We are thrilled to introduce our very first #girlboss in our Women Who Work series. Women Who Work is a monthly feature that introduces you to women in business, philanthropy, community work, and the creative sector. It’s intended to foster a community of sisterhood for women who are “doin the damn thang” and to inspire others who are on this crazy journey we call “having a career.” Remember- career is anything you want it to be, you just have to go out there and get it!
Leslie Woods, director of operations & “Juice Pusher”, Raleigh Raw.
Name: Leslie Woods
Occupation: Director of Operations/Juice Pusher, Raleigh Raw
Resides: Raleigh, N.C.
Education: B.A., Psychology and Cognitive Science, NCSU. Master’s, Global Innovation Management, NCSU.
Leslie Woods of Raleigh Raw juice and her business partner Sherif Fouad (who doubles as her boyfriend) are opening their first brick and mortar cafe next month in downtown Raleigh, N.C. Initially a door-delivery service, Woods and Fouad raised almost $40,000 via Kickstarter to make their dream come true, which shows how much the local community believes in their mission to “Fuel the Hustle.”
“(It’s about) providing the best quality foods and beverages to the community in a convenient way so they can get on with their day feeling their best and thereby producing and creating at their highest level,” Leslie said.
Raleigh Raw is 100 percent organic and raw. Juices are cold and fresh pressed. The cafe will also provide pre-packaged foods (made fresh daily), oatmeal, and local coffee.
“We’ve helped to create a place where people on a similar frequency can come to connect, discuss ideas, and live the best versions of themselves,” Leslie said. “The business began in Sherif’s kitchen in downtown Raleigh. He had been laid off in NYC during the market downturn in 2012 and moved to Raleigh to get a fresh start. We met at the bar I was managing… (Eventually) we were living together and basically on the same schedule- work on the weekends and search for your passion during the week. He started making juices for the neighbors and was set on starting a juice company. He knew he could create an outstanding product. I watched him work, passionately creating juices and trying to find a partner, but no one seemed to be the right fit. Over time he would ask me to help him do this or that…The process naturally grew into us working together everyday and eventually it made sense that he write me into the operating agreement and we make it official. We’re very blessed to have the relationship that we do. It is rare for sure and we’re grateful everyday.”
Read on for our interview with Leslie.
What were some of your previous jobs before Raleigh Raw? (Basically tell us about your career journey and how you ended up where you are).
LW: College Years: During my time at NCSU (North Carolina State University) I worked in all aspects of the restaurant industry – hostess, busser, waiter, cocktail waitress, bartender, manager.
Post Grad School: I began working at Lenovo Computer Company in (Research Triangle Park) in 2011 and knew I had made it! All of those talks you’ve been given as a kid about what true success is… “Go to school, get a good stable job, get married, buy a house, have kids, etc.” At about six months in, the veil of shine began to lift and I came to understand that I no longer knew what I wanted out of a career, or out of life. I felt tricked- I had worked so hard for what someone else told me was the right thing to do; the right career path to follow. I stuck it out for another six months. I knew that this lifestyle did not suit who I was and headstrong at 23 years old, I knew I would never go back.
Post Corporate Job: I left Lenovo in June of 2012 with no real plans. I knew I had my service industry family to lean on and they all came through. I was able to get a bartending job on the weekends and make enough to support myself through the weeks. I was confident that I could start my own business and make money at it but I didn’t know what I wanted to produce or offer as a service. I’m very driven and will outwork most people that I know so (I thought) why should I spend my resources spinning someone else’s wheels when I can spin my own and keep all of the profits? In order to find this idea I set up some parameters: 1. (The venture) must not require start-up capital. 2. (It) must not require a physical store. 3. (It) must have high profits. I hadn’t defined this further at that time because, to be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing! Out of those guidelines I created, along with a now very close friend, The Factory NC. We were an online shop to buy local North Carolina creations – an Etsy on a local scale. There was potential there. It was year one of business number one and in any new business that year is more of (a) learning (experience) than making money. We both decided it was time to fold the business. My father, a self-employed engineer, said to me, “Leslie, if you’re not making money then this is a hobby, not a business.” He was right, it was a hobby.
Post The Factory NC: I had now successfully gotten a master’s degree, landed a great corporate job, quit said corporate job after one year, went back to bartending, and failed at my first business. From the outside in, I was not looking too hot. But from the inside looking out I knew I was on the right track. I was getting closer to something…
Leslie would later meet Sherif and the rest is history.
