Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza.
(Updated at 9:45 a.m. on 2/6/24) A private equity firm has partnered with Arlington-born juice and smoothie bowl shop South Block in a deal that will help the local chain advance its plans to add dozens of locations up and down the East Coast.
South Block owner and founder Amir Mostafavi will stay on as CEO post-acquisition, per a press release announcing the deal. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Mostafavi tells ARLnow he calls this deal a “strategic growth partnership,” as he and the whole South Block team will stay on while Savory Fund will help with its plans to reach 50 locations from the Mid-Atlantic up to the Northeast. The investment fund will also help with business operations, including human resources, finance and accounting, marketing, legal and facilities management.
“First and foremost, we have a great team at South Block already, a great foundation to build on,” Mostafavi said. “We’re excited about growing the business… My team is going to work alongside them and gain knowledge and experience as we’re building our team up in South Block, as we’re continuing to grow.”
Savory’s Managing Partner and Co-Founder Andrew Smith told ARLnow that, when it acquired a majority position in the company, keeping Mostafavi on was a non-negotiable.
“He’s done an incredible job leading this team to the successful level that he has,” Smith said. “He absolutely stands, amongst his peers, way ahead [in] the way that he runs [South Block], and I think it’s because he’s been patient: He hasn’t worried really about growing as fast as he can. He’s been growing as methodically as he can.”
Mostafavi started South Block with its first location in Clarendon, naming the company after its position on the south side of the block, near Trader Joe’s. As the juicery added locations, all within the D.C. area, Mostafavi started searching for a capital partner in 2022 to help him continue to expand the business.
“We’ve done what I think is a great job getting us to 15 locations and we could probably navigate on our own getting to 50, but to have a partner that… has your back, that will support you and that you can learn from just makes the journey feel a lot more relaxed and attainable,” Mostafavi said. “Any time as an entrepreneur that you can try to reduce some of the pressure and stress, that’s a good thing.”
Mostafavi says he was drawn to the Savory Fund after their initial introduction.
“They’re just great people, they genuinely care about the founder of their portfolio brands, the culture and that’s what they go looking for is brands that have a great fan base, a great company culture, that are founder driven, that put people first and that’s what I was looking for,” he said.
The Utah-based investment group says it “specializes in taking fast casual and polished casual food and beverage concepts” and scaling them “into 30-unit+ powerhouse brands.” Smith, Savory Fund’s co-founder, told ARLnow he wants to maintain South Block’s cult following amid the planned expansion.
“More important than scale, where we add dozens more units, we want to grow the business from within and make sure that we grow the base of our cult following and the locations we currently have,” he said.
By focusing on South Block’s leadership ranks and its business processes, he said, Savory Fund will help it “continue to maintain the great business that it is and continue to maintain the cult following that we have within South Block, and continue to maintain that leadership presence, especially in the Northeast.”
In 2016, a franchise location of the California-based superfood café opened in Rosslyn on the ground floor of 1515 Wilson Blvd, between Presidential Bank and a dentist’s office.
The interior of Vitality Bowls Arlington is now empty and the phone number is not in service. The Rosslyn location is no longer listed on the company’s website and Google marks the location as “permanently closed.”
The restaurant served organic smoothies, juices, salads and paninis and specialized in açaí bowls.
The café sat less than a half-mile from South Block, an Arlington-born smoothie and açaí shop that is enjoying substantial growth and looking to expand throughout the D.C. region. The South Block Rosslyn outpost opened in 2019 and is one of 15 locations total, with four others operating in Arlington.
Vitality Bowls did not respond to a request for comment.
With the Rosslyn franchise closed, there are no other Vitality Bowl locations in Virginia. The brand, founded in 2011, recently added several locations throughout the U.S., with most of its outposts in California.
(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.”
An Arlington-based smoothie chain is now offering giveaways over the next month for federal employees feeling a squeeze from the seemingly interminable government shutdown.
South Block will now hand out free regular smoothies every Friday between now and March 1. All you have to do to claim one is show a valid federal government ID.
The smoothie and juice shop has been blending up drinks at its original Clarendon location (3011 11th Street N.) for years now, and also operates stores in East Falls Church, Alexandria, Vienna and some neighborhoods in D.C. South Block will also be opening locations in Rosslyn and at the Ballston Quarter development in the coming months.
