January juice cleanses have become a post-holiday tradition, and this year should be no exception. Almost everyone is anxious to be rid of 2020, both literally and figuratively. “We’d all like to cleanse 2020 from our systems,” says FJ Leto.
Leto especially. His Ardmore-based company, Juice Dr., was finding its niche selling cold-pressed, raw, organic juices around the region and elsewhere. Business was great—until the pandemic. When the virus forced the bars, restaurants and other outlets he supplied to close, his wholesale business evaporated. Subscription deliveries also came to a halt. This past April, Juice Dr.’s sales had plummeted 90 percent.
Leto was faced with two choices: Close the company and reopen after life returned to normal, or double down on his business. He chose the latter, returning to his subscription business as people’s fears of COVID contamination on packaging subsided. By July, sales were up over the previous year, even without the wholesale business. “We did it just with subscription deliveries, which is what I wanted to do in the first place,” says Leto.
Juice Dr. offers subscription-based “immunity boxes” with juices and organic produce. Leto sells the same items at Blue Pearl Cafe, the Ardmore eatery he opened this past August. He also has an immunity line of pre-made meals available as part of the subscription service and for pick-up at Blue Pearl. “The overwhelming consensus from customers is that, while they want to eat plant-based foods, they don’t have time to cook them,” he says.
Juice Dr. is also expanding access to its Life Cleanse program, which combines juice, food, mindfulness programs and other elements. “It’s intense and not for everyone,” says Leto. “But it’s a great way to push the reset button.”
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The longtime vegan made plant-based diets the backbone of Juice Dr. when he founded the company in 2014. He created his first product, the aptly named Genesis juice, for HubBub, a now-defunct Philadelphia coffee business owned by Drew Crockett, one of his Episcopal Academy classmates. From there, Leto expanded his lineup to include other blends, also adding the home subscription service. “He doesn’t have it in him to do business just to make money,” says Leto’s wife, Monika Brass. “His purpose is to help people.”
Leto and Brass met in 2010 at a meditation center in Berkeley, Calif. Brass was there for what she thought would be a side trip before getting her master’s degree and pursuing a career in international relations. “I planned on staying for a few months, but I stayed for a few years,” she says.
While Brass doesn’t have an official role with the company, Juice Dr. is a direct reflection of the life she’s built with Leto. Both follow plant-based diets and incorporate meditation (among other wellness practices) into their daily routines. Now a meditation and yoga instructor, Brass works with Haverford’s Prana Das Yoga and physicians like Dr. Georgia Tetlow of Philadelphia Integrative Medicine in Wayne. Her focus is on mindfulness and healthy living, which is Leto’s overarching goal for Juice Dr. “You could say it’s a mindfulness-based business,” says Brass.
When it launched, Juice Dr.’s direction became slightly skewed. The success of the HubBub private label prompted Leto to pursue the wholesale end, and he landed deals with White Dog Cafe and Ohio’s Bubbles Tea & Juice Company (which operates multiple locations in the Columbus area). Leto quickly found himself packing refrigerated trucks with juices and sending them to the Midwest. Wholesale customers need products with a long shelf life, and that requires pasteurization, eliminating the 100-percent fresh aspect of the juice. “I did it, and that became a huge part of my business—not by design or even by desire,” Leto admits. “But if I didn’t take the opportunities that were right in front of me, I’d have been killed by my competitors.”
These days, Leto’s business plan is realigned with his original vision. Brass, for one, chalks Juice Dr.’s recent rejuvenation to karma. “Believe in what you do and try to help people, and it usually works out for the best,” she says.