“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Genesis 1:29
The idea for Wellness+Connections grew out of an increased understanding of the role that nutrition plays in our health and the reality that truly awesome sources of nutrition are few and far between. Melissa and David Harrison are the founders of Wellness+Connections.
The Harrisons, along with their four sons, started the journey into healthy food when David stumbled into a Pinkberry frozen yogurt store in New York City on a rainy February night in 2007. “I was on a business trip and saw a line of people waiting to get in a store. I thought I would check it out, so I jumped in the line and had a cup of the best frozen yogurt and fresh fruit I had ever tasted,” said David. “I had a retail building in Maryland that I thought would be well-suited to just such a frozen yogurt shop, so I asked Melissa what she thought about trying it out,” David continued.
“I said, it sounds fine to me,” Melissa inquired, “but why are you going into the food business?” David shared with me that after twenty years in the apparel, retail and textile industries, he figured that Amazon was going to dominate consumer products retail and he thought that being in the fresh, natural food business might be a good direction for the future, so we did it. That was more than a decade ago,” Melissa said.
Together, the couple built a small chain of upscale frozen yogurt stores in Maryland and Delaware with stores in the Baltimore area and the Delmarva (Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach). A quick success selling the highest quality probiotic yogurt in a boutique setting soon ran head-on into the explosion the self-serve concept yogurt shops. The make-your-own froyo shops offered multiple flavors made from a powder and water mix that lacked the health benefits of real probiotic yogurt. The Harrison’s considered pivoting from their “Pinkberry-style” boutique model to a “Sweet Frog-style”, self-serve model (kids pulling the handles and making their own concoctions), but it didn’t feel right. The multi-flavored self-serve froyo product didn’t meet their nutrition standards and the thought of little kids pulling the handles on eight $25,000 frozen yogurt machines in each store seemed like a bad idea. That’s when they discovered juicing.
“At the time we weren’t sure what to do with that business. Our plan had been to open about eight locations and then sell the business or maybe become the frozen yogurt retail consolidator in the mid-Atlantic,” Melissa added. “Then one weekend one of our sons was visiting our home in Maryland. He is a competitive athlete and he said ‘Why don’t we make some juice! ‘ So we hauled out a juicer we had buried in the cabinet and we made some fresh juice. “After a couple of days of making raw juice, I noticed that my asthma was getting better,” Melissa said. “Melissa’s asthma had been getting increasingly worse and we were worried that none of the medicines she was using were working. Her asthma attacks were becoming dangerous and life-threatening… we were scared,” David said.
After just two days of making juice, Melissa was feeling better and their youngest son, who was seven years old at the time, kept asking for more of the raw juice. Making raw juice for an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening was a real hassle for the Harrisons, but it was working and that’s when David and Melissa decided they could integrate juicing into their frozen yogurt business. Within a couple of weeks David had opened two centrifugal juice bars inside two of their frozen yogurt shops. “I realized very quickly that for this to be a successful business we would have to make a juice every 4 minutes. That meant we would need a line out the door like a Starbucks. That meant we would need new and more expensive locations. The business model wasn’t going to work, but the juice itself was working great for us. Everyone loved it and Melissa was healing rapidly,” David said. That’s when the Harrison’s discovered cold-pressed raw juicing.
When they first started, making juice twice a day at home was a huge mess. Buying the organic produce, cleaning everything, making the juice and then cleaning up the mess was a real hassle, but the results were undeniable; more energy – better weight control – reduced inflammation. The juice was powerful but the mess was a little overwhelming. “As the saying goes, we may have been surrounded by a mess, but I knew there was a pony in here somewhere,” David said as he broke out laughing. Melissa and David got in their car and drove to every juice bar they could find. Sampling every juice and every recipe and for the most part they decided that they could make better tasting, fresher juice than anything they had come across from Boston to Bethesda. So they purchased their first cold-pressed juicing machine on Craig’s list and started offering advance orders on 3-Day Juice Cleanse Events every other week.
Melissa tells the story of launching their online juice business at JuiceFresh.net. “I’ll never forget it. We set-up a website to take 3-Day Juice Cleanse orders and sent out about 3,000 emails to our mailing list. We were sitting on the bed with a laptop in Fenwick Island at the time. The first email went out and almost instantly the orders started coming in. Every time we got an order the computer would make a ‘DING!’ sound. It kept dinging and David and I just looked at each other and said ‘Cold-pressed juice… this is going to work!'”, Melissa explained.
