While the majority of the city gorged itself on Guinness drafts and corned beef, a select group gathered in Village Juice Co.’s airy space on Stratford Road on Sunday, cleansing themselves of toxins. Just before 1 p.m., the Winston-Salem based juice shop was filled to the max, with overflow customers forced to sit at the shaded tables outside.

The company began in 2015 after Winston-Salem native Lonnie Atkinson began making and selling her own bottled juices. Since then, Village Juice Co. has grown to four brick-and-mortar locations — one in the Towers shopping center on Stratford Road, one on Fourth Street downtown and two universities locations at Wake Forest and Elon. A fifth location is set to open in Charlotte this summer.

Earlier this month, the shops began offering breakfast options in addition to their cold-pressed juices and smoothies. Items like brioche sandwiches with avocado and gruyere cheese as well as breakfast bowls and burritos boosted their already health-focused menu. It’s the kind of place you go when you are hungover and need to feel whole again. Or, it’s the kind of place you go if you count your calories or want to live a long and healthy life — you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Atkinson says she began making juice and changed her diet to fix lifelong digestive issues.

Village Juice Co. got its start after owner Lonnie Atkinson began making her own cold-pressed juices. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“I started educating myself about how eating real food could change and improve the way you feel, look and enjoy life,” she says over email.

After seeing improvements in her life, she says she was inspired to share her discovery with a wider audience.

“I tried it and immediately felt better, lost a few pounds, had glowing skin, more energy, improved digestion, better sleep and was happier overall,” she says.

Village Juice’s base menu offers variations on the prized avocado toast and customizable salad and grain bowls.

The shop on Stratford Road beckons customers in with its clean white walls and green, hanging plants. Books about matcha decorate the shelves while a line of Edison bulbs hang from a wall above a row of tables.

Mothers with children, families, college kids and lone yogis fill the chairs while others wait by the door while the staff hurriedly processes their orders.

My fiancé and I decide to try some of the most popular items. He gets the avo vegan toast while I pick a grain bowl; we split a matcha nut milk.

His toast, multigrain of course, comes with a bright green, house-made avocado spread, micro greens and fermented cabbage, or as the shop likes to call it, “curtido.” He adds a perfectly cooked over-medium egg for an upcharge. 

My bowl, which I make myself, is composed of a heap of fresh, crunchy kale, a scoop of quinoa, roasted red peppers, charred broccoli, sliced avocado, corn and miso ginger dressing. The medley comes served in a large silver mixing bowl and the ingredients look like they were picked this morning.

The matcha nut milk, which is bottled and chartreuse in color, is made with almond milk, dates, matcha, vanilla bean, himalyan sea salt and filtered water. All 17 ounces costs more than four gallons of gas. Silky smooth, the drink is somewhere between a smoothie and a juice and tastes pretty damn good. It’s supposed to be chockful of antioxidants too. Although really, I just got it because I love matcha. But at that price, I’m not sure I’d get it again.

As we eat our food, my fiancé, who is a pescatarian but a vegan wannabe, claims that the toast is delicious.

“It’s like a sandwich,” he says. “And it’s a damn good sandwich.”

He quickly devours the slice, avo and all, while I work on my gigantic bowl.

I’ve never really been one for salads. I used to eat steak for breakfast in high school before I gave up red meat. I never felt like I could just eat a bunch of leaves and be full.

And unfortunately, the grain bowl, which seems to mostly be a salad with some grain in it, fails to prove me wrong. While the dressing is delicious and each individual ingredient is crunchy fresh, the bowl leaves me wanting. There isn’t enough dressing to make the food flavorful enough that I can forget that I am eating what amounts to a bunch of leaves. Healthy ones, but still.

Village Juice Co’s Stratford Road location bustles with activity on Sunday afternoon. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

It just further cements the idea that maybe places like Village Juice Co. aren’t really my thing. If I’m going to spend this much on lunch, I want to be full until dinner. But looking around at the overflowing shop, it’s clear that many people would disagree. Next to us, a group of high school students eat their brunch as they chat and glance at their phones.

Sirena Lovato is finishing up a dragonfruit smoothie bowl while her friends, Melody Moossavi and Sarah Moore, take on smoothies and a slice of avo toast.

The three live nearby and patronize the shop when they have cash to spare.

“It’s kind of expensive” Lovato says. “So we come sometimes.”

Atkinson says the prices are such because of the quality of the ingredients.

“Our salads are full of organic veggies, proteins and superfoods that are often local,” she says. “We pride ourselves in the quality of our ingredients.”

The students say they try different things each visit but always come back because of the way the food makes them feel.

“It feels healthier to come here,” she says. “It’s worth the ten dollars for the smoothie bowl.”

When I ask whether they are considering the stop as full meals or just as snacks, Moossavi admits that she doesn’t get full on the food.

“I don’t count a smoothie bowl as a meal,” she says.

And I’d have to agree.

I made a bowl of pasta as soon as I got home.

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