marina del rey
Where did you grow up?
I'm from a really small town in the middle of nowhere, between Buffalo and Rochester in New York. My grandparents were dairy farmers; we're third-generation dairy farmers. There are more cows than people in the county where I grew up. There are six different towns that all went to the same school and there were still only 125 people in my graduating class. It’s really small.
What was it like on the farm?
It was amazing. I would run through the cornfields. My brother and cousin and I would build forts in the woods. We’d play in the haystacks in the barn. We had four wheelers and we would ride on the tractor with my grandpa. It was really cool until I was about 15.
Did your friends want to leave when they got older, too?
It's funny, because I honestly thought, "Oh my gosh, what's this area going to do when we all graduate? No one's going to come back and have families here.” But only four of us left and everyone else went back. A lot of them teach at the school.
For some reason, I wanted to get out of there so badly that I just assumed everyone else was excited about the world outside, too. A lot of people go off to school in Rochester, Buffalo, or near New York, but so many of them come back and get married to people from high school. I think a lot of them are really happy. That would just make me claustrophobic. I guess when I was a kid, I just always felt out of place there.
I ended up getting into the University of San Francisco. That felt great. I was living with my dad, who I didn't really know. Even when we did reconnect, we only saw each other twice a year. He was coming from a life of not having kids and being a bachelor. It’s a very hard adjustment to have a kid in your house after that.
USF is a private Jesuit school, so there were a lot of wealthy kids from all around the world who had experienced so much more in life than I had. I found an amazing group of girlfriends, and felt lucky that I had them, but I still felt out of place.
How did you deal with that?
I don't think I dealt with it really well. I only went to USF for a year. In my first semester I got really, really thin—to the point where my parents were worried about me—and then in my second semester I gained the “freshman 15 pounds.” I think I was just so uncomfortable in my own skin, I didn't know who I was. My friends all seemed so positive; they knew what they wanted in life and had all these experiences.
Then my grandmother, who was one of the people I was closest to in life, got sick. She was diagnosed with cancer, so I decided to go to school back east to be close to her. It was a weird year.
I was a political-science major, but I ended up going into media arts. Then, the school opened up a small film program. They only accepted 15 students a year, and I got accepted in the first year.
Coming from a small town, you're not told that you can do anything you want to do. You become a teacher, maybe a nurse, maybe a doctor, or you work on the farm, so I was always a little bit out there with what I wanted to do.
What happened when you went back east?
I quit school for a year and a half, which scared the shit out of my family. For me, I left because I was wasting my time. I was always going to go back, but I didn't know what I wanted to do yet. I just needed to figure it out. I was bartending, I traveled to Paris and London, I did a lot of drugs, I just experienced life a little more than I had.
When I was ready to go back to school, my grandmother passed away. I was like, “Okay, now it's time to stop wandering and really do something that will make her proud.” I decided to go back to school and that’s when I started the film program. It was amazing. We wrote, directed, and edited movies all day, every day.
Did you feel like you were working towards something?
I did. Our professors would have us all send out letters to New York and LA, to meet with people and talk about internships. I think I sent 250 letters out to LA and got ten meetings, which was amazing.
I got really lucky when I got out here. Within a few days, I got a job with this amazing writer. Have you seen the movie, The Departed? He wrote that.
That's one of my favorite movies.
He was amazing, but the job ended up being insane hours. It was a lot of taking his kids to school, picking his kids up from school, getting groceries for his wife. I started to get really sick doing that job, because my now-fiancé lived in Redondo and my job was in the Hollywood Hills. I had this new relationship and wanted to hang out with my boyfriend, but I also had this job that was just so time consuming.
I would take these five-hour energy shots, which I couldn't even imagine myself touching now. I was living off anything that would keep me awake and alert during the day. I ended up getting really sick and spent over a year going to different doctors. I'd get awful pains in my gut or I wouldn't be able to go to the bathroom for days. Every time I would eat, I could literally feel the food stacking up inside me. It was just terrible. Then I began to fear eating, because I didn't know how it was going to make me react.
