“You’ll Figure it Out:” The Journey of a Small Business Owner Facing the Trials of COVID-19
By Jennings Brooks
Jenny Forst was scuttling around her kitchen in the manner of a mid-century kitchen maid preparing for the Queen’s arrival. Her castle? An Atlanta suburbia home nestled in a grove of pines set beside the Chattahoochee River – a highly coveted location. Constructed with dark stones and mica flecks that dazzled when the sunlight breached the dense forest, it seemed a welcoming fortress for the three-person family. The difference? Instead of preparing for a dignitary to come, she tidied to restore the dignity of her home as she prepared to leave it. With a middle school daughter and husband both working from home, she knows she will find her previously organized kitchen more disorderly than she left it.
She paces around the kitchen, adjusting the dirty pots on the stove, balancing them in a somewhat precarious yet neater pile, and scrubs at invisible stains camouflaged in the mottled granite counters. Piles of receipts dating from days recent, to months past are stacked in disheveled piles, outlining a faint semi-circle on the floor where her feet would be placed in front of the worn, cream-colored armchair, still smelling faintly of coffee from the droplet stains on the armrests. Rolls and stubs of bible-thin thermal paper are scattered near the hearth of the fireplace and tacked onto boards gingerly leaning against her mother’s Impressionist-influenced paintings that are hung throughout the house. Checking her watch, checking her phone, time is not a frivolous resource in Forst’s every day.
Forst is one of two owners of Dtox Juice LLC based out of Atlanta, GA. With 6 stores in the Atlanta area - 2 independent Dtox retail locations and 4 locations inside of Whole Foods Market – along with 5 Whole Foods Market locations where Dtox juice is sold instore. Forst has had her hands full managing a small business since 2008, leading the charge in the booming health foods market.
Before her endeavors as a small business owner, Forst was employed in the commercial real estate industry working for General Growth and managing multiple commercial properties, most of those being malls. It was her mind for numbers and a desire to solve complex problems which originally drew her to finance and the intricacies of managing large budgets. It was when her boss tried to keep her away from marketing, however, that her attention was distracted from the finance world. And it was in moving to the marketing department at at General Growth where she met her current partner, Karen Spencer.
“Our boss would have to separate us,” said Forst. They loved not only working together, but spending time as friends, growing their relationship through exchanging book suggestions, stories of their children and, especially, recipes. Forst and Spencer knew they had the makings to be good business partners. “Having a partner is like being married,” Forst explained. “You have to be extremely selective when going into business with someone.” Forst knew Spencer not only as a friend, but a reliable colleague. “No matter what we’ve gone through on this journey,” explained Forst, “we really do love each other.”
Spencer moved to China a few years later just as General Growth, a Fortune-500 Company, was going into bankruptcy. Forst’s entire division was eliminated, which she guesses was a good thing. At the same time, her mother was visually declining in her battle against breast cancer. Forst decided to take the year off from work, instead focusing on caring for her ailing mother. Her daughter in elementary school at the time was a particularly picky eater, so she bought Jessica Seinfeld’s Deliciously Deceptivecookbook to learn how to make dishes that would pass under the radar for being healthy. As she began to juice organic produce for her daughter every morning, Forst thought she may be able to use whole foods and a clean diet to help cure her mother.
“My parents were right brain and left brain,” said Forst. Both were Swedish immigrants, raising their children with an appreciate for culture, sciences and the arts. Forst was naturally inclined towards the left side like her father, “a true Renaissance man,” discovering her natural role as a strategist. “I’m not afraid to take risks,” she said, “but there must be analysis, thought and research behind what I do.” Like her mother, most of Forst’s creative side came out in the kitchen. Growing up with an extroverted older sister with a knack for taking over a room, the kitchen was her place of refuge. It opened her eyes to all possibilities, Forst said. “It was fun to make stuff up.”
