z a c h b e r m a n - t h e j u i c e t r u c k
Our debut Happenstance // interview took place outside the Juice Truck storefront with cofounder Zach Berman. The Juice Truck is Canada’s first cold pressed juice bar, founded in 2011, and is based in Vancouver, BC. You can find the truck parked at the corner of Water and Abbot in Gastown and their storefront at 28 West 5th Ave.
As you will read in our interview, the concept for Juice Truck was conceived in the mountains of Nepal. From there, Zach and cofounder Ryan Slater brought back the principles of community and wellness that they witnessed on their trip to the streets (...and Instagram accounts) of Vancouver. Today, the Juice Truck has created an environment for healthy balance and positive living, and a pretty rad community that goes along with it.
How is your day going so far?
It's a normal day and I'm in a good mood...I'm generally in a good mood!
What are you drinking for breakfast?
I always make a bit of a kitchen sink - I just throw a bunch of superfoods and supplements into a smoothie with some vegetable and today I put some acai in, which is why it’s kind of purple. Usually I put some almond butter in there too.
So is this how your day normally starts, here at the storefront?
Yeah, I usually do some stuff at home in the morning and then I’ll come here, start with a smoothie, and get to work.
Alright so let’s back up a little bit. We all know that the idea for The Juice Truck came from a trip you took with Ryan (Juice Truck co-founder). What made you want to take that trip to begin with and what else did you get out of it?
Myself and Ryan have been friends since we’ve been in elementary school. We met playing soccer and then we went to high school together and we just became really good friends. We went to different universities though, I went to Emily Carr and studied painting and Ryan went to University of Victoria on Vancouver Island and studied city planning. So...nothing juice related.
You mean you didn’t major in juicing?
Surprising right? Maybe some European school has that (laughs). So, we were getting close to graduating and we decided we wanted to take a year off and go travel before we got serious about our careers. We had always worked together at my dad’s small business every summer so we knew that we worked well together, and decided to do that for a year to save up some money to go on a bit of a trip. I don’t even know where the idea came from but we wanted to go to base camp in Nepal. It really started with a Nepal focus and in 2009 we took off and spent about a year in Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. And Ryan’s from South Africa so at the end he went back there. We’ve both always been into health and wellness but when we were trekking in the mountains, the idea for The Juice Truck really started going. We were snowed in in a small town called Manang (in the Annapurna region) which is considered one of the bigger mountain towns. They’ve got a makeshift movie theater that can fit about ten people. It’s a white bed sheet with a projector and they bring out popcorn and play Seven Years in Tibet and movies like that. It was kind of a fun place to get snowed in because we had to wait for the yaks to pack the snow before we could keep going.
While we were there, we noticed that the locals were drinking this really vibrant orange drink that almost looked like Tang or Sunny D. Turns out, it’s this berry called the seabuckthorn berry. Not much grows up at that altitude so the locals were getting a lot of their daily nutrients from this one berry and this one juice. We just thought that was so cool and then started thinking about how many different superfoods were growing in that region that we had never heard of. We started seeking out what the locals were celebrating for nutritional health benefits. Eventually, we finished hiking in Nepal, went to India next, and saw these little hand juice carts everywhere where they juice the fruits and vegetables from hand presses and we quickly got into this ritual of finding the juice cart in whatever town we were in to get our daily dose of nutrients. The same locals pretty much go to the cart every morning - it’s a very community driven, street accessible cart and we could very easily have conversations or acknowledgement with the other locals getting their juice. We just loved the community aspect of it. Whether it was intentional or not, they were creating it.
Seeking out these juice carts really became a part of our travels - both as daily ritual and as purpose of our travels. When we got back, we had the intention of creating something similar to what we had experienced. That meant: food truck, so that we could be street accessible and community driven. But when we launched in 2011, we were the first cold pressed juice bar in Canada. Now there’s like...one on every corner!
