How Lilia Fernandez, Co-Owner at Mom's Fresh Juice + Kitchen Established Her Company Values and Culture

May 17, 2019
Lilia Victoria Fernandez was born in El Paso, TX and raised in Cd. Juarez, Mexico. Growing up in a border city and attending school in the US opened up many opportunities for her. After high school, she moved to Austin, TX to attend St. Edward's University. While living in Austin, she took many different jobs from working at her school as Hispanic Event Coordinator to driving for Uber and finally, working back-of-house and some of Austin's hottest restaurants. On her occasional trips to her hometown, she would buy juice from Mom's Fresh Juice where she met the owner and founder, Farzad Farrokhnia. Lilia loved the juice and was instantly hooked. She asked if he was interested in growing to Austin. After planting the seed of 'expansion' in his mind, Lilia spent her time waiting for an answer by traveling the world and tasting juice from Japan to Spain to NYC. Sadly, she was never able to find anything like Mom's Fresh Juice.

Four years down the road, Farzad contacted Lilia about her idea of expanding and after many, many meetings, the two decided that a partnership would be ideal. After that, they joined forces and began working to grow the juice company. They worked on rebranding, menu updates and advertising. In the beginning, they figured that if the brand was going to grow and be stable long-term, it would have to transform into a new, fresh and professional look. Lilia wanted to respect the old brand while bringing a newer and cleaner design that would transform their little local juice shop into something bigger.

One decision in making the brand more approachable was to drop the size of their bottled juices from 16oz to 12oz. Lower cost, friendlier portions and updated packaging all proved to be great improvements and as an added bonus, the new 12oz portion size worked great as a companion to their popular Sun Bowls, which are veggie & grain bowls drizzled with delicious sauces and tantalizing toppings that are made fresh daily.

As far as their roles within the business, they handle administrative duties togethers while Lilia oversees the business & financial aspects and Farzad handles the creative side of things. Together, they have revamped the processes and procedures in their kitchen, bringing productivity to an all-time high. After attending the juice-only convention JuiceCon, Lilia researched and soon introduced a kitchen-management system that would help them organize and control nearly every aspect of the business, including scheduling, forecasting, inventory and analytics, among other things. Since so many juice companies start so small, out of their homes or at farmers markets, expansion can prove to be difficult since most restaurant management systems really cater to hot kitchens and full service restaurants.

The difference with Mom's Fresh Juice & Kitchen is that everything is prepared cold with unprocessed ingredients and nothing artificial, ever. They've struggled with city and state inspectors who don't fully comprehend the concept or the benefits of whole, real, unprocessed foods. In the time since Lilia joined the company, she has found that one of her favorite things about owning a business is the huge variety of knowledge you gain since every day is so different and there is something new to learn from every experience.

In El Paso, Mom's has been lucky to grow mostly by word-of-mouth. When the business began, it was with the purpose of educating and being part of the community. Farzad started the business in his studio apartment before moving to a tiny, rented kitchen in a bar and then finally opening a production space of their own. His slowly-expanding team continued working and growing with the El Paso community through farmers markets and doing events like Neon Desert Music Festival and Chalk the Block. Additionally, Mom's recently began a partnership with 'Run For It', a running group that meets weekly at local businesses for group runs and socializing. Today, Mom's occupies a location 3x the size of their first location and in a much more popular area of town, which allows them to do even more with their neighbors. For example, Mom's is now a pickup location for Desert Spoon's local CSA produce boxes and they work with local companies like Quality Fruit and Vegetable Co. to get the best produce for their products.

Mom's Fresh Juice & Kitchen was the unintentional [but happy!] by-product of a cancer diagnosis. Farzad was inspired after his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not by the diagnosis itself, but by his mothers perseverance and continued good health during her treatment. Throughout her cancer treatment, she would make smoothies for her kids and even deliver to Farzad's front door, all the while maintaining a healthy glow, high energy and motivation. The simple gesture of a mother sharing something good with her son was the inspiration behind the company. Once her doctor confirmed her remission status, Farzad worked to get his idea off the ground.

