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Drought Opens on E. Washington

Juices and cleanses from a quartet of sisters

by Sabine Bickford

From the September, 2017 issue

In 2010, Julie James and three of her sisters all moved back home with their parents in Plymouth while they worked to start their own business. The result of their collective labor, Drought Juice, opened its sixth location at Washington and Fourth Ave. in July.

James and her young daughter were the first to move back in to their parents' home. Her sisters Caitlin, Jessie, and Jenny were all living in New York City. Caitlin had been in the Peace Corps, Jessie was a high-end hairstylist with celebrity clients, and Jenny had just graduated from U-M Dearborn with an art history degree. "We kind of were all having this conversation about wanting to take control of the future," James says. "We wanted to start our own business of some sort."

She says the New York sisters "were like, 'Oh my gosh, there's juice bars on every corner [in NYC], and there's a line out the door, and this is something that's not in Detroit right now.'" They first planned to have just a temporary stand at Detroit's Eastern Market, but then they realized that regulatory issues would eventually require them to have their own production kitchen. "We just thought we'd have a cute little juice stand," James says. "We didn't really think that we would have to become experts in food manufacturing, but inadvertently we did!"

They raised $13,000 in a Kickstarter campaign and installed a $2,500 cold-press hydraulic juicer in their parents' kitchen. Soon, all four were living at home and working on the company full time, often staying up till 3 a.m. perfecting their recipes.

James says her parents were supportive but worried. "My mom was like. 'You guys all went to college, why aren't you getting jobs?' She kept telling us to get jobs. She would cut out job postings and set them on our beds. Now they realize we have a real job."

The sisters caught a lucky break right away. In 2011, the Disney

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movie Oz the Great and Powerful was filming in Pontiac, and Jessie used her celebrity contacts to promote their juices to the film's cast and crew, including actresses Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams. "Some of our first customers were these A-list celebrities, and then a couple people got wind of that, so we got a lot of other custom orders," says James.

By 2012, they had opened their first store in Pontiac. Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, and Royal Oak followed; the company did over $2 million in sales last year, and the sisters have grown into their roles: Julie manages retail and marketing, Jenny is in charge of produce procurement and operations, Jessie oversees their wholesale component, and Caitlin is the CEO.

Drought's "Carrot, Orange, Beet" blend costs $11, a "Cacao Cold Brew Shake" $13. Packages of "cleanses" and "rinses" run $30-$63 per day. "I think that the majority of our clients are people who are aware of the benefits and aware of what it takes to make our product," Julie says. It takes about three to five pounds of certified organic produce to produce a single two-serving bottle, and the more elaborate cold-pressing process and Drought's commitment to paying a living wage (employees make $10-$16 an hour) add to the cost.

Most Drought customers, she says, are already sold on the benefits of their juices, turmeric and ginger shots, and cleanse packages. "People that are not interested in it due to the price, I don't think they'd be interested in it anyway."

Drought, 204 E. Washington, 531-6065. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.    (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2017.]


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