Clean Juice founders Landon and Kat Eckles took a hometown juice bar from a leap of faith to explosive expansion in four short years.
By Lauren Eberle • Photographs by Peter Taylor
Landon and Kat Eckles travel in a tribe. They’re the proud parents of five kids. Their home office is filled with dedicated professionals who took a chance on the startup they launched in 2015. They worship at one of the largest faith communities in the region. Even their latest beach getaway packed in 35 houseguests.
For the Clean Juice founders, tribe life helps them thrive. But they’ll be the first to tell you that it hasn’t always been this way.
In fact, things were a lot more lonely in the summer of 2014. Landon’s job in global investment management often took him overseas for long-term stints. At home in Pennsylvania, Kat was juggling three children, with another baby on the way. It was a tough point in the college sweethearts’ young marriage, and the need for change was quite clear.
It was during this tough season that Landon says he began considering entrepreneurial options that would bring him back home and into a business partnership with his wife.
THE WHAT AND WHERE
By this time, Kat, who calls herself “a recovering Taco Bell addict,” had immersed herself in a healthy lifestyle, beginning with daily green smoothies and a focus on clean, plant-based eating.
“When I had our first daughter, it started to hit me how important it was for me to take care of my body,” she says. “Smoothies were one of the first ways I started eating vegetables.”
As she and Landon set out to find an available franchise concept, the couple instead found an opportunity to do things differently by opening a certified organic juice bar with ingredient transparency as a top priority.
From there, the “where” was simple. For 15 years, the couple had been traveling to North Carolina to visit family in the Charlotte area. Over time, they became particularly attracted to the Huntersville region and the appeal of a lake lifestyle. “We felt that if we were going to open a juice bar, it would certainly thrive here,” Landon says. Elevation Church was also a draw. When Landon was spending so much time overseas, he had begun listening to Pastor Steven Furtick’s sermons online, and the messages resonated.
When the first Clean Juice opened on June 5, 2015, Charlotteans were not only supportive, they were quickly devoted.
Inside Clean Juice’s chic shops, customers watch smiling “juiceristas” build bowls and blend smoothies in an open-concept kitchen. The space is trendy yet family-friendly, while the menu is both creative and approachable. In addition to tried-and-true fresh juices and smoothies, it currently includes savory and sweet toasts, açai bowls, cold-pressed shots, seasonal bites, even a comprehensive cleanse program — all made from organic ingredients.
“If guests are coming into a juice bar, they’re trying to do something healthy for their body and deserve the best quality product,” Landon says. The company went a step further by becoming USDA certified organic, a rigorous process that includes a 50-page application and a full review of all purchasing and sourcing.
THE WHY AND HOW
The company’s mission and core values are rooted in their faith: The Eckles are quick to point out that enjoying a healthy body and strong spirit is their desire for their employees and customers.
The couple’s day-to-day looks a lot different now than it did when they launched. “When we decided to start franchising, Kat and I stepped out of the store and started working more on the corporate development side,” explains Landon, 34, who as the chief operating officer now directs marketing, operations, finance and store-development teams. Kat, the chief branding officer, is the visionary behind menu creation and determining what the brand looks like and how the company communicates with its guests.
She’s also finding a sweet spot in balancing her Clean Juice leadership role with her preeminent position as Mom to Mckenna (12), Kellan (11), Kora (5), Haven (4) and Ellis (2). “I hope that while they remember us being driven and hardworking, that it never came at their expense and that [they know] family is always the most important thing,” says Kat, 33. “I hope this helps them to follow their passion and do something that they believe in and that makes a positive difference in the world.”
THE GROWTH AND FUTURE
There’s no doubt the Eckles are making a difference. Clean Juice has seen explosive growth in its first three years of franchising. In July, the company opened its 75th shop in Lake Charles, La. It’s not only the first stand-alone full-service drive-thru location, but it also integrates new technologies such as self-ordering kiosks and digital menu boards. With more than 75 additional shops in development nationwide, Clean Juice is on track to hit 100-plus sites by year-end.
Recently named the fastest growing company in Charlotte by Charlotte Business Journal, the company has received national accolades, too, including a spot among the top emerging U.S. franchises by Franchise Gator and a top-500 ranking among Inc. magazine’s 2019 list of 5,000 fastest-growing U.S. companies
This kind of attention has a ripple effect, Kat says. “We love this city, and being able to represent it on a national level is a huge honor for us.”
And there’s no slowing down. Delivery is the latest buzzword at the home office. “We have all these beautiful retail centers, but third-party delivery is super important in the quick-service retail space right now,” Landon says, revealing that pilot programs are in the works with UberEats, Grubhub and other similar services to try to iron out the logistics of delivering cold products. His goal is to launch systemwide by the end of the year, making it even easier to get wholesome, organic products into more hands.
With their tribe by their side, it seems the Eckles are just getting started. And given all of the good they’re doing, Charlotte can’t help but cheer them on. SP
Learn more and find locations at cleanjuice.com.