One of the more challenging parts of vacationing is trying to figure out where to stop and eat.

“There’s nowhere we can go quickly for a healthy option,” Ann Marie Laird lamented. And on road trips, her children tended to clamor for restaurants they recognized from television, usually the not-so-healthy options.

Drawing partially from those types of experiences, the Cecil Township resident decided to venture into the world of franchise ownership with Clean Juice, an enterprise boasting a name that accurately reflects what it sells: products that are certified as organic, lacking added sugars, preservatives and genetic modification.

Following a successful initial venture in Pine Township, Laird launched her second regional location at Donaldson’s Crossroads shopping center in Peters Township. That took place on Feb. 29, just a few weeks before the effects of COVID-19 started to manifest themselves fully.

“I feel fortunate that we were able to open, that we had a grand opening scheduled before that and we didn’t get delayed, even though we had to shut down, unfortunately,” she said.

The newest Clean Juice – which also features the likes of wraps, toast sandwiches, salads, fruit bowls and smoothies – has reopened with an emphasis on serving customers in ways that suit their COVID-19 comfort levels, such as filling orders through delivery and curbside pickup.

“I had someone the other day who was right out here and called one in,” general manager Ryan DeMayo said, motioning to the front window, “and we just brought it right out to her.”

A graduate of Washington & Jefferson College with a degree in international business, DeMayo also brings a background in the ever-growing social media field.

“I really had an interest in that in school, as well, and it’s nice to be able to really bring all of my talents to the table,” he said.

As for Laird, her background was in pharmaceutical sales, where she found herself subjected to periodic layoffs at the whims of the economy.

“I just was frustrated with continuously having to start over and find another job,” she recalled, especially knowing she was bound to lose it eventually.

The last job loss turned out to be the last straw.

“One of the things I had done during the layoff prior was I was certified as a holistic health coach through the Institute of Integrated Nutrition,” Laird said, and afterward, she read an article about Clean Juice. “At the very, very end, it says, ‘franchising opportunities available,’ and I thought, why have I never thought of that?”

And so her new career began, with some recollections of those vacations with the kids.

“When I heard about this concept, I thought, finally! There’s going to be something out there that offers convenient on-the-go food for busy moms, families, people who want to work out, people who are gluten-free, people who are vegan,” she said. “We customize everything and cater to that.”

Overall, the concept for Clean Juice resulted in the first store opening in 2015 in Huntersville, N.C. Today, the franchiser has 93 stores in operation and 45 more in development, including Laird’s plans for a third location in Cranberry Township.

Contributing to the success, in her opinion, is a growing awareness of the importance of the human digestive system.

“Everything goes through the gut,” she said. “If your gut’s not healthy, you’re not going to be healthy. It’s going to make it harder for you to lose weight. It will cause fatigue and make you feel sluggish. It does affect your mental clarity.”

To help offset unhealthy food and drink intake, alcohol included, Clean Juice offers Cleanse regimens consisting of a variety of juices that feature fruits, vegetables and spices with assorted nutritional benefits.

“Each of our bottles will have two-and-a-half to three pounds of produce in it, and that organic produce is really what brings whole, healthy nutrition to the body,” DeMayo said. “It really does wonders. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and renewed.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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