Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to chat with three close friends about their experiences owning and operating small businesses that accept American Express – Alicia Swanstrom and Diana Morales of Greenheart Juice Shop and food expert and restaurateur Nick Wiseman of DGS Delicatessen, Little Sesame, and Whaley’s and Hill Prince. Excited and passionate, their restaurants and philosophies surpass menus and meals, and are community cornerstones meant to ignite fire for dietary change.
Greenheart Juice Shop
Greenheart Juice Shop is the wellness haven created by Alicia Swanstrom and Diana Morales. Both grew up in Sterling, Virginia, right outside of Washington DC, but Swanstrom and Morales wouldn’t cross paths until their late 20s. With master’s degrees, yoga and health coaching certifications, and aspirations of bettering others’ emotional and mental health lingering in their back pockets, they were reintroduced through mutual friends. Both felt unfulfilled, “it took things getting really bad to realize they needed to get better,” says Swanstrom, which led her towards a self-healing journey and ultimately the founding of Greenheart, “to help people savor life, not suffer through it.”
Offering patrons juices, smoothies, and an extended mealtime menu, Greenheart is more than a juice company. It’s an experience, enhancing their menu with superfoods and taking a real interest in their customers and community. Accepting American Express has made Greenheart available to a broader customer base and is a pleasant surprise for those who use American Express cards as a preferred payment method, which helps Morales and Swanstrom’s sales. Did you know that over 2,200 restaurant locations in the Washington DC area started accepting American Express® Cards in the last year?
After three years in business, operating at farmers’ markets and only recently opening their first standalone location in Great Falls, VA, Swanstrom and Morales have found mentorship and personal power in podcasts, thriving off the wisdom of vegan chef Laura Miller, storyteller Alex Elle, and health blogger Jessica Murnane.
“What keeps me motivated is knowing customers really do look forward to our products,” says Morales, “and that our products are accessible, making a strong, positive difference in their lives.”
They were no strangers to roadblocks; self-funding their business was a particularly difficult experience for them. “We came up against opportunities to expand, but didn’t have the financial means to do so, meaning getting into a storefront took much longer than expected.” The long wait took a toll on their self-confidence and forced them to ask themselves, “Are we really capable?” says Swanstrom. Persevering at a resonating “slow and steady” pace, they are now open and operating, both looking forward to growing their mission with their community, but also anticipating expansion. “The desire to assist others through their wellness journeys will always be there, but the ways we do that may take on different shapes: whether that’s opening a Greenheart yoga studio, leading wellness retreats, operating a community farm or making organic baby food.”
While their customers remain central, Greenheart still holds a strong and personal tie: “Providing a healthy community for my three-month-old daughter to grow up in, where she can witness women at work, creating career paths for themselves and defining success in a different way, is invaluable,” notes Swanstrom. And their final words of wisdom, for those looking to take that entrepreneurial leap: “It’s so tempting to compare your progress to others, but everyone’s journey truly is different. Know that it’s okay (and totally normal!) if yours takes another shape.”
Greenheart’s Brazil Bliss Balls
makes 20 balls
½ cup raw almonds
½ up raw brazil nuts
1/8 teaspoon pink salt
¼ cup cacao nibs
10 medjool dates
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon hemp hearts
½ fresh vanilla bean
2 teaspoons shredded coconut (optional)
In a food processor fitted with an S-blade, pulse almonds, brazil nuts, and salt until nuts are finely chopped.
Add cacao, dates, coconut oil, hemp, and vanilla bean then continue to pulse until mixture forms a smooth dough.
Remove from processor and divide into 12 even balls, rolling each in shredded coconut to garnish.
DGS Delicatessen, Little Sesame, Whaley’s and Hill Prince
A third generation Washingtonian, Nick Wiseman is co-owner of DGS Delicatessen, Little Sesame, Whaley’s and Hill Prince, DC-based restaurants and bars that have warmly accepted Amex from the beginning. Now more restaurants than ever take American Express. Over 100,000 restaurant locations started accepting American Express® Cards in the last year. “American Express has opened a pipeline for likeminded guests that really care about quality products and experiences,” says Wiseman. “Connecting with this demographic is critical to our success.”
These restaurants serve the gamut of traditional delicatessen, as well as seafood and bar fare. Graduating from DC’s public school system and then attending University of California, Berkeley, Wiseman’s culinary education and entrepreneurial spirit grew from a strong support system and decades of experience. Beginning at age fifteen, he worked his way through the professional kitchens of Todd Gray, Brendan Cox, Fabio Trabocchi, and Michael White, and is still building his skills. “Cooking is a lifelong pursuit. There’s no level of completion,” says Wiseman, who has a fundamental priority of making good food, sourcing well, hiring talented people and never cutting corners to create an enduring brand and restaurant experience. Even though Wiseman has fared tougher weeks and bad breaks, the volatility of the food service industry, his restaurants always keep moving. “We’ve never let our mistakes slow us down. Every day we set out to get better.”
Now the co-owner of four successful establishments, Wiseman not only loves building teams, fostering community amongst employees as well as patrons, but finds the most inspiration in providing a home for employees to thrive. “We’ve had folks working with us for years, many since the very beginning; Dishwashers have become sous-chefs and bartenders have become general managers. When you’ve placed someone in a position to succeed and it works as planned, it’s deeply rewarding.”
Now turning his attention towards growing fast casual restaurant Little Sesame, which is “the distillation of everything we have learned,” Wiseman and the Little Sesame team are setting out to disrupt the fast food paradigm, creating healthful and meaningful meals (from farmers who care about their land, prepared by well compensated cooks), for $10 a plate. A lofty yet significant objective, Wiseman is cognizant of ebb. “The contours of business demand that we change all the time. We have to be adaptive to survive. Complacency is the end.”
While his businesses are central, Wiseman, like so many of us, finds strength in balance, for himself and his team. “I love getting out of the city, exploring new places, going on hikes with my dog, Dally, eating my fiancé’s sourdough bread and cooking for my family.” And his final words of wisdom, for those looking to take that entrepreneurial leap: “There will always be days that will make you want to quit, but never give up on your vision. Find good mentors, find good allies, and just start working.”
Little Sesame’s Green Schug
A versatile sauce perfect served over any combination of roasted vegetables
1 bunch parsley, stems included
1 bunch cilantro, stems included
10 pc Jalapeños, seeded
½ cup fresh garlic
1½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1½ teaspoon ground coriander
In a food processor fitted with an S-blade, pulse all ingredients until smooth. Store refrigerated in an airtight tupperware for up to one week.
Thank you American Express for sponsoring this post, and thank you for reading!