Victoria-based organic juice bar set to expand to California

Jusu Bar, which pressed its way into the organic-juice mix in Victoria two years ago, is about to take its show on the road, signing a deal that will see Jusu expand to California.

Founder Bruce Mullen said the company has signed a joint-partnership agreement with a California firm that will establish Jusu in the San Francisco area by fall.

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“They came up to see us and said they love what we’re doing,” said Mullen, holding court in his Cadboro Bay store, the first of three established in Victoria starting in 2014.

Jusu also has a location at the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen and a mobile truck stationed near the Inner Harbour causeway.

The company, a passion project for Mullen and his son Brandon, has been a hit amid the myriad cafés and restaurants that have opened in the city over the last two years.

Its organic, cold-pressed juice — a process that is said to retain more nutrients — along with a menu filled with items made from organic, non-genetically modified foods and byproducts of the juicing have made evangelists of its customers and allowed the Mullens to see expansion as a must.

During an hour-long chat with the Mullens, a steady stream of people came into the Cadboro Bay store. While some were experimenting, there were several regulars who swore by certain juices for things like joint pain, energy boosts and cleansing. “People like the brand, but it’s the product that stands out and that’s what people really seem to like,” said Brandon Mullen, noting they are still in the building phase and getting the word out.

“Something we’re doing is really speaking to them and they are really responding.”

It may have something to do with the reason Jusu Bar exists at all.

The family moved to Victoria six and a half years ago from Calgary looking for a change of scenery.

“We came out to change our lives, and that sure as hell happened,” said Bruce.

His wife Charlene was diagnosed with breast cancer a year after they moved.

Ten months later, at 47 and having chased traditional and alternative treatments all over the world, Charlene Mullen died.

Bruce said after the diagnosis, they started eating better, using more organic foods and avoiding processed foods and chemicals.

The experience instilled in him the importance of healthy eating and how hard it is to get people to do it.

“We’re doing this not because we want to but because we think we have to,” he said.

“I’m doing this because I got hit in the head, and had a broken heart — I thought I was a tough guy, but in no time, I found out I wasn’t so tough.

“So we are going to do whatever we have to so other people won’t have to go through the same mess.”

While their first expansion will be in California, the ultimate plan is to expand across both the U.S. and Canada. Father and son both believe they are part of a broader trend toward healthy eating.

“You already see it with places like McDonald’s changing and saying they will be better and A&W is saying the same thing,” said Bruce Mullen.

“It is going to take a tremendous amount of work, but we have a specific plan for the next three to five years, and we’re very serious about it.

“I can’t think of anything better to do with my life than to help people change their lifestyle, so that’s what we are going to do.”

Brandon Mullen said there is plenty of room for a small player from Victoria.

“We’re talking about the human future, it’s like sustainable energy — it’s a big cause,” he said. “It’s a very emotional and serious cause that’s timeless. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.”

There are hurdles for Jusu before it gets wider acceptance: the juices do not last long, as they contain no stabilizing chemicals, and they are relatively expensive — most cost $8 to $10.

“We always think quality outdoes price and everything,” Bruce Mullen said.

He said he believes they can overcome price-tag shock through education and sharing their story through marketing, a smartphone app that allows pre-ordering and social media.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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