We weren’t really aware that we were doing that. At the time, we really just wanted to create something that gave us some of that same joy and pleasure as when we were traveling.
I’ve heard you say community a lot. You’ve definitely curated a community around your company in Vancouver. How much of The Juice Truck community has been intentional and how much of that has just grown organically?
I’d say a little bit of both. We’ve been really conscious of how we wanted to interact with the community from the very start. And we realized that without a community we couldn’t achieve what we wanted to - shifting systems and supporting a healthy group of wellness seekers to a degree and helping to support a lifestyle of active people. We wanted to host events and partner with other businesses that were like minded. In the sense of community being other small businesses and people in the health and wellness industry, it even comes down to looking at where we shop and what food we purchase and what events we go to. We’ve definitely consciously made ourselves part of Vancouver but also, so many of our relationships with both customers and partners have really developed organically.
So you’re telling me you have regulars?
Totally. Like, regulars that started coming the day that we opened over four years ago. They’ve become family to The Juice Truck and now when we have days off I think “I wonder what they’re doing today”. We’re friends with everybody which makes it more special.
Tell me more about your relationship with Ryan.
We’re super lucky because I know in a lot of partnerships people don’t always get along but it’s pretty seamless with Ryan and I. I think it’s because we’ve been friends for so long, we’ve worked together since age 12 at my dad’s and we really just knew going into all of this how we both work. We have an immense amount of respect for each other. And Ryan is very much into logistics, operations, details, finances and I’m...off in the sky (laughs) thinking about business development, community engagement, social media, events, and recipe development. I’m always thinking of a bunch of ideas and Ryan’s the guy that really brings me back down to earth - like, “those two are good ideas and stop thinking about those other ones”.
What’s been the happiest accident that you’ve encountered since starting all of this?
I like that question! I think a lot of our smoothie recipes are definitely happy accidents, just from playing around or doing a recipe wrong. Or, Lauren, who is right behind you, does this food art for our Instagram that’s really whimsical and made out of fruit and vegetable pieces, and that started on her first week with us, even though we’d known her since high school. Anyway, she put this piece of parsley on a cucumber slice and it looked like a cute little face so it was supposed to be silly but now it’s a regular platform for our social media and she’s turned it into her own account, and it’s really one of her passions now. She’s working on doing a kid’s book with fruit art and she’s hosting workshops and so something that was just playful and fun has turned into her purpose.
It really sounds like you guys have made a new little family for yourselves.
Our first five or six team members were all people that we grew up with. My girlfriend works with us, a lot of my best friends work with us, and people always say don’t work with your friends but...we work with a lot of our friends. And it’s working out!
Amazing. Just looking around right now, it seems like the whole team that you’ve built meshes so well with each other. What’s the first thing you notice about people?
I can usually tell on first judgement if the person is being mindful with how they go about their day - there’s a difference between saying something and saying something and actually doing it. If you hear someone talk and they get really excited or you see that smile and spark in their eye, you can tell they’re charged about something and that’s the kind of person I want to work with. If I’m interviewing someone, for example, I ask more personal questions than job experience - their favorite book or movie and how that made them feel or what makes them happy and what gets them excited. I like to know what charges someone more than what they want to portray.
So what makes you happy?
Being in the outdoors for sure. Whenever I go out on a hike or out in nature I just say,“Can I stay here?”. I’m sure at some point I’ll move out of Vancouver and find somewhere in the forest to live although Vancouver is awesome because it’s a hop and a skip from the mountains or the ocean or really anywhere you would want to go. I think as the city grows, a lot of people who are doing stuff here are inspired by the natural landscape of where we live so you see a lot of really cool businesses happening in that sense. Also, family. I love seeing them. And just spending time with people who are important to me. I like movies too.
What’s your favorite movie?
Honestly, it’s usually whatever movie I saw last. But exercise and good food also make me happy. I think finding balance between what you eat, the exercise that you do, and who you hang out with is what makes makes you happiest.
