Sourcing its menu of nine seasonally rotating juices, 11 smoothies (even a BYO option) and an assortment of homemade beverages and snacks from area farms such as McKlug, Spence and Ellis, Real Good Juice Company knows how to keep it fresh, friendly and fitness-forward. New York City finance bad-boy-turned-health-entrepreneur, John Schiff, and his culinary cousin, Gabe Lava, are the masterminds behind the new cafe, which boasts approachable vibes and a clean aesthetic more similar in feel to the West Coast than the North. Still the new kid on the block since having opened just shy of a year ago on August 14, 2014, Real Good Juice Company has already achieved fledgling success and a warm welcome from the Chicago neighborhood it calls home.
It’s fresh, it’s tasty, it’s real — real good. Meet Real Good Juice Company, the latest health-conscious hotspot feeding Old Town’s fitness frenzy. Located just down the street from Soul Cycle and Second City on Wells St., Real Good Juice Company brings its own quirky brand of Cali juicing to the Windy City.
CUSP Magazine sat down with owner John Schiff to discuss nutrition, Tupac and what succulent surprises Real Good Juice Company has in store for Chicago in coming months.
Q&A – CUSP Maganize & Real Good Juice Company
CUSP Magazine: Can you share your backstory and how you got into juicing and smoothies?
John Schiff: I was a trader for 10 years — equity, futures and options. I was a strategist at a hedge fund, but I was never passionate about my job. I wanted to take on a career that I saw more value in, something that excited me and the people around me.
Before I lived here, I lived in Los Angeles. I would do a beach run every day and go surfing and then go for a juice or smoothie. Can’t do the surfing here, but I can run on the beach or ride my bike or check out Flywheel or Soul Cycle. For me the thing that was missing was locally sourced, organic, cold pressed juice. Real smoothies. That is really what we are trying to do here, have another outlet for people in Chicago to eat healthy.
CM: How did you end up in Chicago, and what makes it a great city for your company?
JS: I grew up in Chicago and came back home for a job. I quit that job to do this … From a culinary perspective, Chicago has strong roots in food. There’s a huge movement right now, in Chicago and across the country, on locally sourced product … there’s a network for that in Chicago. What we are seeing now is more places opening up — juice bars, wellness hubs — which is great for the city. We need diversity.
CM: What differentiates Real Good Juice Company from other juice bars and health food cafes?
JS: We make a big emphasis on local and organic — and flavor. [My cousin Gabe Lava and I] spent the year prior to opening developing the flavor profile. We wanted to — and I think we do a good job of it — create blends that are tasty and good for you, that you want to drink. If you don’t drink green juice, you will be surprised because you’ll like ours.
What we are trying to do is a really simplistic, clean aesthetic and design. But with the names and even the name of the brand, [we try to] not take ourselves so seriously. We are just a juice bar, which is in large part where the name comes from. We serve Real Good Juice (laughing). Pretty simple.
CM: How did you launch your professional relationship with your cousin?
JS: Gabe was traveling the world, and I was barely out of my job. We Skyped, then we got into the test kitchen, which was my apartment … and we developed from there. He knows flavors very, very well and this is the lifestyle I live, so the collaboration was very seamless.
There were many curves and a lot of back and forth. We tried to do a V8 that didn’t work so well. We tried to do a lot of things that didn’t work so well … We have 10,000-15,000 labels that are sitting in storage right now for juices that we spent money on haphazardly and will probably never sell that taste really good, but there is a lot of sugar and despite them being good tasting, they aren’t necessarily good for you. We were learning. We didn’t know that at the time. We were just excited that it tasted great.
CM: How do you maintain nutritional integrity in your juices?
JS: We worked with Laura Oliver, a registered dietitian at Rush, on each individual juice so all the juices were approved throughout the process … If there was too much sugar, we would rework the recipe, caloric intake and necessary fiber.
And our cleanses are different from most cleanses out there. We really focus on maintaining a diverse diet … What Laura has developed is a cleanse that starts each day with a smoothie, which is the necessary fiber facilitating the expulsion of toxins, followed by five juices, which is a concentrate of antioxidants and nutrients. We offer a three and a five day. On the fourth and fifth day we introduce a salad — a raw salad — that’s again more fiber but also, it’s a transition. So you’re not wanting to eat your hand, but you are able to transition from just juicing, to smoothie, to eating a raw, healthful diet.
John Schiff – “So the biggest challenge is building an environment and a family of people who care about and have passion about being involved in a project. Its really what we continue to do as we try to grow, and as we try to grow its to find people who really care and want to be involved.”
CM: Which is your most popular juice? Do you have a personal favorite?
JS: One of our most popular right now is Juicepac Shokur — it’s a great beginner green, it’s a sweeter green, meaning that there is a little more apple. There are 11 grams of sugar in 8 ounces. [My] personal favorite at the time is Silky Smooth Sounds of Sonny Sanderson’s Saxophone. It’s a mouthful. We think names are only as funny if they have a backstory. The name for the Silky Smooth is kind of a joke … how do you make it so ridiculous that no one wants to say it — but you applaud people that do?
JS: I think we built a really strong culture here, meaning the people here are the backbone of what we are doing, and the community is too. A continual [challenge] thing — and I think we are doing a very good job of it — is hiring people who really believe in what we are doing and are interested in what we are doing and want to be involved. So the biggest challenge is building an environment and a family of people who care about and have passion about being involved in a project. Its really what we continue to do as we try to grow, and as we try to grow its to find people who really care and want to be involved.
CM: What is next for Real Good Juice Company?
JS: We are just working on a new seasonal. The Juice Lee is going off the menu. We are going to be doing a little bit more with strawberry and rhubarb. We have a great one with strawberry, ginger, lemongrass and Thai basil coming out called Two Redheads in Thailand, so stay tuned … and short term we are going to be rolling out one to two more locations in the next year. In the next five years, I suspect we will be outside of the city of Chicago. I don’t think there is enough focus across the country on what we are doing and locally sourced produce. There is a lot of opportunity for us in those markets, but I’d still like to maintain the neighborhood experience.
CM: What, if any, collaborations have you had more recently that have been exciting?
JS: We are doing a very cool thing with one of our farmers, FarmedHere — the largest Aquaponics farm in the country. They do an amazing product … They do arugula, kale, a lot of microgreens. We are working on a couple of juice blends together with them. We also do profiteering with charities: the Jay Cutler Foundation, Action for Healthy Kids. It’s a continual process where we keep rotating donation outlets.
To get your daily dose of juice and humor, check out Real Good Juice Company at 1647 North Wells St. in Old Town or follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/realgoodjuiceco and Instagram: @realgoodjuiceco!