Carlson grads expand juice bars to Dinkytown

Emily Dalnodar

After spending five years and thousands of dollars on a University education, Eric Strauss finally worked his way up to Chief Carrot Peeler.
It’s not a hard luck story. Chief Carrot Peeler is actually a fancy way of saying president and CEO of 27-year-old Strauss’ own company: Crazy Carrot. The third location of this lucrative juice bar chain opened Monday in Dinkytown.
Along with his business partners, Tony Barranco, 24, and Liem Nguyen, 25 — all recent graduates of the Carlson School of Management — Strauss had slated Dinkytown as the next logical market after opening a successful store in St. Paul and another in Uptown.
The money to start the Crazy Carrot chain came from 30 initial investors — now there are 31 — who are mostly friends and family. The Dinkytown store alone required more than $200,000 for remodeling, equipment, design and lease.
Since the original business plan called for multiple locations, money generated from sales goes right into new juice bars and upgrades. In fact, according to Strauss, Dinkytown is not the final Crazy Carrot.
Laurie Gasperson, friend and investor in Strauss’ operation, said she’s impressed with the success of Crazy Carrot. “I’m a young person always looking for a good investment,” Gasperson said. “When you make an investment, you’re investing in an idea and a person.”
By far the largest of their juice bars, the Dinkytown location offers free Internet access using Digital Subscriber Line technology to those with laptops. This technology allows users to upload and download from the Internet 17 times faster than a standard 56.6k modem — which is comparable to the University’s computer labs.
Crazy Carrot invested an initial $10,000 for the Internet hardware, router, system servers and cable. They pay $250 per month for unlimited Internet access available to their customers. Free hook-up cables are also on hand if users don’t have their own.
“We were looking for a draw to attract students and professors,” Strauss said. “CyberX (Internet cafe in Uptown) does great business, but people pay $6 for computers. Our focus is juices.”
Fresh fruit, vegetables and locally-grown, organic wheat grass that stays planted until it goes into a drink comprise the juices and smoothies that are Crazy Carrot’s specialty. They also offer two “healthy additions” like multi-vitamin, calcium or ginseng root for free.
“The prices are a little high, but I’m willing to pay for good nutrition,” said Aura Carlson, customer and communication disorders junior.
Her friend Amy Dobbs, a speech communication junior, agrees. “If you look at what they put into the smoothies, you get what you pay for,” she said.
In a trend of health awareness and social consciousness, Strauss and company also take care to recycle their waste. The mass of fruit pulp and peels left over after juicing goes into compost and hog feed, not into landfills.
Employees also reap the benefits of their employers’ philosophies. In a bold move, all knowledge of sales and business transactions is disclosed to the employees, who in turn, sign a confidentiality form. According to Doug Sikora, a two-month employee of the company, the shared economic knowledge boosts his loyalty to the business.
“They want to know what we think,” Sikora said. “They’re very receptive. We can ask them stuff and give our opinions.”