Juicing has become very popular; what sets Raleigh Raw apart and/or makes it different?
LW: We go overboard when it comes to product quality and consistency. If you drink a Raleigh Raw juice in April 2014 and then again in April 2017 it will taste the exact same. This is our passion project. We are not here to make loads of profits (you cannot reasonably expect to do so in an organic health food company), we are here to provide the best possible product to our community – product over profits.
How have you seen the power of juice and/or healthy foods impact your own life and the lives of others?
LW: Sherif’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 and has remained in remission using raw foods, without chemo or radiation!! I mean, that’s huge. For others and for ourselves when you drink a juice or a superfood smoothie you get a jolt of energy, your body springs back to life. As Sherif notes, “We’re live bodies and so we need live foods.” Uncooked plant based foods is what Raleigh Raw offers.
You recently raised almost $40,000 via Kickstarter to help fund the opening of your cafe. Tell us more about this experience and what people can expect from the cafe once it opens.
LW: It was a humbling experience. When we launched the Kickstarter we both immediately agreed that we should take it down, that it was unrealistic. We had a huge show of support from customers, friends, and family. It gave us a tremendous amount of confidence to move forward. The café is almost open!! We’re aiming for March 1, 2016. The Raleigh Raw Café is going to be a place for grab-and-go food, coffees and teas, as well as a hub for conscious conversation. The foods will be made that morning and prepackaged for quick and convenient pick up. Our menu items will include salad, soup, smoothies, juice, no-bread wraps, snack boxes with hummus and vegetables, oatmeal, etc… We will be serving an amazing tea menu provided by Sangha Tea House in Durham, as well as Matcha from Panatea, and coffee from Raleigh Coffee Co. We plan to have many monthly events where speakers will join us. This is something that Raleigh needs and we are so thankful to be a part of it.
What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to start their own brand or business?
LW: Follow your gut. Take others’ advice with a grain of salt. Find yourself a badass mentor and ask them to coach you. ALWAYS believe in yourself because what you have to offer matters.
Tell us about Raleigh and the greater Triad area. What do you love about it and what are some of your favorite hot spots?
LW: I’m the Raleigh almanac. I have a deep-rooted love for this large town (I’m not ready to call Raleigh a city yet but we’re getting there). The Raleigh community is incredibly giving and supportive. There is a large group of entrepreneurial-minded individuals who live in this area who are ready to pitch in and brainstorm new ideas. The support from these groups to start something for yourself is unmatched. Some of my favorite spots to hang are Lake Johnson, Capital Club 16, Fox Liquor Bar, and of course Raleigh Raw Café.
Most memorable #girlboss moment to date:
LW: When our current landlord declined to give us the space for the café. I got the phone call from our broker and instead of getting sad or saying, “Damn, that sucks.” I said, “No, not happening. Call an all hands meeting tomorrow. I want the owner, the building manager, their lawyer, and both of you (my brokers) all there at noon.” … The brokers arranged it and I stayed up all night creating a 20-page document that detailed our plans, the demographics of the area, and the vision for the space. After the meeting all parties involved were blown away and said it was one of the best pitches they’d ever seen. A day later we got the call we were in. It was one of those moments where you stand up for yourself, when you know that something belongs to you and you protect it as if someone is trying to take it from you.
Favorite place to eat in the Triangle:
LW: I’ve got a hand full of favorites in no particular order: Stanbury, Joule, M Sushi, Jose & Sons.
Best vacation you’ve ever taken:
LW: Sailing for 10 days on a 40-foot Catamaran with a group of friends around the British Virgin Islands. I plan to take another sailing trip when I turn 30 around the Mediterranean.
What you’re reading now:
LW: The Warrior Within, by John Little. Basically covering the career and philosophies of Bruce Lee.
What you’re listening to now:
LW: I’m not much of a music person. I always say that Sherif plays the soundtrack for my life since he is such a music buff. I prefer podcasts. My favorites are: This American Life, Story Corps, and Planet Money.
What you’re watching on TV now:
LW: I do not have a TV. Sherif and I sold ours when we bought our first juicer!! But we do watch a good series on Netflix or Xfinity when they come around. Right now we’re watching Billions.