By Katie Johnson
When tragedy touched her life, Alicia Swanstrom knew the time had come to make a change. Her boyfriend, Doug Green, who always championed and supported her dream of one day owning a business, was killed in action in Afghanistan, a week before he was scheduled to come home.
“It was a big realization for me about how short life is,” she recalled. Soon after, she left her job in public accounting and took some time for herself. It was then that she started focusing on self-care, and on consuming things that elevated her mood and made her body feel good.
Out of this time of grief and change, the idea for Greenheart was born. “I really wanted to start this business just to provide people with healthy food and things that nourish them,” she said, adding that another goal is to help people through tough times, whatever they may be. She started slowly by selling home-made granola at farmers markets. Overtime, her endeavor grew to include juices, smoothies and nut milks, and expanded into a brick and mortar location in Leesburg. She started looking for investors and met Matthew Cahir of Middleburg Juice Company.
Cahir had transformed his health with the aid of a carefully-crafted green juice. After a busy, jet-setting job and an unhealthy lifestyle that left him struggling physically, he resolved to make a change. “I was horrified,” he said. He didn’t enjoy smoothies but did like juice. And so, over the course of several months, Cahir worked to refine what would become Middleburg Juice Company’s signature green juice, a recipe full of superfoods like kale, parsley, spinach, ginger, and lemon. In the process, he lost 50 pounds. People took notice, and once his juice caught on, his delivery business “exploded.” With over a thousand customers, he saw that it was time to grow.
Cahir reached out to Swanstrom after seeing a post on social media. “I loved her story,” he said. “It was almost a perfect fit for us to merge.” Swanstrom also believed that their two businesses complemented each other. They shared a passion for quality ingredients, community spirit, and making people feel good. “The foundations lined up really nicely,” Swanstrom shared.
They’ve taken the process of merging their businesses “step-by-step,” she said, and they’re still working on the transition. Swanstrom and Cahir agreed, though, that it’s been an amazing partnership. Shortly after they connected, Cahir drove through the Village of Aldie and noticed that the location previously occupied by Brassicas had become available.
Swanstrom thought the quaint, historic village would be a perfect fit for a new Greenheart location. “I loved the fact that it’s an old home,” Swanstrom recalled. “I think it was appealing to us because we’re very focused on trying to find locations that line up really nicely with that old-town, historic feel where that sense of community is already there” she added, where “we can add a space for people to gather.” They took possession of the space three days before Aldie’s annual Harvest Wine and Food Festival, rushing to open on the day of the event. “We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to introduce ourselves to people in the community,” Swanstrom said.
After a busy opening day, Greenheart has continued to generate new business. “It’s very rare that we don’t get a return customer,” Cahir said. “The whole point is that it’s there to serve the community.” It’s easy to see why customers keep coming back. Open the door to the shop and you are greeted with a warm welcome from Greenheart’s employees, some of whom are familiar faces from Brassicas. The light, airy feel of the space creates a cozy and inviting atmosphere to sit and relax. And if that weren’t enough, there’s an obvious attention to detail, quality, and of course, flavor in each of Greenheart’s juices, smoothies, nut milks, and acai bowls.
Each recipe is crafted with ingredients designed to work together to create maximum health benefits. “They’ve definitely evolved over time,” Swanstrom said of her recipes, pointing out that she always uses real vanilla beans, never vanilla extract.
Soon, Greenheart will add coffee and espresso drinks to its meticulously-curated menu, as well as turmeric and matcha lattes, and breakfast and lunch options. Customers can also expect to see seasonal juices, including watermelon for the summer. Swanstrom and Cahir plan to expand the shop’s outdoor space with a comfortable patio, new garden beds, and even a coy pond – “for the kids,” Cahir said.
Plans are in the works for new locations in Old Town Alexandria and Georgetown. However, for now, Swanstrom said, the team is focused on the shop in Aldie. Their most important goals are to create a sense of community, help people feel better, and craft a positive environment where people feel empowered and educated about healthy eating. “We want people to feel welcomed,” said Swanstrom. “We want people to feel better when they leave than when they walked in.”
This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.