That was the start of a company called JuiceFresh which now delivers raw, organic juice and 3-Day Juice Cleanses to 21 states offering direct-to-home shipping. Being in the healthy food business exposed the Harrisons to the greater health and wellness community. The store attracted people from all over who were searching for the freshest organic juices and food and seeking a healthier lifestyle. Juicing is clearly a lot of work and thousands of customers rely on JuiceFresh to do the work for them.
“Wellness+Connections was born out of the simple idea that the cornerstone of good health is nutrition”, said David. “Melissa has been the main catalyst behind the idea that the connection between fitness and wellness truly requires a strong healthy foods component that is lacking in most communities due to the difficulty of managing freshness,” he continued. “When David wrote the original business plan for JuiceFresh he titled it ‘Optimized To Freshness‘. Many juice companies chose to avoid genuine raw, organic juicing due to the speed challenges in manufacturing and distribution. We stayed true to the fresh vision from the beginning and that’s why so many JuiceFresh customers drink our truly fresh, non-HPP, juice every day. They get results,” Melissa explained.
Melissa continues, “We have traveled all over and done juicing demonstrations and sampling events at yoga studios, health conferences, corporate headquarters, farmer’s markets and many doctor’s offices. Almost everyone can appreciate the powerful impact that fresh, organic juice has on their body both instantly and over time. The challenge is getting regular, reliable access to nutrition when so many of us are super-busy and also fitting it into your fitness regime… who has time for all that? It’s just hard to do everything yourself. Everyone needs a hand up now and then.
Melissa continues, “Whether it is in preparing awesome food from the best ingredients or giving a little encouragement like ‘Yes, you can lose that ten pounds and you don’t have to suffer in the process’ that’s where Wellness+Connections comes in. We call it the Private Wellness Club concept. David always says, it’s not about denying yourself anything. It’s more about rewarding yourself everyday with awesomeness. If you reward yourself with a nutritious inputs like raw organic juice and superfoods, then you don’t feel like you need to reward yourself with pizza or ice cream. It’s when we deny ourselves that we feel the need to reward ourselves with sugar and caffeine. Following up a workout with a so-called ‘healthy’ green tea frappuccino with 48 grams of sugar, that’s 12 teaspoons of refined sugar, is not your friend. What most people need is a nutrient dense calorie and foods that are alkaline if you want to be strong, energetic and lower inflammation”, Melissa continued.
Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
David goes onto explain the basic philosophy behind Wellness+Connections as what he calls “The Three A’s”.
A1. Increased awareness of your personal health circumstances
A2. Improved access to innovative wellness choices that are well-suited to your needs
A3. Encouraging personal accountability in a supportive group that comes alongside you during your journey
“There is a lot of psychology involved in the decisions we make about how we treat ourselves. There are monumental issues relating to scarcity and abundance when it comes to our economic systems and how it impacts our food choices, agriculture and why fast food appears as the primary source of meals when you drive down any main street. The health crisis that regular folks are facing is real. Big pharma, fast food and high fructose corn syrup have all played a role in societal decline. Big business has a plan to use you up and throw you out when they’re done. The corporation’s plan is obvious. No one is hiding their intentions. Just listen to the drug side effects on a TV commercial… not that I recommend watching TV. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry when you hear one of those commercials and a known side effect is ‘sudden death’,” David declares.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Melissa says as she rejoins the conversation. “What we do have is an awesome staff and a powerful community of providers producing and offering great products and services. You combine that with loyal and happy customers and it makes for a vibrant, healing and growing community that is super-exciting!” as she reaches over and grabs her husband’s hand. “Make no mistake that it’s hard work and we’re swimming against the tide in many ways. The thing about swimming against the tide is your entire organization gets stronger every day. The feedback loop in our business is a positive feedback loop. Unlike say, a liquor store or a highly processed food and beverage company our customers are engaged in self-care. Many of our clients say they do better every day; better in their health, better in their relationships, better in their work. For us, this is more than a business, it’s a ministry. Our entire family views this as a calling from God that was laid upon us. We love it!”