I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy. I swallowed this giant pill that takes photos through your entire intestine.The last doctor promised me he was going to figure it out. After the results from the camera pill came back, he was just like, “I don't know what's going on. Here's a powder supplement, which you can take everyday for the rest of your life so you can go to the bathroom. Or there's some drug in Mexico that you can go get.”
Did stress come up as a possible cause?
No, that never came up. I got really down for a few days. Then, a girlfriend and I were hiking Runyon Canyon and talking about a cleanse she was thinking of doing. This woman hiking in front of us turned around and said, “Hey, I just wanted to let you girls know that you're giving each other really good advice. I'm happy to hear that, because I hear such bad advice when it comes to cleansing.” She turned out to be a holistic nutritionist, so I met with her a week later. Forty-five minutes into the conversation, she said, “Okay, this is what's going on and this is what we're going to do. You have candida overgrowth.”
It’s kind of like a yeast overgrowth in your gut. It could have started years ago. I was really sick in my early 20s. I had my appendix out and then got pneumonia, so I was on antibiotics, which could have set it off. It's just an imbalance of bacteria in your gut.
The doctors couldn't see that?
No. This was seven years ago, so candida wasn't even really on their radar. It's so crazy. Now, it's become a much bigger thing because it’s so common. As soon as your gut gets imbalanced, the bad bacteria can start to take over and that turns into all kinds of problems. There's nothing you can take to make it better.
So the nutritionist told me that I needed to do a 30-day cleanse. I basically cut out all processed food, plus she gave me a few different supplements. Then she said, “You should really look into juicing.” I went home and did a ton of research on juicing, found out all about cold-press juicing versus centrifugal juicing.
What’s the difference?
Cold press is what we do at Renew Juicery—you basically press the fruit and vegetables, so there's no heat involved and nothing is ever added to it. It's the most gentle version of juicing. Centrifugal juicing is when you throw the whole apple in and a bunch of stuff comes out one side and then juice comes out on the other side. That juicer is heating up, tearing apart the fruit and vegetables, so it kills a lot of the micro-nutrients, the enzymes, the stuff that really does the work in your body.
Cold-press juicers are really expensive, but I found one that's called a masticating juicer, which is the next best thing. At the time, that juicer was $250—such a big purchase for me. But when I started juicing at home, I saw a difference within a matter of days. My energy was the first thing to improve, as well as my sleep. Then I started to notice my nails and hair growing really fast, and my skin and eyes were a lot brighter. I loved the way it tasted, too. So I started making juice for my boyfriend and my friends. It was really exciting. It's so easy to digest that I didn't have to stress about eating.
A few juice places started popping up in LA. I would have meetings at these juice bars instead of coffee shops. And I started to realize that a lot of these places weren't doing juice that well. It wasn’t organic. A lot of the juices were stored in plastic, but because juice is acidic it starts to eat away at the plastic. A lot of them didn't taste as good as what I was making at home. They didn't feel like they were put together with a purpose. At home, I would think about what I needed help with and how I wanted to feel, and then use ingredients accordingly. The other places were just putting stuff together because it tasted okay.
At this time, I was working for a health-food company, helping them launch a superfood snack bar. The creation of the product and the branding, those first steps were really exciting to me, but we were getting into the phase of sales. I don't love sales; I'm not the type of person to push something on someone. I realized that I wasn't as passionate about the product as I thought—I was actually passionate about the process of creating something. I worked my butt off for this company. The owner ended up moving to Singapore, so I basically took over and did everything. I was like, ''Whoa, wait a minute. If I can do this for someone else, why can't I do it for myself? I am really passionate about juice. I don't feel like anyone’s doing it the right way, so maybe I'll start a juice company.”
