Joe & The Juice is juggling ride-or-die culture with Starbucks-like ambitions
Being a juicer isn’t just a job—it’s a lifestyle. That’s the Joe & The Juice motto.
Valarie Simmonds, 27, bought into that lifestyle after graduating culinary school and working as an assistant pastry chef in Miami and New York. The culinary world was stressful and unrelenting; Simmonds says she felt lost and unsure about what she wanted to do with her life when Joe came along.
She was drawn in after watching videos of Joe & The Juice founder, Kaspar Basse, talking about Joe’s purpose and his hope that people who didn’t know what they wanted to do in life would find meaning.
Being a juicer at Joe & The Juice, the upstart fast-casual juice bar and coffee shop with aspirations of competing with Starbucks, helped coax Simmonds out of her shell. She barely spoke when she started working behind the bar, she says, but her managers hyped her up and pushed her to be more outgoing. She says they helped her to learn from mistakes, express herself, and to compete.
That’s the culture of Joe & The Juice, which serves up coffee, juice, and sandwiches—including the TikTok famous Tunacado (iykyk)—with a dose of late-2010s exuberance. And Basse, who founded the company in Denmark in 2002, has more or less gotten out of the way and let it spring from the ground up.
Basse doesn’t force manuals and uniforms on employees, instead encouraging individuality. With over 300 locations worldwide, each store is meant to take on the character of the managers and staff who work there. But as the chain continues to grow—Basse has a goal to expand by 60 to 70 stores in the U.S. alone in 2023—is it possible to maintain that culture?
It was this spirited, inclusive culture that made Simmonds fall in love with Joe & The Juice. There were game nights and events; they’d get together to play soccer and for running clubs, which helped her form relationships with coworkers. It was about more than the job—she and her coworkers loved Joe because it brought them together, she says.
That’s not to say Joe & the Juice’s culture is an accident. In a world where companies and organizations are consistently falling over themselves to instill some semblance of company culture, Basse did perhaps the most difficult thing and let the Joe & The Juice vibe come organically through the people pouring the drinks.
The culture is the juice
Basse wasn’t all that concerned with culture when he set out to create a fresh-squeezed juice empire some 20-plus years ago. That changed quickly, however, and now the Joe & The Juice culture is all people seem to be able to talk about.
“I would love to tell you that 20 years ago I figured out that [culture] is the one component that most companies can’t figure out, therefore I wanted to compete on that,” Basse tells Fortune during a recent interview via Zoom. “But it actually was something that just came along… And luckily for me, quite early in our process.”
Courtesy of Joe & The Juice
Two years into running Joe & The Juice, Basse needed someone to fill in while he attended his mother’s birthday party. He couldn’t afford to hire any other employees, but one of his first loyal customers, Philip Finsteen, offered to pitch in.
As Joe & The Juice legend has it, Finsteen tripled the store’s sales in a single day through sheer charisma. From then on, Basse turned his company’s focus to pushing people over products.
Just as important to Joe’s culture as individuality, is the competitive nature—also arguably good for the bottom line. Juicers compete behind the bar. They have friendly competition with workers making sandwiches. Hell, they even hold company-wide competitions called “Showoffs,” where juicers twirl blender containers on their heads, pour juice into cups balanced on biceps, and breathe fire, all to a soundtrack of 808-bumping mixes that would give 2012’s Project X a run for its money—if the film centered around freshly squeezed organic juice instead of booze and girls.
Basse is a former karate champion—and he resembles, tattoos and all, the bad guy honcho in a Karate Kid sequel. So it’s fitting that competitiveness sits at the core of the chain’s culture.
Simmonds, and fellow New York regional manager Mohammad Haq, consider themselves beneficiaries of the culture Joe & The Juice has engendered. Their roles are to hype up their juicers, making sure the vibe is right for business to thrive. They talk about Joe & The Juice with a reverence and gratitude, as something that’s changed their life—a company culture seemingly too good to be true in a cynically corporate world.
Haq, 24, starts every day checking in on the bar managers at his stores in the Financial District, making sure everything is in order, and the music is on point. I stopped by one of Haq’s stores near the Fortune office just after the lunch rush. A remix of “Love Language” by Australian band Crooked Colours seeped out of the speakers. I’d never heard the song before, but some employees bopped around to the music while cleaning and chatting with one another. The vibe seemed right.
“When everything is working the way it should be in the [juice] bars, you can have fun, you can be curious about what’s happening,” Haq says. “You can have that expectation that when you walk into the bar, and everything is the way it should be, that there is going to be that Joe vibe.”
Putting culture on a cup
Virtually all companies with lofty goals of growth and a competitive, cult-like spirit have had to grow up at some point. Will Joe? Will the guerilla juicery ever have to settle into homogeneity? Can it keep that Joe DNA while on Basse’s odyssey to build Joe & The Juice into Starbucks without becoming Starbucks?
The journey hasn’t been without its challenges. Two years into its U.S. foray, Joe & The Juice was forced to contend with major questions about its culture. A sex discrimination suit was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017, asserting the company failed to hire and promote women at its American locations.
Company representatives said in a statement that Joe & The Juice has “always actively promoted gender equality. However, in recent years they have strived to meet the highest standards of inclusion in both their U.S. organization as well as globally.”
The proportion of women in their U.S. business is currently 57%, which the company says exceeds its 53% global average. Among management, 55% of Joe’s senior managers are women and 43% are managers. “The brand looks forward to continuing to evolve and learn from the past,” reads the statement.
Courtesy of Joe & The Juice
Joe & The Juice paid $715,000 in February 2023 to settle that lawsuit. As part of the agreement, the company is under a four-year improvement plan to ensure equal access to promotions.
In hopes of ensuring Joe & The Juice holds on to some semblance of the free flowing, fire breathing individuality and culture that’s endeared it to its workforce and its viral charged fanbase, the company created its own version of a SWAT team, a mobile management team that travels to new locations and encourages juicers to latch onto that signature Joe DNA.
Basse admits this had been a struggle as Joe expanded to its 64 U.S. locations. Representatives for the company say it’s managed to improve profitability since jumping the pond, pulling in some $70 million in revenue per year in the U.S.
It’s abundantly clear Basse is wrestling with competitive ambitions and his passion for the culture: He wants to grow, but doesn’t want to risk spreading his people—the culture—too thin.
“Everybody wants to be challenged. Everybody wants to be able to progress. Everybody wants to develop their social network. And, eventually, everybody wants to work for a company that does good in this world,” Basse says. “I am of the belief that these things are the same no matter where you approach the world. I think our model can be applied in Scandinavia, in the U.S., in India, in the Middle East—but that might just call for a little bit of patience.”