DROUGHT is not your typical family-owned business. It wasn’t handed down from father to son over generations. Rather, it was founded in 2010 when the James sisters — Julie, Jenny, Jessie and Cait — realized there was an insatiable demand for organic, cold-pressed juice on the East Coast that had not yet been tapped into in the Midwest.
“At the time, my three younger sisters were all living in New York City, and it was very popular on the coast at that time,” Julie said. “Raw juice bars were popping up, and they had noticed there was a line at the door of all of them. We had all found that at that point in our lives we were all interested in something different than what we were already doing, and we thought, well there’s a real need for this specific industry in Michigan, and we thought with all the growth and change going on in Detroit it would be great if we brought that to the area.”
Their idea was successful — at the beginning of July, the sisters opened their sixth southeast Michigan location, this time in downtown Ann Arbor.
“DROUGHT, the maker of organic, cold-pressed juices, continues expanding their local footprint with its latest new retail location in downtown Ann Arbor,” the company announced in a press release. “After opening 5 metro-Detroit locations around southeast Michigan, demand for an outpost in Ann Arbor continued to grow. This newest location offers what you would expect from the area’s leading raw juice provider; their full variety of glass bottled, organic, cold-pressed juices ready for take away.”
The company came from humble beginnings, though. To buy a cold-press juicer, Julie said, they had to raise their first $13,000 via a Kickstarter campaign.
“Looking back, we laugh, we had no idea all the work we were getting ourselves into at the time,” she said. “It’d be hard to wanna do it again, but obviously it all worked out well, and we really enjoyed it, so we continued to grow it.”
And while $13,000 may seem like a lot for a juicer, Julie said it was worth it. The cold-press method, she explained, applies hydraulic pressure to the fruits and vegetables, which, along with the juice, successfully extracts all of the nutrients and enzymes from the produce as well. A centrifugal juicer — the kind you might use at home — doesn’t keep out heat or oxygen, thus speeding up the degradation process.
Living in their parents’ house to keep costs down, the sisters opened their first shop where they all grew up, in Plymouth. Being just a 20-minute drive east from Ann Arbor, Julie said they always got questions about when they were going to open a location here. Because they started expanding in the other direction, toward Detroit, Ann Arbor simply got put on the backburner for awhile.
“The proximity to Ann Arbor we always got a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, you should come to Ann Arbor, there’s a lot of food-conscious healthy people out here, and with the U of M campus, there’s so many students from all across the country who would be interested in something like this,’ ” Julie said. “So it was always an intention of ours, once it made sense with our distribution route, which we do all of our own distribution. And we also wanted to wait for the right spot. We wanted something downtown, and real estate is kind of hard to come by. Retail storefronts get snapped right up downtown. The timing was kind of perfect.”
And it seems those people were right. LSA sophomore Cassidy Guros has been an avid juice-lover since her father started making it for her out of their juicer at home when she was five years old — he even thought about opening his own juice bar. On campus, though, Guros says she gets her juice from babo in Nickels Arcade, but is open to trying new places.
“For babo, honestly, it’s just the convenience,” Guros said. “I just haven’t really gotten to explore that much yet. Hopefully next year I might be able to find some places that might be a little cheaper. babo is pretty expensive. I don’t have a ton of money to spend all the time, it’s just something I like to do if I do have extra money.”
Since DROUGHT is certified organic by the USDA, though, Guros said it might be worth it.
“That sounds really good,” she said. “If I’m gonna be spending the money, making sure that it’s organic, or mostly organic if possible just because, like I said, it’s so expensive, I might as well be getting what I think I’m paying for.”
But while the James sisters certainly hope to break into the student market in Ann Arbor, Julie emphasized their product is for everybody.
“I think the idea was that it’s a healthy product so it’s for healthy people, young and middle-aged, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Our product, specifically the bottle and the aesthetic of our shops and our marketing and everything we do, we try to remain pretty neutral and androgynous, because we’re not just for young, skinny, fit girls. It’s fruits and vegetables, which can be enjoyed be everybody.”
They aren’t planning any more new locations just yet, but DROUGHT is still expanding, developing a wholesale line of products, and preparing to purchase a 15,000-square-foot facility to dedicate exclusively to juice production. And while the next big thing is always on the horizon, Julie says being able to work with her sisters has been a dream come true.
“People always joke, ‘Oh my gosh, I could never run a business with my family members, we’d be at each others’ throats,’ but really I think it lends itself to swift problem-solving,” she said. “And also we happen to get along very well and enjoy spending time with each other, so it is a lot of fun. Sometimes we find ourselves just laughing hysterically in the middle of our workday.”