The company has even recently partnered with a Georgetown-based coffee roaster, Grace Street Coffee, to offer some caffeinated beverage options alongside its normal drink selection at the chain’s Clarendon location.
South Block is far from the only local business offering deals for government employees across the region.
The salad chain Sweetgreen has also been offering giveaways, and even recently announced it would be handing out free signature bowls to federal employees this Saturday (Jan. 26) from 6-8 p.m.
Pulp Juice and Smoothie Bar has temporarily closed in Virginia Square — but that closure could someday become a bit more final.
The smoothie shop neighbored Extreme Pizza in retail space below the Virginia Square Towers apartments at 3444 Fairfax Drive.
The store closed for the season last Wednesday (Oct. 31) after losing $250,000 since it opened last year, a principal agent of the franchise for Pulp Juice and Smoothie told ARLnow, adding that the smoothie shop may come back to the space in March or close permanently.
The store had cash flow issues as it struggled with brand recognition in the area, he said.
Pulp Juice and Smoothie was a five-minute walk away from competitors Tropical Smoothie Cafe and JRINK. In addition to smoothies, the Arlington location sold cold wraps, side bowls, salads and fresh juices.
The Ohio-based company’s opening in Virginia Square last March marked the first store in Virginia for the franchise. Pulp Juice and Smoothie’s website lists 30 locations — one in Pennsylvania, one in South Carolina and 28 in Ohio.
A new shop serving up smoothies, coffee and “superfood” recently opened in the lobby of an office building in Clarendon.
The Waterhouse Coffee and Juice Bar debuted last Tuesday (Oct. 30) with a soft opening for the office building tenants to sample the food and drink, Connie Kim, the owner and manager, told ARLnow.
Located at 3033 Wilson Blvd, customers use the street entrances on Wilson Blvd and N. Garfield Street or the sliding doors in the lobby of the office building to reach Waterhouse.
The tenants have come back since the soft opening, Kim said. While Kim said she is familiar with tenant customers from her first and, now-closed, business in the building shared by CNN and the U.S. Department of Education, these customers surprised her.
“I never knew tenants could be this intimate and regular,” she said.
The menu spans hot and cold coffee and teas to smoothies and freshly squeezed juice for drinks. The “natural fruit smoothies” are made from ice and fruit juice, while the “power boost smoothies” pack in about seven different ingredients, Kim said. Food options include toasts, salads, sandwiches, acai bowls and all-day breakfast.
“I wanted to do really good coffee, really good juice and smoothie bars, where it’s a very comfortable place,” Kim said.
The name “Waterhouse” popped into her head while sitting in an airport about four years ago, Kim said. Initially, she wanted to open a taco place, but then decided a coffee shop would be a better fit for the space by the Clarendon Metro station. Previous establishments at the space include a cafe and deli known for its vegan sandwiches and an Italian hoagie and Mediterranean food shop.
Waterhouse seats about 15 people inside the shop, with an additional 15 seats in the lobby. Kim plans to have four tables outside in the spring.
The shop is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.
Bryce Harper Sightings — There have been a number of sightings of Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in Clarendon in recent days. In addition to his Clarendon activities — two people claim to have seen him on separate days at smoothie shop South Block — Harper has been busy on the baseball field, setting an MLB record for runs in the month of April. [Twitter]
Gutshall Endorsed by GGW — The urbanist website Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Erik Gutshall for Arlington County Board in the upcoming Democratic caucus, calling him “thoughtful and insightful.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Northam, Perriello in Ballston — Democratic candidates for governor Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello were in Ballston last night for a progressive forum. Technical difficulties cut off part of Northam’s appearance from the forum’s livestream video. [Blue Virginia]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
A Pulp Juice and Smoothie Bar is moving into the storefront at the Virginia Square Towers at 3444 Fairfax Drive. Signs advertising the new eatery went up recently.
A look through the Ohio-based company’s menu reveals a long list of smoothies in flavors such as “pulp fusion,” “peach beach” and “orange chill.” The cafe also sells wraps, which can be filled with ingredients like spicy turkey, tuna and peanut butter.
The business is slated to open within weeks, according Pulp Juice and Smoothie founder Tom Knepp.
“We are hoping to open in the first or second week of March,” he said. “We are just waiting on some of our proprietary products to get in.”