I love juice, so I’m passionate about what it had done for me. But also at the core, I wanted to do something I loved that I could support myself with. That's really what it came down to. The more I started to be able to support myself with my juice business, and the more positive feedback I got from customers, the more I realized that I'm really passionate about helping people. Helping people discover real wellness and giving them the tools they need to help themselves.
Three years ago, when I was standing at the farmer's market with my 20 bottles of juice selling for the first time, I wasn't like, ''Oh, I'm doing this because I'm passionate about helping people.'' It was like, ''Oh, this makes me feel really good.” So the purpose of why you’re doing something totally evolves. If no one had bought my juice that day, I would have been like, ''Guess I don't care that much about juice, right? Because this is not going to work out.''
Looking ahead, do you have anything you want to achieve?
The business is amazing. If nothing else ever came out of it, it's still taught me so many things about myself. It’s made me a better human and better equipped to deal with things.
My 2017 motto is going to be, “No bad days, no matter what.” Owning a business, you're forced to be the bigger person a lot. Sometimes you don't want to be the bigger person.
That's kind of what this last year was for me, always being the bigger person because I have a team that looks up to me. So, it's been a really good growing experience. It's made me focus on, ''Okay, what are the things that I need to be happy?” I have love for my fiancé, I have love for my dog, I have love from my family, I have a good group of friends, I have an amazing team that supports the business, and I have amazing customers. So, anything else is just noise.
There are some really exciting new products that we're coming out with this year. With every product we create, we're really trying to create a brand that is very authentic, is always incredibly honest, and has our customers' best interests in mind. We're not jumping on trends. If we're talking about something on our social media, it's because we've vetted that it's the best of the best. There's no other motive behind what we do, other than we want to share the best things possible with our customers and help guide them down their own wellness journeys.
When I got sick, I was frustrated to realize that just because you're shopping at a health-food store, just because something has a vegan label on it, doesn't mean it's actually good for you. And with the juice world, it gets really tough because there's not a lot of labeling. So, you can process juice in a way that gives it a 60-day shelf life and you never have to tell your customer. And that's what 90 percent of the juice companies do. We’re fighting to put the best product out there that we can; people think they're getting the same product from another place but it's like, “No, that juice has been sitting on the shelf for 60 days.”
We're really trying to educate our consumers, doing more blog posts and recipes. We're putting out our pantry line, which is some of the stuff we use in the tonics. We have some potions that we're going to release in a few weeks that are made from combinations of different herbs and superfoods I love. And then a girlfriend of mine, who's an herbalist, has helped us create a really simple beauty line that we're launching soon.
I don't know a lot about this stuff. Is there one product you’d recommend?
If there is one herb, and anyone who knows me knows this, it’s astragalus root. You only need about a quarter of a teaspoon a day. It basically renews your cells and fights anything having to do with aging, from hair loss to memory loss to wrinkles. Astragalus is really good at helping prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It's just amazing. This herb has been used in Chinese tradition for centuries and you can see it working.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I think one of the things that I'm working on is to trust myself. When you go into business, you get advice from so many different sources. Some of it is great advice and a lot is bad advice. At the end of the day, you have to do what's true to yourself. You are the one in the driver’s seat.
Trusting yourself with something as simple as hiring people is super important. If there's a red flag, then recognize it. For the first two years in my business, I would ignore those things and make excuses, but there would always be a situation that would come up and it'd be like, "If I listened to myself three months ago, I would have had less headaches." And now, if there's the slightest red flag, I pay attention to it. I have an amazing team that I completely trust, because they all have the company's best interest in mind. Looking back, all the problems that came up are because I ignored my own intuition and didn’t listen to myself. Take the time to sit with yourself and really listen. With a business it's easy to not do that.
What does LA mean to you?
LA means opportunity. When I came to LA I didn't have any ties here, didn't have friends, didn't know anyone in the wellness industry. I literally started selling juice at the farmer's market and turned it into a business. That it is because LA is full of opportunity, which is really exciting to me.
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Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©