Fourteen years ago, when Lisa Maguire was 44, she suffered from Fibromyalgia and crippling arthritis, and was prepping to get a double-knee replacement. Today, she is 58, still has one of her original knees, and hasn’t taken a pain pill in years.
Maguire attributes her miraculous recovery not to acupuncture, nor to a radical new experimental arthritis treatment, but to a drastic change in diet. After getting her first knee replaced in 2009, she started a raw vegan diet to support her daughter, who was hoping to cure her acne in a natural way.
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At the time, Maguire was taking arthritis medication to alleviate the pain in her remaining bum knee. But she forgot the medicine on a long-weekend out-of-state trip four weeks into the diet. She spent the weekend dreading the moment when the meds wore off and pain would hold her captive in bed. That moment, though, never came. She has been pain-free since.
With a newfound love for, and understanding of, the health benefits of a raw diet, Maguire launched nonprofit GetRealGetRaw in late 2009 with the mission of educating everyone about what she sees as the healing power of raw food. “I felt like I couldn’t really be happy with my newfound health if I didn’t share what I had learned,” explains Maguire, who has an MBA from Notre Dame, sold life insurance and started and ran her own B&B prior to her nonprofit.
The desire to help others had been rooted in Maguire from an early age—her dad started a shelter for homeless veterans in her native Indiana—and continued when she married the son of the founders of Philly’s Maguire Foundation, now run by her sister-in-law. The health aspect of her venture, though, is all her. “I was the person who had to share this message in an honest, relatable way that people could hear and embrace in their lives,” she says. Her four daughters and her husband are or have been vegan, and everyone jumps on the chance to go to a raw restaurant even if they’re no longer following a strict raw diet.
“People really need it and deserve to have the opportunity to have something that is honestly clean and nutritious,” Maguire says. “But there’s just so little of it out there.”
Maguire was in the beginning what she calls a “one-woman show,” carting her blender and card table around to community centers and encouraging kids in particular to add raw foods to their diets. What she didn’t know at the time was that she was in the idea generation stage for what would become her biggest asset, and turn her small nonprofit into a growing for-profit business: the Groothie.
A blended drink with only five ingredients, the Groothie is delicious and chock-full of nutrients: organic kale, organic spinach, organic apples, banana, and pineapple (plus filtered water). Unlike most smoothies, there is no dairy, because Maguire says it can inflame the body; pineapple, on the other hand, is an anti-flammatory, which can help with arthritis pain. Maguire trademarked the name because she was working a lot with kids, and “didn’t want them to confuse what I was talking about with a McDonald’s Shamrock shake.”
Fast-forward to 2018 and the Groothie is sold at 32 retail locations, including all Saxbys. In order to keep the drink consistent and avoid pasteurizing it, GetRealGetRaw delivers frozen, chopped ingredients for the drink, and retailers then blend it fresh. The company requests that Saxbys and others keep the Groothie under $6.
Originally, Maguire had hoped to sell the drink and then bring the funds into her nonprofit. Instead, she decided to bring it all into one business, with one mission, that allowed for greater growth. “I felt like I could have greater reach if I could have it out and available to people,” she says.
The Groothie got its retail start in 2012, when it was sold exclusively at local vegan chain Hip City Veg. It was the restaurant’s top-selling product that year and was ranked Philadelphia’s best smoothie by Philadelphia magazine in 2013. As Hip City Veg has expanded, it has started making its own smoothies, and no longer sells the Groothie; Maguire began packaging and wholesaling it to other retailers in 2016.
The smoothie market, of course, is quite saturated. But Maguire says hers offers two things that others don’t: Convenience (and therefore affordability) and nothing but nutrients. Speciality-made, one-at-a-time smoothies can be expensive and inconvenient for retailers to make—a few bananas are bound to go bad before selling; and premade smoothies like Naked or V8 lose many of their nutritional benefits in the pasteurization process.
“There are no other raw, organic, soy and dairy free smoothies on the market today that can be made easily enough to be served to consumers in places like cafeterias, hospitals, and sporting venues,” Maguire explains.
Indeed, the convenience of the Groothie was one of the selling points for Saxbys, which had been attempting to produce its own green smoothie but couldn’t get it quite right. “When we were introduced to Lisa and the team at GetRealGetRaw, we immediately loved the high quality ingredients, taste, and simple delivery-mechanism of the Groothie,” says Nick Bayer, Saxbys Founder and CEO.
More important, though, was the Groothie’s connection to Maguire’s mission of spreading the knowledge of healthy eating through her business. Bayer, himself a civically-minded CEO, felt a connection with Maguire. “They are so committed to not just the quality of the Groothie, but the importance of treating people well and using business to do good,” he says.
Maguire’s experience and understanding of a raw food diet is self-taught: She tried it, and it worked for her, and she is certain it can help others live pain and illness-free. “Food needs to be real,” says Maguire. “We can’t live on processed foods. It needs to be raw. Those are all the nutrients. When it’s cooked, they’re all gone.” She is not alone in her commitment to the healing power of uncooked food, but critics of the raw vegan diet say it can also be dangerous. Anecdotes of rotten teeth and stunted child development plague the trend, while more formal studies have produced a mixed bag, with findings that show while eating primarily raw food may lower cholesterol, it may also result in Vitamin B deficiency and thus reduced energy levels.
Maguire was in the beginning what she calls a “one-woman show.” What she didn’t know at the time was that she was in the idea generation stage for what would become her biggest asset: the Groothie.
But a plant-based diet has been found to alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms in particular. And licensed registered dietitian Nicole Kemp says that while she doesn’t recommend a long-term raw vegan diet, “We do know that when you have arthritis or any kind of autoimmune disease, it’s because you’re having a lot of inflammation in your body. Eating raw fruits and vegetables decreases this.”
The company is still young—it has just two employees in addition to Maguire—and not yet profitable, but Maguire hopes the eventual profits will allow her to expand and offset the costs of her free educational visits, specifically in public schools, homeless shelters, and veterans homes. Her visits focus on the benefit of raw foods, but also simply on how to make smoothies healthier and more delicious.
A portion of all proceeds go to organizations with similar missions around healthy food, including MANNA, a nonprofit that delivers nutritious meals to individuals suffering from life-threatening diseases seven days a week. (Maguire would not say how much the company has donated so far.)
As she expands, Maguire is in the process of developing additional products, including a retail family pack of frozen ingredients she expects to hit the shelves at a dozen Shoprites in the next several weeks. She’s also developing a vegan chocolate bar, apple chips, an acai bowl and a blueberry version of the Groothie—a concession she agreed to reluctantly.
When GetRealGetRaw was still a young nonprofit visiting schools, administrators would often ask Maguire to change the color of the smoothie to red or something more exciting to engage the kids. Maguire vehemently declined: “No! I want the kids to fall in love with green!” She changed her mind when she saw that the benefits of healthy eating are increasingly known.
Despite her steadily growing business, Maguire is still out there with her table and blender, pushing the benefits of a nutritious diet in schools, colleges, hospitals and senior homes—anywhere she’s invited. “To me, those are really important markets,” she explains. “They’re people who really need it and deserve to have the opportunity to have something that is honestly clean and nutritious. But there’s just so little of it out there.”Header: Courtesy of GetRealGetRaw