With everyone seemingly out of town for long stretches of time, she’d have plenty of time to get settled before the school year started and throngs of Tam High and Middle School students descended in droves on her shop – located in the 45 Camino Alto building in the space that formerly housed Jamba Juice.
But while Johnson’s Juice Girl opened quietly right before school let out in June, business has boomed, apparently feeding a hefty appetite for her products that had built up over the past nine months when she was selling them out of the Yolo Yogurt Lounge on Miller Avenue. From Mean Green and Clean Green juices to Dandy Apple and Blueberry Detox smoothies, Juice Girl has hit a nerve, despite an increasingly crowded juice space in the 94941, from Urban Remedy to the soon-to-debut Nekter in Strawberry Village.
“Business has been really great,” Johnson says. “We’ve been getting loads of traffic – and it’s all been word of mouth.”
Being busy right out of the gate – all while dealing with the myriad logistics of getting a new business off the ground – has meant 14- to 16-hour days for Johnson.
“It’s been truly exhausting,” she says.
And rewarding – in addition to the fans she brought over from her days at Yolo, Johnson, a native of New Hampshire, has recently welcomed a bevy of new faces, including a group of Mill Valley firefighters – and even a movie star. Colin Firth, whose 2010 film, The King’s Speech screened on opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival and later garnered Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor, stopped into Juice Girl last weekend to have a juice, as they were staying with Johnson and her family.
“They’re dear friends of ours,” she says.
Firth and his wife Livia Firth, a well known advocate for environmental causes in the fashion industry, are close friends of Melora and her husband Rod, as their children went to school together in London, where the Johnsons lived for eight years before they moved to Mill Valley in 2012.
Rod Johnson, a longtime Oracle executive, was transferred to the Bay Area and now makes the Mill Valley-to-Silicon Valley commute. As Melora Johnson adjusted to life with three kids (ages 9, 13 and 14) in a brand new town (“we just fell in love with the place,” she says), she was drawn to the idea of Juice Girl.
“I was appalled by the diets of a lot of kids and teenage kids – I was shocked,” she says of her first few months in Mill Valley. “In some ways, this is my attempt to fight that and show that food can be really good and still be good for you.”
Surprised that Mill Valley didn’t “have a really good, fresh, organic juice bar” at the time, she bought a pricey press to do cold-pressed juices, and connected with Karen Kauh. Johnson began renting Kauh’s kitchen in the early mornings.
Word of Juice Girl at Yolo spread quietly but steadily.
“We developed a very loyal following,” she says. “The location was funny – you had to really know I was there to know I was there.”
As Johnson was preparing to move her operation over the Sweetwater Music Hall & Café in the spring, she got word that Jamba Juice was closing, and she leapt at the chance.
“I signed a lease almost right away,” she says.
Since opening, Johnsons says she’s received plenty of feedback, much of it from kids about making the menu more affordable. She’s made some minor tweaks to do so without compromising the quality of the products. She's also added food items like avocado on toast and the "Nutty Banana Square," bread lathered in almond or peanut butter with sliced bananas and cinnamon.
“I’ve tried to strike that balance between not wanting to feed them junk but wanting them to afford what I have,” she says. The minor changes have included expanding the menu of fruit smoothies, which are less expensive to make than green smoothies.
With the school year set to start, Johnson is catching her breath for a minute and readying herself for the onslaught of students.
“It’s been amazing so far,” she says.
The 411: Juice Girl is located at 45 Camino Alto, Suite 104. It’s open Mon.-Fri. 8am-5pm, Sat.-Sun. 9am-5pm. 415.322.6160. Click here for more info and click here for the daily menu.