El Paso is a place for great food but 'healthy' would definitely not describe it. He brought something to El Paso that had never been seen or tasted before. Once people started trying it and realizing that they can consume something that not only tasted good but made them feel great too, he knew he was onto something.
Farzad and his team worked every day to educate the community about real foods and their benefits for our bodies. There's a sort of magic that goes into each bottle of Mom's Fresh Juice and Lilia & Farzad are ready to start sharing that magic with so many more people. They want to share all the love that the product has brought into their own lives but also the lives of so many in their community. Mom's Fresh Juice & Kitchen is growing and ready to take the next step. Have a juicy day!
From driving as an Uber driver to working as a pastry cook, I make it a point to learn something new from every experience.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?
Lilia : Definitely getting used to all the responsibilities. When you graduate from college, you feel like you know everything you need to know and think you're going to get a job right away; It isn't like that at all. I worked in several restaurants and learned that no matter what you know, you always start at the bottom — washing dishes, taking out trash, bussing tables, etc. Working jobs that had nothing to do with my college major taught me so much more. From driving as an Uber driver to working as a pastry cook, I make it a point to learn something new from every experience.

Q: How you would describe your company culture, and what are the superpowers of your team?

Lilia: Recently, my business partner and I established our company values. We call it the HI-TRAIL just to easily remember. they are Honesty, Integrity, Transparency, Respect, Approachability, Innovation and Loyalty. It took us some time to lock these down but we realized that if we want to grow right, we have to grow strong. Using these values as our foundation will help us build a strong team and happy culture.
Our company culture is very open and fun because it's a small business but we do everything with respect. Without respect between team members there's nothing.
I would say the superpowers of our team are time travel and agility. Why time travel? Because many of our team members have so great about looking back and learning from their mistakes in order to move forward on a better foot.
Agility because this past year we have made so many changes to the business and they've been amazing in working with us, understanding and doing work endlessly with a positive vibe. Without our team we are nothing.
Hiring people nowadays is very difficult because we're in a world of instant gratification.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?

Lilia : Hiring people nowadays is very difficult because we're in a world of instant gratification. It seems that many people around my age don't want to work or just want to do the easy things. It's something that I've noticed these past few years and I've realized that I have to learn ways to motivate my employees in ways that I never thought.

Q: Who inspires you and why?

Lilia : One of the people that really inspires me at the moment is Ty Haney from Outdoor Voices. Just everything that she is doing and promoting is amazing. Most sports brands are all about athletes and sports but she really pushes the idea of just "doing things" or being active which is so, so simple and powerful. Lots of people just want to walk their dogs in activewear or go roller skating. She's very cool and being so young just motivates me more.
My leadership style is to lead by example.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Lilia :
My leadership style is to lead by example. I've got to set the standard for what I want my business to be. For example, I really like the store to be extremely clean and I've showed every single team member my floor cleaning method and done it with them over and over again. At my age, I'm around the same age or younger than much of our team. A lot of people don't take you seriously so I make it a point to respect everyone and just lead by my example showing them that I also do these kinds of jobs and I'm not here just to boss them around.

Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience.

Lilia : Yes, many. I worked one summer in my home town in Cd. Juárez, Mexico at my cousins restaurant called Rocco. Every morning we had to prep for many different salsas and had crazy breakfast/brunch rushes.
I helped from prepping to dish washing to getting food out of the front kitchen. Additionally, I worked for very little time at Uchi and Sway, both in Austin. I didn't last that long because I didn't really feel like it was my passion. However, they are two of my favorite restaurants in Austin and I enjoyed everyone I worked with.
Another hourly job I had was as an Uber driver, which I loved doing. The reason I enjoyed it so much was because I learned to be more open to people and learn about customer service, from offering water to what music the customer enjoys to making connections in the business world and meeting some celebrities and sports athletes.
I really believe everyone needs to work at least once in their lifetime at an hourly job because it builds character, gratitude and it helps you realize what you really want in life.
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