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Juicer squeezes into policy forum

From the Observer & Eccentric

By Matt Jachman

May 20, 2013

Since launching their juice business in downtown Plymouth with just $13,000 barely a year ago, Caitlin James and her sisters have propelled it to perhaps Michigan’s biggest economic stage.

Drought, which cold-presses, bottles and sells organic, raw fruit and vegetable juices from a kitchen on Forest, experienced serious growth in its first year and has attracted regional and national media attention. Now, James, managing partner and a co-founder of Drought, has accepted an invitation to speak at the Mackinac Policy Conference, the annual gathering of business leaders and politicians held on Mackinac Island and organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

James, busy with Drought’s production work and expansion plans, is trying to take the attention in stride. She is scheduled to speak Thursday, May 30, at the Grand Hotel as part of a panel of entrepreneurs.

“I didn’t apply or anything. They found me,” James, who lives in Plymouth, said on a recent morning at Drought. But it’s important, she added, to recognize young entrepreneurs and pay attention to their work.

‘A really big deal’

Jim Martinez, director of communications for the Detroit Regional Chamber, called Drought’s story an impressive one.

“They are producing a unique product right here in Michigan that will meet a growing demand among consumers who want to live healthy lifestyles,” Martinez wrote in an email. “They reflect the entrepreneurial spirit that is rejuvenating Michigan’s economy. We are excited to bring that story to the Mackinac stage.”

James will be joining Paul Glomski of Detroit Labs, which builds applications for smart phones, and Jacques Panis of Shinola, which focuses on craftsmanship to make watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals in Detroit, on the May 30 panel.

“Everybody keeps telling me it’s a really big deal, so I’m a little bit nervous,” James said.

The idea for Drought came about in September 2010, and James and her sisters — Julie, Jane, Jessie and Jenny — developed it for more than a year, spending a lot of time looking for the ideal kitchen, one that could accommodate raw fruit and vegetable juicing without the danger of cross-contamination from other types of foods.

“We looked everywhere,” Caitlin James said. They found it in a former fudge shop on Forest and opened there in April 2012.

Nutrition in mind

Drought, which makes about 15 kinds of raw juices — with the idea that the raw-juicing process saves vital nutrients lost during large-scale commercial juicing — bottles juices for pickup and delivery, has a booth at Detroit’s Eastern Market every Saturday and is available at area Plum Market locations.

The company recently hired the James sisters’ father, Mark James, who has a successful appliance distribution business, as national sales and distribution manager. Drought juices will be sold at the shop Shinola plans to open on West Canfield, in Detroit’s Midtown area, next month.

“We’re growing so quickly, it’s hard to see how everything’s going to pan out,” Caitlin James said. Distribution can be tricky, she said, as the unpasteurized juices have only a three-day shelf life.

Caitlin James trained as a special education teacher at Eastern Michigan University and spent two years teaching in Jordan with the Peace Corps before locating in New York City, where she worked as a tutor. Many of her students there were autistic and had food sensitivities, she said, and their diets — their parents provided raw juices for them — prompted her to try juicing as well, and inspired the idea for Drought.

Small-scale startup

It was intended at first to be a part-time business — a booth at the Eastern Market only.

“We realized how much was really involved,” Caitlin James said. “It was less of a part-time and more of a full-time.” She moved back to the area — the Jameses grew up Livonia — while the business was in the planning stages.

Drought’s seed money came from $13,000, mostly in donations of less than $50, the James sisters raised in about a month through the website Kickstarter.

The name Drought came from an experience Caitlin and one of her sisters had in Manhattan searching for a juice bar and finding only one, where the line was long. Back home in Michigan, they thought, there wasn’t even that much — a drought, in other words.

“It stuck,” she said of the name. “It made sense to us.”

mjachman@hometownlife.com (313) 222-2405 | Twitter: @mattjachman