Crazy Carrot follows other businesses out of Dinkytown

by Peter Frost

Staying afloat in a highly competitive consumer market is the biggest challenge facing young businesses. After treading water for barely more than a year, Dinkytown’s Crazy Carrot finally sunk and closed its doors for good.
Like Gray’s Campus Drug, Rocky Rococo, Kinko’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and countless other local retailers, the Crazy Carrot could not remain competitive enough to turn desirable profits.
Subsequently, all stock in the five-store chain was purchased by Jamba Juice — a similar San Francisco-based company that owns nearly 300 stores nationwide.
“The Crazy Carrot and Jamba Juice thought it would make the most sense not to compete and join together to take advantage of our similar interests,” said Tony Barranco, director of operations for the Minnesota/Wisconsin division of Jamba Juice and former co-founder of the Crazy Carrot.
In 1998, Barranco, with fellow owners Eric Strauss and Liem Nguyen, opened three fledgling juice bars in Minneapolis and another in St. Paul.
But less than two years after their first store opened, Strauss and Nguyen left the company to “pursue other interests.”
“We had differences between us about which direction the company should go,” Barranco said.
When his partners left, Crazy Carrot’s lone investor TomKat, LP, went forward with a shared buyout of the three, and soon after, sold the shares to Heartland Juice, Jamba’s regional partner.
Before the merger, the Carrot and Jamba Juice were competitors at Downtown and Uptown locations.
“We had stores in both locations within close proximity to each other,” Barranco said. “We thought if we continue to beat each other up, neither one of us would be successful.”
With the buyout, Jamba Juice opted to close and sell all of Crazy Carrot’s stores except the St. Paul location, which will re-open this spring under the Jamba Juice name.
Barranco said the Dinkytown location was initially successful but did not fit into the long-term plans of Jamba Juice.
He said the store was too big, and the company is looking into other opportunities that might become available in the University area.
While the Crazy Carrot closed, other businesses have struggled in Dinkytown during the past few years.
The Campus Job Connection and S.R. Gifts and Jewelry, businesses near the Crazy Carrot, both reported a dwindling number of customers.
“Things here are really slow,” said Lynda Maas, general manager of the Campus Job Connection.
“Usually, you’ve got to give it a year to see how things are going, but no one seems to stop in anymore,” she said. “It’s just a real battle.”
Jay Hurley, Espresso Royale Caffe manager, said his cafe is doing fine. He thinks the Crazy Carrot struggled because their marketing approach was too specialized.
“To be successful, you need to do more than try and sell $5 juice drinks to college students,” Hurley said.
With the Loring Pasta Bar coming soon and The Library Bar and Grill doing well, Hurley said things are looking up.
“I think Dinkytown will be making a comeback,” he said.

Peter Frost covers business and welcomes comments to pfros[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3215.