WKU alums kickstart juicing business

WKU alumni Natalie Boddeker and Tonia Johns laugh behind the counter of their stand at Community Farmer’s Market. Boddeker and Johns met while working at Barnes and Noble in Bowling Green and decided to start Zest!, a juice business, after realizing that they could make a profit off of their shared interest in juice cleanses. 

Casey Downey

Natalie Boddeker, co-founder of Zest! Juice for Life, wasn’t trying to change the world when she assembled her first juicer. She just wanted to improve her health.

Earlier this year, Boddeker watched the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” by Joe Cross. The film chronicles Cross’ juice fast journey across America, an odyssey that he began at 310 pounds and with an autoimmune disease. He planned to regain his body’s natural healing ability through fruits, vegetables and a juicer.

Inspired by the end results of his 60-day juice fast, where he only drank juice instead of eating food, Boddeker assembled an unopened juicer, a gift from her mother-in-law.

“After I watched the documentary I was like, ‘Okay, this is what I am going to do,’” Boddeker said. “My goal was (to fast for) 50 days.”

Boddeker logged the results of her initial fast on the company’s website, zestjuiceforlife.com, where she said she felt physically and emotionally better than she had in years.

Tonia Johns, Boddeker’s partner and co-founder of Zest, was skeptical of juice fasting at first.

“At first I was like why is Natalie doing this — why doesn’t she just eat some fruits and vegetables?” Johns said. “But then I started doing research on all the positive benefits of juicing and saw such positive results from her. And I thought, ‘I want to be like that, I want to feel like that.’”

Boddeker and Johns have worked together at Barnes and Noble for the past decade. Boddeker, store manager, has been employed by the bookseller for 16 years. Johns, receiving manager, is now in her tenth year.

Both women — WKU alumnae — began holding seminars at the store where they discussed the benefits of juice and provided samples for people to try.

Boddeker said the two had considered starting an informational business that shared the benefits of juicing, but not actually packaging and selling it as a brand. Demand for a product grew as the samples became popular.

“People were asking, ‘Is there a way we can buy the juice?”’ Boddeker said. “I started thinking about what to do to make it a legitimate business.”

After going through a series of small juicers, Boddeker eventually invested in the Goodnature X-1, which produces gallons of juice and weighs more than 500 pounds. The women fondly refer to the machine as “Gordy.”

They acquired a booth at the Community Farmer’s Market this past month, where they have been deemed the “Juice Ladies.” They continue selling out of product each Tuesday and Thursday, offering flavors such as: Kale Yeah, Apple Orchard, Kickin’ Carrot and Happy Beet. They also sell t-shirts, which have mottos like, “Lettuce turnip the beet!”

They currently order their ingredients from the distributor Creation Gardens out of Louisville, but are working with local farmers to see who can fulfill product needs within a reasonable price range. Johns has compiled a list of their weekly produce needs, which includes 700 pounds of apples, 200 pounds of cucumbers and 100 pounds of kale.

One local farm, Plano Produce, recently supplied Zest with carrots and kale. The farm borders Boddeker’s backyard.

“You can’t get much more local than that,” Johns said.

While the entire business began with a 50-day fast, it has evolved into a way of life for Boddeker and Johns. They now replace certain meals with the juice and frequently go on shorter fasts together.

“I used to every morning, first thing when I got up, start the coffee pot and have like two, three, four big coffees a day,” said Johns. “Now, first thing I do when my feet hit the floor is grab a bottle of juice, and that’s my breakfast.

“Until you really try it, you can’t understand the energy that it gives you because it’s so packed (with nutrients).”

Beyond the realms of their own health, the women continue looking to the future of their newly established business. Johns will be leaving her position at Barnes and Noble in January to work full time for Zest!

“We hope to get a mobile unit,” Boddeker said. “Juice on the loose…we have to look into permits for that. We always have plans for expansion because we’re going to take over the world.”