The healthy approach behind Pearl resident and entrepreneurial juice company Greenleaf.
When you walk into one of Greenleaf Juicing’s five Portland locations and order a healthy smoothie or a vibrant açaí bowl, you might never imagine that the inspiration behind this growing Pearl-based chain is about as old-school as you can get: Jack LaLanne.
The venerable midcentury fitness guru was also a pioneer of health product marketing, featuring—among other gadgets—a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer, which is still manufactured today. This appliance led Greenleaf co-founders Matt Trenkle and Garret Flynn down the juicing path in the late 2000s, soon after they graduated from college.
The two native Midwesterners were working in Chicago as management consultants, enduring long hours and late nights. “We would order dinner into the office all the time, and while we were trying to be healthy, it was almost always a disaster— pizza, burgers,” recalls Trenkle. “There just weren’t many options to get a good amount of vegetables and fruits into my diet.”
To compensate, Trenkle started juicing at home with his Jack LaLanne blender, initially with the goal of doing so every day. “But after the initial excitement level wore off, it became more of a few times a week thing versus every day,” he says. “Do I hit the snooze button three more times, or get up and get the juice ready? And then the clean up afterward—cleaning is the biggest headache. I began to figure that I was probably not the only one who felt this way.”
When a juice bar opened near the office in December of 2010, Trenkle and Flynn became steady customers. By then they had also started souring on life in the Midwest. “We love the outdoors, hiking and camping, mountains, and beaches—not really an option in Chicago,” says Trenkle. The two friends knew they wanted to live out West, in a city with easier access to nature. The idea came together very quickly: move to Portland, and test out the idea of a mobile juicing cart. “With zero food and beverage experience, it seemed a little too crazy to just open up a store right away,” he says. Next, they visited Portland to check out the cart scene. That trip sealed the deal. (“It was 78 degrees and sunny on March 7th—and that helped,” Trenkle recalls.)
“We knew the focus needed to be on the best ingredients, all-organic with the lowest footprint.”
By July of 2011, Trenkle and Flynn had relocated to Portland. They opened Greenleaf’s first juice cart on NW 23rd Avenue. “We knew the focus needed to be on the best ingredients, all-organic with the lowest footprint,” says Trenkle. He and Flynn traded working 12-hour shifts, adjusting both to a new city and to a new way of getting things done. “After years hammering away on spreadsheets and talking to lawyers—it was a big shock,” he says.
“We knew the demographics were a fit—there are a lot of workout places, and active people, and it’s very dense and walkable.”
The cart succeeded, and in March 2012—one year after their scouting trip—they opened their first brick-and-mortar location in the Pearl. “We knew the demographics were a fit—there are a lot of workout places, and active people, and it’s very dense and walkable.” A year later, Trenkle moved to the Pearl to be closer to the store and the company’s main office.
As Greenleaf Juicing has grown steadily to five locations—and counting—in Portland, the menu has held firm to some principles while evolving in other ways. Organic produce always, locally grown when possible— “these are core values that we don’t budge on,” says Trenkle. But they do respond to customers’ requests and interests. For instance, demand for nut milks led the company to start making their own, and one of their most popular juices, Wondrous Punch, was a concoction that masks spinach, kale, beets, and carrots in fruit juices, prepared for a regular customer whose kid wouldn’t touch a vegetable. The company keeps a close eye on nutritional and juicing trends, and makes judicious additions to the menu—like, for instance, celery juice. “It’s a balancing act—we try to offer everything we can without being too overwhelming for new customers.”
“The Pearl is really made up of small business owners, and you don’t quite realize until you start attending the events and talking to people that we’re all experiencing the same issues. I wanted to help out some more.”
In his own life, Trenkle also balances work with frequent trips to the beach, the mountains for skiing and snowboarding, and the Gorge for camping. He also finds time to work in a healthy serving of community giving. Greenleaf Juicing became an active member of the Pearl District Business Association when the first store opened in 2012, and Trenkle recently joined the board. “The Pearl is really made up of small business owners, and you don’t quite realize until you start attending the events and talking to people that we’re all experiencing the same issues. I wanted to help out some more,” he says. The company partners with local businesses and nonprofits, ranging from discounts for members of YoYoYogi to a partnership with the nonprofit Ecotrust. The company uses plant-based packaging as much as possible, but it can’t legally do so for its bottled juices, so it donates a portion of each juice sold in a plastic bottle to Ecotrust.
Trenkle fuels all of this activity by regularly enjoying some notable items on the Greenleaf menu—his special favorites for cold days are the company’s oatmeal with house-made almond milk and almond butter, and the quinoa-studded Baja Bowl. On warmer days he favors the Sunrise Bowl—which features plenty of açaí—and at all times his favorite juice on the menu is Spicyleaf, made with jalapeño, green pepper, spinach, kale, parsley, apple, cucumber, and celery.
All of these menu items and likely a number of new ones will become available in more and more new locations. Greenleaf Juicing, which now has 45 employees, has ambitious plans to expand. Recently, Garret Flynn started a family and began to divide his time between Portland and his hometown of Indianapolis. The company opened a Greenleaf Juicing outpost there two years ago, and it’s proved so successful that they’re about to open another. In Portland, the goal is to continue expanding as well, likely by one or two stores in 2020. “We’re always looking to grow—we get requests every day for a store in this neighborhood or that one,” says Trenkle. Convenience and proximity to their customers is a big part of the strategy. “If someone has to drive 25 minutes for a juice, that’s probably not going to happen,” he notes.
But Greenleaf Juicing fully intends to keep its headquarters and its flagship location in the Pearl. “We plan to stay in the neighborhood long-term,” says Trenkle. “We love this area.” By Alison Stein // Photos by Ashley Anderson