Cancer recovery inspires creation of Raw Juce
Barry Rabkin is the founding partner that pushed to bring Raw Juce to life after he says juicing helped him feel “like Superman” during his cancer recovery.
Before getting Raw Juce off the ground, Barry Rabkin wasn’t one of those juice fanatics running around drinking wheatgrass. He was a hedge fund guy, flying from his home in Florida to New York and attending his fair share of steak-centric client dinners.
“I was doing exactly the opposite of what Raw Juce is, a lot of cabs and planes,” said Rabkin. “It was a grind to say the least.”
In January 2009, the grind caught up with him. He woke up one day and noticed a golf ball-size lump on the side of his throat. What initially looked like a cyst turned out to be thyroid cancer. By the time Rabkin went into surgery, the cancer had spread and his recovery was long and unpleasant, to say the least. The drugs to normalize his system left him vacillating between hyper or depressed.
“I was looking for a way to feel better and the doctors weren’t doing that,” said Rabkin. “I got introduced to super foods; that led me to start juicing. I started very basic with a blender and I felt great almost right away. I’m just going to town because I’m feeling like Superman, it was crazy. My body is changing, my energy levels are changing. I found the fountain of youth. I’m 10 to 15 years younger, at least in my mind.”
Doctors were shocked as well, and said he could reduce the frequency of his check-ins. That’s when he started thinking about getting out of finance and into the juice business.
Jeff Levine, a longtime restaurateur and founder of Salad Creations, just happened to live next door to Rabkin. “I’m all over him saying, ‘We have to do this.’ At first, he said I was crazy. But basically anywhere we were in the same place, I attacked him. To his credit, he started doing research,” said Rabkin. “He finally said, ‘Hey, let’s do it.’ And we started putting this thing together.”
After two years of work, they opened the first Raw Juce in Boca Raton, with Levine serving as CEO.
Jeff Levine, who just happened to be Rabkin’s neighbor, serves as CEO of Raw Juce.
“For whatever reason I knew it would be amazing. I didn’t know what that meant though, what amazing meant. I didn’t know what an average Starbucks did, I just knew we had a great concept,” said Rabkin.
Raw Juce clicked with guests, too, and soon the location was doing $3,000 a day, a $1 million run rate. That’s the same, the admitted restaurant newbie learned, as Starbucks.
Within a few years there were nine locations across South Florida and the business metrics kept going in the right direction. The brand added acai bowls and expanded the line of cold-pressed juices and smoothies. Those smoothies and bowls make up 30 percent of sales.
In 2019, Accelerated Franchised Concepts, an affiliate of AP Franchised Concepts, took a minority investment in the business, setting it up to franchise with the guidance of principal and longtime franchise investor Anthony Polazzi.
Polazzi said Rabkin’s incredible founding story is a key factor for the brand.
“It’s crucial to a business that there was a real raison d’etre, one of the key business dynamics is why do you exist,” said Polazzi, emphasizing the passion Rabkin has for the brand. “We can communicate that to customers that this is more than just a place to grab a bite to eat but about adopting a real healthy lifestyle.”
Polazzi, who had worked at Sun Capital on brands such as Bar Louie, Garden Fresh and Smokey Bones before striking out with his own firm, said he saw a trend toward healthier eating align with quality economics.
“What really drew me to the brand, the juice category has been around for quite a long time, but the more organic and truly healthy side of the business is more recent,” said Polazzi. “But the key differentiator is unit volume, they’ve been able to drive an average unit volume of $1.5 million, almost double a typical juice brand.”
That success in South Florida, to Polazzi, means organic juice isn’t just something for major markets such as Los Angeles.
“It won’t have as broad of appeal as someplace like LA, but there’s certainly a huge cohort of people looking for this, and a lot less access in most places,” said Polazzi. “There’s a lot of demand, but not a lot of opportunity.”