Arlington, Virginia-based juice and smoothie chain South Block has grown to 15 D.C. area locations, and it will open five more local locations this year.
The company recently announced investment backing that will allow it to grow to 50 locations along the East Coast within the next five years or so.
South Block is popular for its cold-pressed juices and fruit and vegetable smoothies, but its menus also feature acai bowls, a specific type of smoothie made with nut milks and fruits, specifically acai berries grown in the Brazilian rainforest. South Block sources the berries through organic and fair trade channels directly from growers in Brazil.
South Block’s most popular acai bowl is the PBJ — blended acai berries, peanut butter, bananas, blueberries and almond milk, topped with granola, more bananas and blueberries.
Though more common on smoothie menus now, South Block founder Amir Mostafavi found out about acai from a “surfer dude” who walked into his first juice bar.
“It was a chance encounter with who I describe as a surfer dude from San Diego, who walked into my first juice bar at GW University,” said McLean native Mostafavi. “He asked me if he could make me something, and he made me my first ever acai bowl and I literally fell in love with my first bite,”
His first juice bar venture, Campus Fresh, opened on The George Washington University campus in 2006, five years before Mostafavi opened his first South Block retail store in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood.
Last year, Mostafavi added “skin care” smoothies to South Block’s menus.
“It highlights two ingredients, collagen protein and sea moss. We are trying to promote beauty from within. These two ingredients, in particular, help not only your skin, but help promote gut health,” Mostafavi said.
South Block has secured backing from private equity firm Savory Fund. Mostafavi declined to disclose the exact financial terms, but he confirmed he sold a majority equity stake to Savory, while maintaining a significant equity stake himself. The investment will initially allow it to open stores in one or two East Coast markets before expanding to others.
“Priority one was finding a partner that was going to keep our company culture intact. And these guys truly believe in founder-led company culture-driven businesses, and that’s why we partnered with them,” Mostafavi said.
The plan is to expand to other markets as a company-owned operation, though Mostafavi doesn’t rule out a franchising model further down the road.
“I’ve always been pretty strong on the belief of company-owned growth and that’s what we’ve done so far. We want to control the people experience, the culture and the quality of the product; and I want to make sure that none of that gets diluted as we expend into new markets. But we’ve talked about the idea of franchising, and it might be something we talk more about as we grow. Maybe when we approach 50 locations or so. But right now, we’re focused on company growth,” he said.
Mostafavi also launched a nonprofit in 2019 called Fruitful Planet, named in honor of his mother who passed away. She was the most fruitful person he knew, Mostavi said.
Fruitful Planet buys fresh produce using some sales proceeds from South Block, and donates to organizations, such as the Arlington Food Assistance Center and D.C. Central Kitchen. To date, it has donated more than 70,000 pounds of produce.