During her time at General Growth, Forst was a frequent traveler to Los Angeles and New York where she appreciated all of the healthy food options the two cities offered. She saw the health foods marketing booming on the two coasts and knew there was a need that could be filled in Atlanta. “I’ve always been a futuristic thinker,” explained Forst, never failing to ask herself, “what are the possibilities?”
Upon Spencer’s return from China, everything seemed to fall into place. “She asked me what I had been up to and - I don’t know why - I just said juicing.” As luck would have it, Spencer had also been experimenting with organic juicing. It just made sense – the business idea they had been waiting for was before them and they were living in the perfect climate to act on it. The partners discovered Dtox Juice, a hole in the wall juice store located in a basement on the backside of a retail store on the side of overly populated Roswell Road. It was a poor location, but Dtox had already harnessed a small, yet devoted audience. Forst knew it would be easier to build up a pre-existing business with congruent values instead of starting from scratch. In the beginning stages “we thought to ourselves, wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we were in Whole Foods one day.” Brother-in-law Dave Brooks described Forst as having touched every aspect of a business that started from just a few “sleepy stores,” now having grown into a recognizable brand in Whole Foods stores.
Forst remembers the time in those early years when she operated under the principle of fear. Her husband Paul would remind her, “you’ll figure it out,” providing the early optimism and encouragement she would need. Despite her experience managing extremely large budgets at General Growth, at the end of the day it wasn’t her investment. Now in the end, Dtox was her money and she will do anything to prevent losing it. Whether it’s filling in for the juicing team before a big delivery, cleaning a clogged drain before a health inspection or opening and cashiering a retail storefront when a fickle employee doesn’t show, there’s not a job at Dtox that Forst hasn’t also done. Despite self-classifying as eternal optimists, there were numerable times when the partners considered closing for good, said Forst. “I can see why so many small businesses fail,” she empathized.
Forst doesn’t try to sell to customers, she tries to help them. When Jenny is in the store, you can clearly see her knowledge and passion for Dtox, said employee Audrey Smit. She actively starts conversations with customers to share her knowledge of wellness through food in order to help others. According to Forst, the job isn’t always glamorous. But there are times when she reminds herself to take a step back, basking in all that she’s accomplished. The biggest so far seeing their brand logo beside Whole Foods Market - “It’s really an honor.”
Even during the craziness of COVID-19, Forst says she hasn’t been as scared lately. “I’m not sure why. I just know it won’t be like this forever.” Like most in the current climate, she’s scared of the unknown and losing everything she’s invested in Dtox, particularly her time. She is grateful for this season, however, as it has allowed her to take a step back, prioritizing her life. The time she’s been returned has made up for the times spent apart from her daughter, cutting time short with her family, but overall the time she neglected to care for herself. “In a sick way this has all been really exhilarating,” she gushes. She’s had to come up with solutions to huge problems in a matter of hours; everything changes on a day-to-day basis.
“What if we did all of this work and nothing comes of it?” Forst often finds herself grappling with this very question. As a small business owner, she advises taking advantage of everything you have before you. “All of the decisions I’ve made have led me to where I am today,” she said. Forst desires to create a legacy, and she’s certainly on the path to accomplishing it.
Jenny Forst, Dtox Juice Owner, 404-964-3757
Karen Spencer, Dtox Juice Owner, firstname.lastname@example.org
Audrey Smit, Dtox Juice Employee, 770-686-6293
Ann Brooks, Forst’s Sister, 678-457-0013
Dave Brooks, Forst’s Brother-in-law, 650-270-6023
Juice, Dtox. “Dtox Juice Announces Aggressive Expansion Plan for 10 New Stores in Atlanta.” PR Newswire: Press Release Distribution, Targeting, Monitoring and Marketing, 30 Apr. 2014, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dtox-juice-announces-aggressive-expansion-plan-for-10-new-stores-in-atlanta-257308761.html.
Kelley, Collin. “Whole Foods Market 365 Opens in Buckhead and Decatur.” Atlanta INtown Paper, 13 Dec. 2018, atlantaintownpaper.com/2018/12/whole-foods-market-365-opens-in-buckhead-and-decatur/.