Angela Almaguer | Founder of Salud Juice
We'd love to know your story! briefly walk us through your story. how you got started, how you got to where you are today, what are you most proud of?
I graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a degree in history. I was accepted into Teach for America and was planning on moving to Los Angeles to teach and enter a master's program at Loyola Marymount University.
However, my sophomore year at CSULB my uncle went into cardiac arrest and ended up in a coma for 2 years and then, two weeks after his funeral, and my senior year of college, my father had a heart attack and then underwent a quadruple bypass. It was the heaviest year I've ever had to endure and I immediately switched gears.
I would go to school, teach for the Supplemental Instruction program at CSULB, work nights at a restaurant and make juice for my dad while he was in recovery. I figured I needed to make something that gave him a dense amount of nutrients quickly and without him realizing it! So I bought a $5 Jack Lelain juicer at a garage sale and made him horrible tasting juices and said "Saludos a su Salud" or "Cheers to your health" when we gulped it down. I started taking my juice to the restaurant I worked at and fellow coworkers started requesting orders on days that I worked with them. It wasn't until my friend Kevin said "hey I dont have any shifts with you next week but I'll pay extra if you deliver it to me" that I realized I had something here. That I could start Long Beach's first juice delivery business.
So I sent out a group text to everyone I knew and started taking orders. I juiced in my 3rd story apartment and jarred them in mason jars with little twine labels on them. Eventually, the General Manager of the restaurant, Steve Massis, decided he wanted to open his own restaurant and asked if he could put my juices on his menu. He had already been a huge fan and would order juice and leave notes in the jar when he was done on suggestions for taste profiles along with a five dollar bill. So I told him that if he ever opened a restaurant I would have my juices on his menu. It was about a year later, he called me to tell me he had gotten the keys to his own restaurant, eventually known as the Attic on Broadway, and he was holding me to this promise! I instantly freaked because I had been "faking" this little delivery service and now somebody is trusting me with something bigger than I thought I could handle.
I remember sitting at his restaurant before it opened and asking him how to write an invoice or how to properly charge him. Steve and his dad, a very blunt Syrian man who had a heart of gold but came off a little... rough, sat me down and asked me how much my produce cost, how much time it took me, how much the jars were, etc. At the end, they taught me how to calculate Cost of Goods and Labor Percentages and told me how much to charge for my juice. I will never forget, at the end of the lesson on invoicing and pricing, Steve's dad turns to him and says "she is too expensive. I would go with another juice company." And he said it so matter-of-factly that I still can't decide whether he was kidding or not! Anyway, Steve helped me start up other wholesale accounts with other local restaurants, showing me how to wholesale and source larger volumes of product. I eventually moved into a commercial kitchen after lugging 50lb boxes of apples and oranges up 3 flights of stairs was no longer feasible (but I did do it for way longer than I should have!). My parents and a friend helped every Sunday. My dad and I would pick up the produce from the farmer's market, drive it to the kitchen, unload the produce into the walk-in cooler, start washing and cutting all the produce, then about a 10-hour day juicing and bottling and then delivering. It was intense.
I was using a very small, household juicer at the time. Our oranges were each cut and juiced individually (my dad still has the mechanical juicer and boasts about how many oranges he's juiced on it!) We worked like that for years until the health department got wind of our operation and informed me the entire thing was completely illegal! On one day in April of 2014, I went from having 16 wholesale accounts across LA/LB/OC to having zero. The health department had called every single account and informed them they were in violation of their health permit by selling raw juice wholesale. They also threatened me with a misdemeanor if I continued to sell my product wholesale and that my only options were to add some sort of preservation step (like pasteurization) or open my own brick-and-mortar and sell from under my own license. There was even an instance where I was still selling to a coffee shop (who will remain nameless!) with unlabeled bottles and the health inspector came in and tasted the juice and said "this is a Salud Lolita!" and I was in trouble all over again.
So here I was, failing in my eyes. I was embarrassed. I failed all of my wholesale accounts. They thought I was "real" and I ended up being a fraud this whole time. So I took about a week of moping and then jumped right back into the game with a Plan B: open a brick-and-mortar. But I needed capital. So I went back to my friend Steve and asked for money. I had asked plenty times before and he kept saying "you're not ready... when you can sell 17 juices a day maybe we can talk then. But you're not ready" and I remember thinking "how the HELL am I ever going to sell 17 juices a day!" But this time was different. This time my businesses depended on it. So I begged and pleaded and assured him I'd work my butt off and pay him back every penny (which I did in the first 6 months of opening) and he believed in me and invested a very small amount of change to get the build out, first month's rent and permits paid. He helped me find resources for my company like a payroll company and a local family-owned produce company he had been using for years. I was in the middle of a crash course in business management, business marketing, leadership, problem solving, you name it! I was thrown in to every aspect of owning a business and extremely vulnerable.
Five months into opening our first location, the owner of a gym we used to have a wholesale account with visited our location and asked me if I was willing to open another location in his gym. Sleep-deprived, dehydrated, scared and underprepared, I said yes. We started construction and opened that store nine months after opening our first doors. I went from 4 employees to 10 and then to 15. I will never forget the fear, the exhaustion, the anxiety. But I will also never forget the feeling of satisfaction, the teamwork of my employees, the lessons I've learned. I'm most proud of myself for never giving up. After having Salud now for 7 years, going through hundreds of employees, making hundreds of mistakes and now holding up to 30 jobs at a time, I have found that my greatest skill is optimism and perseverance. I should have given up a million times but I never let that be an option. I push through any obstacle. No matter what. I'm a strong believer in anything is possible and there are opportunities in any situation. Always choose to be proactive instead of reactive!
What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
My best is advice is to always ask for help.
Everyone ahead of you has already asked for help and now it's their turn to return the favor. Do not be afraid to pick someone's brain a bit. You'd be surprised what doors might open up! Second to that, remain optimistic and take it one day at a time. Put out fires as they come and put policies and procedures in place that prevent them as well. Think of your career as a game of chess. Always try to be a couple moves ahead in order to handle multiple scenarios
What are the best resources that have helped you along the way?
YOUTUBE! You can learn how to do anything on youtube. There are great restaurant youtube channels on how to upsell, how to take inventory, how to market, etc. You can probably find someone teaching something on youtube in your genre of work. I even learned how to formulate excel spreadsheets on Youtube! After that, keep a good network of friends. You are the average of your five closest friends. Make sure you surround yourself with people who uplift you and that you can learn from! Don't ever be afraid to make a phone call to get a quick answer for something!
How do you know if you have a good idea?
Because sometimes you don't. And that's ok. I've "started" plenty of companies before Salud that didn't stick. I think it's important to start super small. Get friends and family to buy product and give you honest feedback. You'll also be able to tell you have a good product if they start asking for your product even before you ask them to try again! The legal part of the business should come after. I feel like a lot of people get bogged down with the name, the logo, the business license, the trademark, etc before they even give themselves time to start loving and having fun with their company. The legal parts of it are boring and will easily deter you from creatively growing! Don't worry about that until you're big enough to be on anyone's radar!
Not everyone is going to understand your vision and not every employee is going to be right for your company. Do not get discouraged. The right team is out there and supports your leadership and ideas and morals. And the right team makes or breaks your company and makes or breaks your experience in your company. Be unapologetically yourself as long as your intentions are for the betterment of the company and the betterment of your employees.
Salud to your health!