"I think finding balance between what you eat, the exercise that you do, and who you hang out with is what makes makes you happiest."
And do you feel like you’ve found that balance?
Yeah I do. Right now work is fun so it doesn’t feel like I’m out of balance but I’m still always working towards separating my professional and personal life more. I try to make sure to take the time off so I can go hiking every weekend.
Earlier you were talking a lot about the juicing rituals - but what about some of your personal rituals?
I think I really like drinking things...like healthy things though! I love starting and finishing my day with tea. I actually just got into blending tea - so I’ll brew a tea and then mix in some pine pollen or something and blend it in the Vitamix. With all these super-tea elixirs I feel like I’m an alchemist or something! Who knows if it’s actually working but it’s fun. I like to finish the day with a book or a TV show, or something where my imagination can really go places. That totally relaxes me at the end of the day. And I try to go for at least one hike a week! That’s really important to me and really recharges me for the whole week. I think nature is a very liberal and creative space so just being there and seeing where you go naturally (or with for an intention) is really the best. If I don’t get that every week, I’ll be way more stressed at work. It’s funny how that works. Those are my biggest rituals, but if you asked my girlfriend she’d probably know some more of the quirks that I have on a daily basis. Wait, I like the house to be clean (laughs). It’s so much more relaxing to come home to a clean house.
Who do you look up to?
Lots of people (laughs). I look up to a lot of people in our community that are doing awesome things. Like Jian and Alex from The Distrikt, and the people behind Tight Club, Culver City Salad. In more of a figure sense, I look up to Patagonia as a business. I think that’s how businesses have to grow. There’s a local author named J.B. MacKinnon (author of The Once and Future World) and I really look up to him because I think his vision for the world is one that I’d like to see.
And what is that?
Just one of balance with our natural environment. His last book is called The Once and Future World and it talks about the history of nature in its current state and the future of what it can be, it’s really interesting to see the changes of where we are now versus what we need to do. I’ve always been more passive with my environmental views but it’s helped me realize that if we don’t all change, we’re going to be in trouble. I’ve started to be more active in what I talk about and how we grow the business. And as we grow the business we’re trying to have a bigger impact on agriculture and speak more about environmental agriculture impactive work and what free choices mean. He’s just been a huge inspiration. David Suzuki too, obviously, being from here and Paul Watson from Sea Shepherd. There’s so many cool people doing great things!
I’ve heard you talking a lot about purpose and intention too. Would you say the Juice Truck’s purpose mirrors your personal purpose?
100%. It’s funny because we were recently on this retreat where we were working on our personal purposes and mine was “Planting seeds that shift systems, creating personal and environmental balance”. And that’s totally in line with what we’re trying to do with the Juice Truck. We want to support healthy balance and I think if people can find a healthy balance in their personal life, it will naturally balance with the environment too.
“Planting seeds that shift systems, creating personal and environmental balance”
Other than this trip you’ve took, what would you say has been your biggest moment of impact in life that’s changed your perspective?
I guess a couple of things. My dad is a small business owner so from a young age I’ve been inspired to want to pursue my own thing. I became a vegetarian when I was 20, that was a big spark because I think that changed the language I spoke and put a new filter on how I viewed the world. Going to art school was awesome, it helped implement my perspective of thinking constructively and critically.
Do you still paint?
No. I don’t. But once I have the perfect balance in life that’s the first thing I want to start doing. Being Canadian, I like to paint landscapes. Isn’t that what all Canadian artists want to paint? A lot of man’s connection with nature too, like treehouses.
Last question: What is your mantra?
I think definitely that purpose statement I just told you, and always choosing to be happy. You can always wake up with intention. If you wake up and you state your purpose and mood, every day can be a good day. But if you ask Ryan, his response will be totally different. It’s really fun to dive into and discover what your personal purpose is and remind yourself of that regularly. It obviously changes all the time but that’s what I’m resonating with right now.