was in alignment with our philosophy. It’s small and not as busy as Bethesda but it does well and serves a really good purpose.”
And that’s a vital component of Amy’s mission; getting her product into the hands of people suffering with health issues. Some customers are too sick to make it to the shop, so she puts a lot of effort into thinking about how they can benefit from what Purée is doing.
One such example was Amy’s decision to offer local deliveries. The people staying at local hospitals are among her most devoted customers and because of the delivery option, they can get a hold of Amy’s incredibly nutritious products, ultimately, as Amy hopes, helping them recover and reduce disease.
“I just wanted to help serve people who really needed the nutrition,” Amy says. “But the juice isn’t only for sick people, and people on a wellness journey. I think it’s all about balance, and you certainly don’t have to be a health nut to have Purée.”
Six months ago, Amy took on another challenge—she extended Purée’s geographical reach by setting up nationwide shipping with the help of the Shopify platform.
Although her cross-country business is still in its nascent stages, she already says that if she had the chance to do it all over again, she would reverse the order of her rollout. Instead of starting with retail, she would have started with internet sales, and then moved into traditional brick-and-mortar retail later on.
Her reasons have everything to do with what it takes to keep up in the complex, competitive and costly retail environment.
“It’s so much work,” Amy told me, “you just can’t imagine. Two years into my business, I collapsed from exhaustion and broke my ankle when I fell. I’m not going to lie. It was hard. I learned a lot.”
What’s more, opening more stores revealed something to Amy—she now knows that she doesn’t want to open any more stores. However, she does want to grow. That’s why she’s so excited about her online endeavor with Shopify.
“It’s very promising,” Amy says. “It’s almost like having another store without all the retail hassle. I feel like it could definitely be a game-changer for the business in terms of the reach. There aren’t capital costs involved in this. It’s just a question of getting the word out there and getting the processes down. I’m really beginning to feel the power of selling online, which I never did before.”
At Amy’s retail stores, she’s already developed a steady, loyal customer base, and a stellar reputation for serving top quality products. But that’s confined to one small corner of the world. She doesn’t have national brand recognition. She needed to find a way for her local customers vouch for Purée, informing potential customers in other places about how superb her juice was.
This is about the point where Judge.me entered the picture.
“We realized people looking at us from anywhere else in the country didn’t know about our quality and our mission and how good our product is,” Amy says. “People trust other customers who are vouching for a product.”
It wasn’t hard to inspire her local customers to write reviews. She emailed her regulars, and they were happy to do it. They are passionate about Amy’s business and what it brings to their lives, and they want to share their experiences with others.
“People are really reading the reviews, and it helps them make their decision,” Amy says. “People are communicating through these reviews, and it helps us provide better customer service, which is the whole point. It also helps to educate the customer about the product, because a new customer can be educated through an existing customer.”
What’s more, the reviews on Amy’s site illustrate the devotion Purée has inspired. “I’ve actually been touched and moved to tears by a few of them I’ve read,” Amy says.
Purée has more than 500 reviews, with 95 percent of them at five stars, and five percent awarding four stars. Comments are glowing, such as, “Bright, herbaceous and tangy. Taste satisfies while the nutrients revitalizes.” And this from a happy mom: “My two-year-old requests this by color and it’s his favorite!! And a great way to get his veggies in for the day!” Many write about health benefits: “When drinking ginger tea, I don’t have to take my allergy medication.”
A surprising result from Amy’s online expansion is that it has changed the way a portion of her local business is conducted. Some of her customers, especially the corporate ones, have opted to buy the frozen juice, which was originally designed for shipping to faraway places, because it’s easier for them to manage products that don’t expire so quickly.
It wasn’t easy to give wings to Amy’s juice.
There are logistical issues when starting any food business, and that is compounded by the short shelf life of Purée’s products. Many of her cold-pressed raw juices are only good for three days, or up to five days for strong citruses like lemonade and grapefruit juice. Plus, she refuses to pasteurize in order to extend lifespan because the juice would lose some of its nutritional value. So shipping across the USA gave rise to a whole new set of obstacles; transit time eats away at the juices’ precious shelf life.
Amy accepted the inevitable. There was no practical option other than shipping the juice frozen.
The next step was to research packaging, but Amy has high standards here too. She’s deeply concerned about the environment, but also isn’t willing to sacrifice quality.
All this meant that although Amy was selling the same product, it was almost like creating a whole new product line, because the packaging had to accommodate freezing and travel, while still maintaining the nutritional integrity of her juices. She decided on biodegradable insulation made from corn, which is tucked into a recyclable plastic sleeve along with dry ice to maintain the cold temperature in the box. Once the shipment arrives at its destination, the insulation can be dissolved in a sink or a bucket, and used to feed plants.
The existing in-house labeling system had to be retooled as well. Although it worked fine for chilled juice bottles, the labels didn’t hold up to freezing temperatures. She needed to find a new material that would withstand cold, and stay fixed in place when condensation formed as the juice bottles thawed out.
And then there was the matter of the bottles themselves. Amy prefers to offer her juice in glass for local guests, believing it to be the cleanest option. But it isn’t practical to use glass bottles for shipping, because they are heavy and carry breakage risk.
But the switch to plastic wasn’t without its concerns. Many plastics leach chemicals, particularly when frozen. But Amy, the methodical researcher that she is, found a solution. She discovered something called HDPE plastic, which Amy says is safer and carries far less risk of chemical contamination.
Unlike the clear bottles favored by her competitors, HDPE has a cloudy appearance, so it doesn’t showcase the rich, jewel-toned colors of the juices as effectively as clear plastic. But Amy’s fine with that, because she’s committed to her values.
Of paramount importance to Amy is having the healthiest end product for her customers, not the prettiest. Just like all those years ago when she experienced a life-altering epiphany about her unhealthy lifestyle, she knows that what’s on the inside matters more than the appearance of the outside. Infused with a sense of purpose, she’s firmly dedicated to improving the health of her customers, one drop at time.
What’s clear from my conversation with Amy is that she’s a planner, but that she doesn’t let her analysis become paralysis. She’s methodical, driven, and filled with passion about her products and serving her customers. Altogether, this makes her a veritable force to be reckoned with in the entrepreneurship world.
I’m excited to watch Amy’s expansion into online sales over the next six months. We’ve promised to do a follow-up interview at about that time to see how things have progressed for Purée.
If you want to try out the juice yourself, visit pureejuicebar.com. It just might change your life.