lt just happened organically, explains Melissa McKenna. You would, of course, expect that the founder of Juice by Melissa would speak this way—and she turned this passion for clean eating and healthy living into a thriving business. She operates two stores in Beijing, and is currently working on expanding her brand to Hong Kong.
McKenna is catching up on work in the Dongzhimen-based store when we arrive. It’s a well-designed, effortlessly modern space. Often, patrons stop by with their little dogs, too, as Juice by Melissa dubs itself a dog-friendly venue. It’s no wonder that it was animal welfare concerns that prompted McKenna to become a vegetarian as a teenager; she organizes a monthly charity raffle to support the animal welfare activities of places like the Little Adoption Shop and ICVS.
“My entire family are very much carnivores,” says McKenna. “I learned to cook by myself … I really started to find an interest in eating for health through vegetables, fruits and non-processed foods.” It wasn’t until a move to New York City, right at the height of the juicing craze, that McKenna developed an interest in juicing.
She dabbled in making juices that would, for example, boost energy levels when she was tired; or strengthen immunity during an illness. “The whole philosophy behind each one of our juices is to have a specific benefit,” she adds.
McKenna moved to Beijing in 2012. “I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to be doing,” she says. Her boyfriend opened up an art gallery, while she taught yoga and blogged on Yogi In the City. She couldn’t find cold-pressed juice in Beijing, so she again started making her own juice. “I started bringing [juice] to my yoga class … eventually, they started ordering from me!” She immediately sensed a business opportunity.
“I saw what happened in New York. I saw the potential here for juicing—and not only to be healthy. We also have to deal with the pollution, food safety scares. [Beijing] is such a place where you feel health is really, really important,” explains McKenna.
Originally, McKenna envisioned a small juice bar, but Beijing regulations demanded a central kitchen. She then decided to open the Dongzhimen café to serve up Western-style vegan dishes, something not readily available in Beijing. “In a couple of years, I think we’ll see more and more people becoming vegetarian or vegan—or at least, trying to eat less meat.”
Opening up a restaurant in Beijing, however, is not a straightforward business. “I actually have a marketing/business degree,” says McKenna. “But I had no idea what I was getting myself into!” Though there were challenges, she tells us it’s been an “amazing” learning experience. “[Doing] business here in Beijing, you really have to be ready for Plan B … and C, D, E and F.”
One of the biggest obstacles to opening her Dongzhimen branch was just getting government approval. “Licensing was supposed to take three months; it ended up taking almost a year!” The store was ready to go—but no matter how much she begged officials to inspect the store, they were painfully slow in responding—something she learned from and avoided with the Shunyi opening.
McKenna is particularly excited about the Shunyi store—not only is she closer to health-conscious families, she is also able to partner with international schools to encourage healthier attitudes towards food. Already, she had a group of 4th graders stop by and learn more about “power foods” that nourish the body. “Food isn’t the enemy! It should be our friend,” she notes.
The Juice by Melissa empire has steadily grown over the last three years—and now, she’s setting her sights on Hong Kong. By early 2017, a select number of juices should be available in retail shops in Hong Kong. Some of these, she adds, will be familiar to those in Beijing; but she’s hoping to develop a number of Hong Kong-only juices.
“I’m really excited about the next chapter,” McKenna shares. While she always wanted to be an entrepreneur, she never really knew how she was going to accomplish that. But her larger goal, which is promoting a healthy, plant-based lifestyle, obviously meshes well with her business. “I really believe that we’ll see a huge increase in health products, juicing,” she says. We’ve already seen a lot of restaurants pop up which are health-based. It’s just going to keep growing and growing.” McKenna is well placed to encourage this trend in Beijing and beyond.
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