JRINK Co-Founder Discusses Female Empowerment, Food as Medicine, and Workdays that End at 9pm

After spending time on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs, Jrink Juicery Co-founder and CEO, Shizu Okusa, decided she wanted a more tangible and socially impactful outlet for her finance skills. She landed in Mozambique, working with local farmers on raising capital, before heading over to Bali to learn about healing through food. Shizu soon found herself back in DC working for the World Bank, spending her free time casually juicing and making smoothies. She realized there was a huge opportunity to share her experience finding balance, wellness, and healing through juice. Since then, Jrink has grown to 6 locations in the DC area!

JRINK CEO and Co-Founder Shizu Okusa. Photo Credit: James Jackson

JRINK CEO and Co-Founder Shizu Okusa. Photo Credit: James Jackson

Read on to learn more about Shizu and the journey of Jrink Juicery:

Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?

Not at all. I’m not sure if most people do versus just take “the next interesting step”. I knew I wanted more control over my destiny, impact in the world, and would never be able to achieve that by working for someone else.

At least that’s how it was for me, and it was a true passion project…my “baby” and another intellectual challenge that I had full control and skin in the game. I think this is likely the case with our employees too — I encourage them to be entrepreneurial and while I’d love if they stick by for the long haul, I hope they can also use JRINK as a launchpad for their own business one day. We’re in the business of health & wellness and part of fostering a healthy environment is promoting a healthy work culture like this — open, transparent, and nourishing to the spirit (as corny as that sounds).

What do you like about food? What drew you to the food industry?

JRINK’s offerings have expanded to include balanced food items. Photo Credit: James Jackson

JRINK’s offerings have expanded to include balanced food items. Photo Credit: James Jackson

I like that it brings people together — food connects us as humans, to nature, and to the world around us. We don’t ask people about their job, career, or any of those non-relevant titles. Instead, we ask how people are feeling, what their biggest pain points are, how we can help. That is so much more interesting than talking about deadlines and politics. At least in my opinion.

What does your typical day look like?

I don’t have an alarm, and my phone is certainly not right beside my bed. I like to wake up on my own time, have a morning elixir to start my day (usually not a JRINK but my personal twist on ACV [apple cider vinegar], paired with adaptogen mushrooms), and then get to my emails about an hour later. I make it a habit to workout or meditate every day before Noon, ensuring I make some time for myself before the busy day, which usually ends around 9 pm. My days consist of team meetings, 1x1 manager meetings, investor calls, real estate tours, and a lot of pitching slash deal making.

What is a piece of advice you wish you’d been given before starting?

Two things:

  1. Don’t worry so much. Things will figure itself out! Everything is meant for a reason and it’s good to not take things so seriously.

  2. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care. As an entrepreneur, we give a lot vs. take. As one of my mentors told me, “self-love is the first love”.

What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced to date?

There’s a few things but I’ll highlight three:

  1. Finding and keeping the right talent in DC, where there’s a shortage of consumer retail operators, digital marketing, and business-savvy candidates. We’ve had to teach a lot versus been able to bring in experience.

  2. The fundraising environment for consumer retail in DC is negligible. A lot of funds or investors here are in SaaS or info tech, which is just not what we do.

  3. On a personal note, my support system is very far from DC. Like most people, I’m not from this city, and having a strong support system to keep an entrepreneur grounded is very important. I keep my good friends close, especially those that know me pre-JRINK!

Photo Credit: James Jackson

Photo Credit: James Jackson

How did you get into your first store?

This is where you guys come in! Through Union Kitchen, we got connected to the folks at Epic Yoga, which is our co-tenant in our first store and still open in Dupont Circle. They believed in our product, us as operators, and the vision we wanted to create. Nearly four years later, all else is history!

Where do you want your business to be in three to five years?

Our mission is to use plants as a means for healing the body, both physical and mental. I think there is so much room for improvement in the mental wellness space, and especially as a women we can be extra hard on ourselves. I would like to see JRINK really be that bridge between (1) female empowerment and (2) food as medicine. Tangibly, this means a diversified product line, which will be available nationally.

Photo Credit: James Jackson

Photo Credit: James Jackson

At what point did you consider your business “having made it”?

Never? Not sure if we can be that complacent. This market changes quickly so I’m not in the camp of ever resting until perhaps we bring a larger strategic investor or partner that we can more heavily rely on both operationally and financially.

What’s been the biggest challenge in scaling your production?

Great question. I think it’s putting in the organizational processes (checklists, automation, tech infrastructure), that can keep up with our growth. Whenever there is an inflection point in our growth, there’s a catch up period on our team — we’re currently in that stage now after opening up two stores in one month!

To ring in the warm weather, we are featuring a different entrepreneur making products that allow you to get outside every week! Check back in next week to hear from another Union Kitchen maker (or two!) about their philosophies, struggles, and successes.

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