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Arlington-based South Block looks to expand in D.C. area and beyond

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Fueled by its signature açai bowls, local juice bar South Block is hitting a growth spurt.

The smoothie, juice and açai bowl spot opened its newest location in Amazon’s HQ2 in July, marking its 15th storefront in the D.C. area and fifth in Arlington in the last 12 years.

Its founder, Amir Mostafavi, says he has no intentions of slowing down, either. Armed with the company’s first capital raise, he aims to add another 15 locations to the D.C. area while exploring other regions of the U.S., as well.

“I still think there’s there’s opportunities in Arlington County alone, let alone the [D.C. area],” he said. “But, you know, we do we do have aspirations to go into new markets as well.”

ARLnow caught up with Mostafavi to discuss the wave of success South Block is riding and the new course he is charting. He says the key is not growing so quickly the brand loses sight of its mission to make a positive impact on customers, the environment and employees.

“We’re going to grow [South Block] at whatever pace we can keep up with to maintain the same quality of product and company culture, because I’ve seen too many awesome brands fail because they try to grow too fast,” the founder said.

For instance, Mostafavi says he will continue using fair trade açai and will not take shortcuts for cheaper ingredients or labor. The booming popularity of the antioxidant rich fruit in the United States has resulted in cheaper product tied to child labor flooding the market.

Mostafavi also emphasizes leadership development and guest experience because of his negative experiences in the food service industry.

“I really strive, even to this day, for perfection in the quality of the product, but mainly in what we stand for and how we treat our people — the people that work for us [and] the people that come through our doors,” he said.

These are lessons Mostafavi said he and his team learned because South Block got its start in Arlington — which continues to lead the nation as the fittest “city.”

“Customers in Arlington, they know what they’re looking for,” Mostafavi said. “They’re health conscious, and they will ask questions, and so, you know, if you’re trying to take shortcuts or if your product is inferior, I think Arlington customers are very savvy and aware of that.”

Mostafavi started South Block after five years of running a popular juice bar called Campus Fresh at George Washington University. He chose a 700 square-foot space on the south block of a new building at 3019 11th Street N. to house the new business.

“The name ‘South Block’ kind of represents that idea of building a community on your block,” Mostafavi said, referencing the company’s mission.

Mostafavi says he did not open the smoothie shop with expansion plans. About two years in, when lines were stretching out the door, he realized it was time for South Block to grow.

As South Block continued adding locations, Mostafavi considered ways to give back as well.

In 2019, he started the nonprofit Fruitful Planet, which provides fresh produce to people in need. A percentage of all of South Block’s proceeds, are put towards the initiative. The Fruitful Planet Cafe, which operated during pandemic, gave 100% of its proceeds to the nonprofit. Fruitful Planet says it has donated nearly 65,000 pounds of produce.

“Our mission statement is to build healthier communities one block at a time,” Mostafavi said. “So the way I look at that is that’s everyone in our community, not just people that can afford, you know, a $10 smoothie.”

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