People of ProsperUS: Ali Badani
Interview and photography by Kenny Karpov
“I’m from Yemen originally, and moved to Michigan in 1999 with my parents. I grew up in Hamtramck and went to school there. After graduating High School, I did two semesters of college at Henry Ford, and then I dropped out. It was boring for me, but I should have stayed to finish my degree. I then went into trucking. I was a truck driver for three years until I found my partner Aziz. He has great experience in the smoothie business. I am a third generation of Yemenis, my grandfather worked for Chrysler in Detroit, for 35 years. My dad was living here, so I came to where they were from Yemen. Living in Hamtramck as a kid was great. I was surrounded by other Yemenis and Arabic nationalities.
“When I first moved here, it was difficult, with the language, and stuff, but it wasn’t that tough after a while, because the population in Hamtramck speaks Arabic and that helped me a lot to fit in. So, it didn’t feel too strange. And I got to learn English in the schools with other migrants. Growing up as a teen, I always dreamt of owning my own business. And I worked most of those years since I entered high school; I was always working. I worked as a teen in a deli in Hamtramck; I’d leave school and work there and then ride the bus back home. All my focus during that period was being my own boss. I guess for me, I wanted to always control my own destiny. Most of the jobs that were available for me were working at gas stations. I did work at a gas station, [but] it just wasn’t enough. I was living paycheck to paycheck, so the main reason I went into trucking was to make more money. The gas station I worked at was 7 mile and Hayes. There were always a lot of problems; there was a lot of struggling out there, and they would bring that struggle and anger into the place I worked. And I did not see myself making anything from my time there; I wanted to be my own boss, and I didn’t see that happening while working at the gas station.
“My time in trucking was nice. It’s a different lifestyle; everything is different. It’s not normal by any means. You live a different life. You get to sleep out on the road, shower on the road, eat on the road. And you come back to your house after ten or thirteen days, and you miss the road after being home. You get addicted. Even sometimes now, I miss being out on the road. It was a nice experience and the money was good. It was more money than I ever made while at the gas station. The farthest I drove was New Mexico. The first couple years I would drive to Texas and Arizona. But the last two years, I was mainly doing the midwest. You’d spend the week out far and then come home.
“Between work at the gas station and trucking, I got married. So when I was home, I would just chill with my wife. After I left trucking, I went into the poultry business, only for six months. I sold livestock, like chickens. After leaving that, I found Aziz. He was working at a bakery in Dearborn. Aziz was a friend of my brothers, and they would hang out together. And my brother mentioned what he was doing at the bakery. I went there one day and tried one of his juices, and I like[d] it a lot. He gave me a small taste up, and I told him we should do something together. During one of our conversations, Aziz mentioned he was limited at his job. He was only allowed to make what the company told him to make. He wanted to be as creative as possible, but he couldn’t. I understand it; he was following the company rule. He showed me a certificate he received while working as a juicer in Saudi Arabia. He attended some seminars and was traveling all around the world to educate himself on how to make the best smoothies. I saw an opportunity for us. As he was new to living in the United States, he didn’t have enough money to open up his own business. So, with his experience with making juices, and my money, we opened Vitamin Juice.
“It’s been almost a year since we’ve been open and we’re doing great! The reactions from the customers have been great. All the customers are happy; you can read the reviews online — all of them are great! Everything we try to do here is at the utmost quality. Even the prices are very affordable and the profit margins are not that high, but the customer satisfaction is good.
“A couple reasons made us choose the location in Southwest Detroit. We’re close to Arabic people, Latino people, and Latin Americans, so it feels we’re in the middle, and that our juices are universal. This is for everybody. Doesn’t matter your race, color or anything. This is something you’ll love to drink. I love being in Southwest Detroit; it feels special to be here and offer this to the people. And we’re about to open up a second location, and we’ve been seeing a lot of people wanting to invest in the company. It’s a great thing. I want to keep trying to build it up— have a distribution center for both locations. That’s the vision of the company: to grow it up more. We hope to be everywhere so it’s easier for people to get Vitamin Juice wherever they are.
“Aziz and I went through a lot when opening the first location up. It took us more than sixteen months since we received the lease to open. We had a lot of difficulties, especially with finding contractors. We couldn’t find the right one. All the ones that would come here would tell us they can do this, we can do that. And then once we started paying them, they were not able to deliver what they promised, or they would run away even before finishing the project. A lot of them said they had all this experience, but when they came to the work site, they didn’t have a clue what to do. That is the biggest challenge we faced: finding reliable contractors. It took us so many trials, and it cost us a lot too. Right before opening, we were on our last dollar. We were broke! A couple days before opening, I had to use my father’s credit cards to get the supplies for the first week we were open. There were a lot of struggles. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.
“Before we opened, we did pop-up events, where we would make a few juices and pass them out for free. And people tasted them and loved it. So by the time we were ready to open, we built up some clientele. The landlord witnessed all our struggles and like that. He met Matthew from ProsperUS a few times before, and he introduced us. I brought Matthew in the shop one day, and told him what Aziz and I were going through: the contractor problem and issues with money. And he came through for us. We received a $25,000 loan to help us wrap everything up and open to the public. It was the right time; Matthew was a lifesaver, because without that loan, we wouldn’t have opened when we did. And it would have taken us more months to open, and all the costs with that. We were paying the utilities, the rent, like we are open. Them coming at that time… I’m so glad I met Matthew. Working with ProsperUS was easy and simple; it wasn’t that complicated. We gave them documents they requested and they gave us an answer a couple days later. It was great working with them. It was a huge relief.
“I am excited for the second location. It was an investor that contacted us. He believes in Vitamin Juice, and the product; [he] sees the potential for the company. He visited us and came with an offer that would help us develop the second location. Having an investor helps us get the word out more. The second location will be on the border of Dearborn and Detroit.
“The public should come in and try our juices. Our most popular is Vitamin Juice. It comes with ice cream, vanilla, strawberry, mango, avocado. We’ve sold roughly 8000 cups in 8 months. It’s a top mixture. It’s great.”