When most people think about drinking their fruit and veg, they imagine models in California skipping meals or yogi’s – not a Winston-Salem native who grew up on fried chicken, making home deliveries in her truck. But that’s who Lonnie Atkinson, founder and owner of Village Juice, is. Here, she tells WFUStyle how keeping farming local and new technological innovations in the kitchen are developing her business to front a healthier southern lifestyle.
A: How did you first get involved in juicing?
L: It started when I moved to California back in 2006, everyone there is super heath conscious and I had struggled with some of my own digestive issues my whole life. I had bad skin and terrible digestion, so I started reading a lot of books about veganism, and then found raw food. I ended up working for a raw food restaurant in Northern California on the side and became obsessed. You start feeling the effects immediately – my skin cleared up and my digestion was so much better. All the foods I was putting into my body really regulated everything and made me feel amazing.
A: Have you always been such a health nut?
L: I grew up in North Carolina eating Southern Staples like biscuits with gravy and fried chicken on a frequent basis, so no (laughs). You know, there just wasn’t much awareness about healthy eating, and in California everyone is super into the healthy lifestyle. I want to try to bring that here.
A: Are other people in your family as focused on raw foods?
L: Not at first! When I was there (California) I was telling my parents about it and they said “Oh sure, okay, you’re just out there in hippy land”, but then my mom got diagnosed with cancer and heart disease. She called me and said, “So that stuff you’re doing, would that help me?” And I said absolutely! Finally people want to listen! There were tons of people that worked at the restaurant who all had their own disorders and healed themselves through the raw food, so I was watching all these people and learning so much. I moved home to take care of my Mom and put her on a raw food plan. We did three weeks of a really strict diet with all raw foods. Her results were amazing – she lost 10 pounds, her cholesterol went down 100 points, her skin was better, she had more energy, she slept better – all of these things! She always says, “I never knew I felt that bad until I felt that good!”.
A: You’ve said you wanted to encourage a healthier lifestyle for Southerners, how do you aim to achieve that with your brand?
L: I would love to grow into doing more events with people who care about the same thing, because this is a lifestyle. Its not just a fad where you do this one thing and then it goes away. It’s building a life around eating with healthy working out and making it fun – building a group of like-minded friends. I would like to help build that community here, because there really isn’t that much of one. I love Carolyn who works at Pure Barre, and we do a lot of cool events together. I think what she’s offering is in line with the type of lifestyle we at Village Juice Company try to create and cultivate in Winston Salem. I think both our companies marry well in that respect.
A: What makes your juices different from other juices readily available in supermarkets?
L: We are different from them because our product is not High Pressure Processed (HPP), ours are just cold-pressed. Theirs are cold-pressed and then they go through another processing cycle to extend their shelf life, but by doing that you loose a lot of the live enzymes and nutrients. A lot of them also add chemicals for taste so it just ends up being like simple syrup. It kills most of the stuff that’s so good for you. That’s why ours only has a 3-5 day shelf life, because it’s full of live stuff. I also think you can taste the difference because of the freshness of it. Live juice dies young.
A: That must be a speedy process if you have to ship the vegetables first.
L: We also try to only use local farmers so we can support the local economy here, getting people the freshest ingredients. We’re trying to limit our carbon footprint while our produce stays fresher longer and the juice stays more alive, so it’s better for your body.
A: All of the juice names are so fun – is there a process behind that?
L: I mean some of them have real meaning behind them and some of them are just fun plays on words we came up with. Like “Feisty Rabbit”. We almost named the company that, it’s just about being feisty and spicy with the carrot. We love that. We have two milks that are named after my stepdaughters: Moose and Ella-Berry. Moose is Maggie Moose, she’s our middle daughter, and Ella is the oldest. I have a new one named “Edie-Beets” because I have a three year old named Edie.
A: You hand deliver all your juices to customer’s homes which is amazing but must get tiring. Will you open up a store?
L: We’re currently exploring several avenues to make our juices permanently available on campus, but for now we’ve been doing fun events on campus where we sell juices and do tastings on the Quad. We’ll be on campus at Wake’s Earth Day Fair on Wednesday, and your WFUStyle Loves Our Locals event on Friday! We are also always selling juices every Friday morning at the Reynolda Village Farmers Market and Saturday mornings at the Cobblestone Farmers Market in Old Salem.
A: Do you worry about loosing that personal connection if you stop hand delivering?
L: I do worry about that. I want to make the right decision, and my husband thinks I shouldn’t be the one making the home deliveries, but I love learning from my customers! We are also a pretty new business so I want to make that relationship and be there to answer the customer’s questions. That’s how you grow and get better. I also think it (the upcoming store) will be a great place to build on the Winston Salem community and to build on my brand, because it’s a lifestyle, and will be very social. It’s going to be a really cool space.
A: What advice would you give to students interested in nutrition?
L: I remember being in college and how hard it is to make good, healthy decisions. It’s about finding a balance. The juices combine nutrition with ease and they taste so good. You don’t have to ask a lot of questions: it’s all raw and organic. It’s just a way to get really nutritious food which is important to give natural clarity and to just, you know, get you what you need so you have lots of energy! When I was that age, I knew nothing about nutrition. I wish I had someone who could give me a juice bottle and explain all the benefits.
– Abigail Donaldson, Blog Manager