Local smoothie bar chain South Block is opening a not-for-profit cafe in Clarendon today that will line retail shelves with granola, coffee, and cold-pressed juice. Funds from every purchase at Fruitful Planet Market & Cafe will fund local fruit and vegetable donations to local food banks like Martha’s Table and ALIVE.
The new operation is tied to Fruitful Planet, South Blocks’ nonprofit arm. South Block CEO Amir Mostafavi partnered Brian MacNair, the former director of José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen and DC Central Kitchen, to start the organization last fall. Mostafavi says Fruitful Planet wanted to increase the amount of fresh produce for kitchens that often rely on canned goods.
‘We felt that it was a good opportunity for us to fill that void,” Mostafavi says. “We also know through running this business that eating healthy can be expensive, and we know that our our product is not affordable by everybody.”
The organization has already donated over 12,000 pounds of fruit.
Fruitful Planet Market & Cafe is located right next to South Block’s original location at 3011 11th Street in Arlington. It was previously a South Block juice outpost. Mostafavi always wanted to set up a market in the small space to raise money for Fruitful Planet, which is collects donations online and from a portion of juice sales. The coronavirus crisis inspired him to speed up plans and open up the Fruitful Planet Market & Cafe on Earth Day.
“We’re paying rent there anyway,” he says. ‘We might as well give employees some hours there and activate the space and try to do some good with it.”
While “stay-at-home” orders are in effect, Fruitful Planet Market & Cafe is accepting orders online and from an app. Customers can stop by for curbside pickup of items like bottles of juice and juice cleanses; buy-one, give-one boxes of fruit; coffee and cold brew from Commonwealth Joe; and “superfood lattes” made with ingredients like beetroot, turmeric, matcha, ginger, and algae-based Blue Majik powder.
Unlike at a typical South Block outpost, the new location won’t sell smoothies or made-to-order açaí bowls. Its focus is more on fridge and pantry items.
All proceeds at Fruitful Planet Market & Cafe will go to fruit and vegetable donations at a variety of organizations, like Arlington Food Assistance Center, Arlington public schools’ meal program, and Chef David Guas’ meal distribution program at Bayou Bakery.
The produce comes from South Block’s suppliers. Its Winchester, Virginia, apple farm is making weekly donations as well. South Block employees have also been delivering juices and ginger bomb shots to healthcare workers at local hospitals.
Mostafavi dedicated his nonprofit to his mother, who passed away last fall.
“She was my inspiration for giving back to people. She was the most fruitful person that I ever knew,” he says.
His plan for Fruitful Planet involves both providing both access to produce and educating recipients on what to do with it. The organization will distribute recipes and information about why eating fruits and vegetables is important.
“Some people, you’ll put a box of fruit in front of them, and they’ll have nothing to do with it,” he says. “How do you get them to like it?”
Eventually, he’d like to equip families with fruit and blenders, so they can whip up smoothies at home.
All South Block locations are currently open for curbside pickup under pandemic restrictions, except for an outpost within GWU’s health and fitness center.
“Our goal has been to try to remain open in some capacity, where we can safely get foods to people that will help keep them healthy,” Mostafavi says. “We realize...there are more essential businesses than us. But we do take pride in the fact that we’re trying to make healthy nutritious foods more available to people during this time and give them access to curbside pickup and delivery.”
He reports he hasn’t had to lay off any team member yet, even though sales are down.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to keep people’s paychecks coming every week.”
Three new South Block outposts are currently under construction: a Vienna location is on track for a low-key June opening, while two gym locations are delayed (one in an upcoming Equinox in Clarendon, and another in Chinatown’s new fitness hall).
Besides rolling out Fruitful Planet Market & Cafe during the pandemic, South Block is pivoting to more home deliveries. Its “stay at home” açaí bowl kits for home delivery (and now pickup at the new market) are selling out daily.
Mostafavi is testing nationwide shipping of the kits as a new business segment.
“We’re trying to really turn a terrible thing into something that provides more opportunity,” he says.