This is the first Pulp Juice and Smoothie in Virginia.
Photo by Buzz McClain
The Ballston location of the health food chain Protein Bar has closed and apparently plans to relocate.
The shop, which specialized in smoothies, raw juices and healthy food choices, cut its hours in February to lunchtime only. Its location on the ground floor of 800 N. Glebe Road, next to Mussel Bar, opened in January 2013 but did not get the traffic Protein Bar CEO and founder Matt Matros had in mind. It was the eighth location for the Chicago chain, and third in the D.C. area.
“While we were excited to serve the customers of Ballston,” Matros told ARLnow.com in an email, “we weren’t pleased with our specific location and have decided to relocate the store. Because the other lease is not quite final, I can’t comment yet on the location.”
As Protein Bar closes, the first Arlington location of gourmet pizza shop Pizza Vinoteca plans to open next door by the end of the month, a spokeswoman said in an email.
The new Sweet Leaf Cafe in Courthouse quietly opened its doors this past weekend and handed out free food to customers who stopped in. Now, the restaurant is officially open for business.
Sweet Leaf Cafe moved in at 2200 Wilson Blvd, formerly occupied by Hikaru Sushi. It is the third location, with others in McLean and Vienna. Owner Arita Matini said she’s been wanting to expand into Arlington for a while.
“I love the young environment here, it’s so refreshing,” she said.
Matini believes the cafe stands out because it doesn’t specialize in just one food item. Customers can pick up a little bit of everything, including sandwiches, smoothies, coffee or all day breakfast items. There is also a kids menu and a variety of freshly baked treats.
“We try to do a little bit of everything but also try to keep it simple. We care about providing really good quality food and being part of the community,” said Matini. “Customer service is really big for me. I want to be sure that everyone who comes in is really happy when they leave.”
Matini grew up in Northern Virginia and was an interior design major at Marymount University. She was inspired to get into the restaurant business during her commute to and from Marymount because she felt there were too many chain restaurants in the area. She sought help from her mom, who owns Sweet Stuff in McLean. Matini says all the members of her family now play some role at Sweet Leaf Cafe.
“It wasn’t really something that we thought we were going to do, it was one of those things that kind of just happened. We all loved it and it was successful and we wanted to open another one,” said Matini. “My parents definitely helped me out. Without them, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
From the couches in the lounge area to the doorknobs functioning as coat hooks to the pieces of an old chicken coop serving as a holder for bags of chips, Matini’s interior design education shows through. She travels around the area searching for unique antiques to adorn the restaurant. She describes the vibe as “farm fresh, country, like your mother’s home.” The free sunflower seeds placed on the table for customers to munch on also add to the country feel.
If things go well with the new location, Matini would like to expand into other areas of Arlington, such as Rosslyn. She hopes to have a grand opening celebration in a few weeks. Until then, the staff will continue serving the curious customers who have been steadily coming in.
“It’s been a good welcome to the neighborhood,” said Matini. “Everybody’s been really nice and welcoming.”
A new restaurant is coming to Virginia Square. “Coming Soon” signs have gone up for a Tropical Smoothie Cafe at 3811 Fairfax Drive.
The chain restaurant highlights its use of fresh, simple ingredients. Fresh fruit and turbinado sugar are used in the smoothies, and the wraps, salads and sandwiches are also made with healthy ingredients.
Patrick McKiernan, Area Developer for Northern Virginia, Maryland and DC, said two partners who recently graduated from William and Mary College in Williamsburg were interested in bringing the franchise to the metro area. They liked what they saw in Virginia Square.
“They liked the mix of business and residential there, and the proximity to the Metro,” McKiernan said. “It’s our first location near a Metro, so we’re anxious to see how it goes.”
McKiernan stresses that the restaurant is more than just a place to grab a smoothie; the sales are about 50 percent smoothies and 50 percent food. He thinks the sandwiches, wraps and salads will bring in a good lunch crowd, while the focus on fresh foods will bring in those seeking health conscious options.
McKiernan says they’re pretty early on in the process, and hope to start construction next month if all the permits are obtained quickly. He said it’s tough to estimate an opening until things move along a little further, but he’s guessing sometime during the summer.
There are a number of Tropical Smoothie Cafes throughout Northern Virginia, but this will be the first location in Arlington.