California-based Movita Juice Bar is now on the rise but traces its origins to one of the lowest points of humanity.

Before the fast casual came to be, one of the founders’ children was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors urged the entire family to eat healthier and change their lifestyle. Taking this advice to heart, he looked to become a franchisee of a juice or smoothie concept. But after roughly a year of conducting research and attending discovery days, he quickly found that most brands were selling the word “health” but didn’t meet his vision of what true healthiness should look like. He was dissatisfied with the 1,200-calorie smoothies, heavy sugar components, and frozen products.

So the duo decided to create their own juice bar, with no goal of becoming a franchise concept. The mission was to create a scientificallyengineered layout featuring a fresh menu and no freezers. Movita, using a tagline of “We are in the business of health. We provide health in a cup (or bowl),” offers a variety of açai bowls, smoothies, and juices. These products are created with fresh and raw veggies and fruits; pure protein without artificial ingredients; organic, kosher, and low glycemic agave nectar; non-pasteurized and non-pre-bottled juices; made-in-house almond milk; and non-GMO and organic açai.

The first unit was 100 square feet but earned $2.2 million in the first 16 months.

“Which is outrageous not just for our industry, but also for that type of square footage,” says chief development officer Jason Steele, who came on board last year to lead franchising and oversee day-to-day operations. “They opened up another one not that much longer. Sales were the same and the whole thought process was like, ‘Hey, we believe there needs to be one of these in every community and every town.’ So over the last five years, six years, that’s what they started doing.”

Neither had a franchising background, so they hired a lawyer in January 2023 to put together an FDD. Steele, who had family in the Los Angeles area, fell in love with the concept after trying the product and researching the restaurant’s history. He brought experience as chief development officer of Primo Hoagies and vice president of global development & real estate at Subway. Steel’s philosophy is to build the brand nationally but at a measured pace. He’s not in the business of chasing royalties or franchisees. In fact, the company doesn’t spend any dollars on franchise sales marketing. Meaning thus far, all current operators learned about the brand as a customer or through word of mouth.

Movita has 17 restaurants, consisting of eight company locations and nine franchises. Of those nine operator-led units, four are new construction and five are refranchised outlets. Eleven stores are under construction and 42 are in development. Top corporate locations are still earning more than $2 million in annual sales.

“For me, it was an opportunity to lead and spearhead a company that I truly believe in,” Steele says. “I’m very health-conscious myself and I just believe that our product is that much superior than the others.  And there’s just a tremendous growth opportunity out there for everybody.”

The brand is aiming to expand in warm states or health-conscious markets—trade areas where customers are already knowledgeable about the products and Movita doesn’t have to overspend on marketing. For instance, Denver, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Oregon, and the Carolinas. Agreements outside of California will be with multi-unit operators that come with a franchising or restaurant management background. More specifically, a group that has the proper capital, infrastructure, and knowledge to control costs. That will be supported by relationships with national food distributors. In other cases, multi-unit operators may rent a commissary to have extra inventory near their shop.

Steele attributes the higher-than-average AUVs to the site selection process, which he believes should be the longest and most meticulous part of the store-opening journey. Movita opts for locales where it can see consistent business from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Also, the back-of-house is organized in a way that facilitates fast ticket times and employees aren’t bumping into each other. As of now, all locations are in-line. The brand prefers to pair itself with a big-time grocery anchor, like Ralph’s, or be near another health-focused entity, such as a yoga studio or gym. Drive-thru will be on the horizon once Movita enters certain markets where the channel makes sense. Stores average 1,100 to 1,400 square feet.

One franchisee signed a seven-unit deal, but Steele wants to keep agreements between two and three stores for now.

“We do have people that are looking to do five, but just being in this industry for as long as I have, typically when people sign up for more than three locations, they never open more than three locations,” he says.

Steele emphasizes that Movita’s exploration of other states isn’t because of California’s new fast-food wage law that raised minimum wage to $20 per hour for quick-service workers. Technically, the rule doesn’t apply to Movita because it’s only for chains with 60 or more units nationwide. The main reason is because of the Golden State’s competitiveness, especially when it comes to better-for-you brands. Movita wants to be with high-quality co-tenants, and it can do that more often by being first to market in particular areas.

The chain also believes it has the product and infrastructure to succeed anywhere.

“That was one of the benefits of us having a handful of company locations because these company locations were in very different demographic markets,” Steele says. “So we were able to make sure that this model worked in different culture areas, geographic areas, and all of that.”

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