Many of the world’s most success people have built businesses around the things that they love. Locally, one such person is Darius Johnson, owner of Noelle Catering and Groove Smoothie & Juice Bar. DJ, as he is called by friends, has combined his love of music and food into a thriving enterprise.
Darius Johnson is a native of Bamberg, South Carolina. His first job was delivering newspapers on the weekend and during the summer. Delivering newspapers with the help of his father sparked his love of old-school music. His father loved 70s R&B, and they would listen to it while delivering newspapers.
Growing up, Johnson loved to cook. To him, cooking was therapeutic – something that helped him relieve the stress of life. He took a home economics class in ninth grade, and excelled at it.
“I just enjoyed being able to get in there and create something,” Johnson recalled.
After graduating from Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School in 2010, he joined the military. His job was to refueling helicopters in the National Guard. He was deployed to Afghanistan twice and to Kuwait. “I got deployed on my 21st birthday,” he recalled.
Johnson says that serving in the military forced him to grow up and seriously consider what he wanted to do with his life. “I was going through a rough period in my life and trying to figure out my identity, who I was and what my purpose was,” Johnson recalled. “I started listening to older people who were offering me advice about things they went through that I could avoid. I started putting all my dreams and goals down on paper.”
Johnson had always dreamed of owning a restaurant.
“I didn't know back then that I wanted a smoothie business. I just wanted to have my own business,” he recalled. Johnson loved cooking for friends and relatives. One day, he cooked Seafood Mac & Cheese and Hennessy Wings for a friend’s cookout. Everyone loved them, and a couple asked him for his contact information. The couple just happened to be news reporters, and they invited Johnson to appear on a July 4th news segment about food.
Figuring that he was on to something, Johnson decided to open a catering business in 2017. He named it Noelle Catering in honor of his daughter Lailah Noelle Johnson, who is now five-years-old.
“She’s my little princess,” Johnson said. “She gave me a sense of purpose. She inspires me every day to be a better person and a better dad. I've been taking care of her for a while now by myself. Her mom is currently mobilized with the military, so it's just me and her. I wanted to pass on a legacy. I want her to understand that this is about you, your future and generational wealth. We talk about that all the time.”
Noelle Catering is a nationwide catering firm, doing events such as wedding receptions, banquets, birthday parties and bridal showers. Johnson has catered events as far away as Houston and Cincinnati.
“I’ve done events as small as 10 people and as large as 400 people,” Johnson says.
Johnson still worked for the National Guard at the McEntire ANG Base. Helovedsmoothies,andfrequentlyhad to drive into town to get one. That’s when he came up with the idea to launch a smoothie store.
He decided to call it Groove Smoothie & Juice Bar because it combines two of his loves – music and smoothies. Johnson said that visiting Groove Smoothie will help older generations become more knowledgeable about their health, and expose younger generations to old school music.
“Older people like old school, so we'll draw them in with music,” Johnson explains. “The young millennial crowd likes smoothies and want to take care of their health. I am trying to build a community around that.”
Groove Smoothie & Juice Bar opened at 7510-C Garners Ferry Road (in front of Walmart) in November 2019. The restaurant features a variety of smoothies and cold press juices. All the items on the menu are named after popular songs or R&B artists.
For instance, one of their most popular smoothies is “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which includes peach, strawberries and bananas. “My Perogative” is made from avocado, mango, pineapple and spinach. “Purple Rain” includes blueberries, strawberries, Acai, bananas and yogurt. “Love TKO” features pineapple, cucumber, ginger and lime, and “Summer Breeze” features Pina Colada, pineapple and coconut water.
“Our cold pressed juice products help boost your immune system, help take care of your skin, improve your health and helps to remove bad toxins from the body,” Johnson said.
Johnson says that all items are made with fresh and organic ingredients. Customers can also add supplements to the drinks, such as Spirulina, protein, flax seeds and B12.
Johnson plans to add a line of sandwiches, flatbreads and wraps to the menu in the immediate future. And just like his drinks, all of the new menu items will be named after popular R&B songs. “Between the Sheets” will feature chicken, bacon, chipotle, avocado and red peppers. “Tender Love” will feature grilled chicken, romaine, Parmesan cheese, tomato and croutons, and “Whip Appeal” will feature avocado, lettuce, tomato and chicken.
Johnson says that his long-term plan is to open more Groove Smoothies, especially on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“I would love to put internet cafes on or near HBCUs. I would love to partner with as many HBCUs as possible to promote health and wellness,” Johnson says. “I want to franchise and touch as many HBCUs as possible.”
When asked why he work so hard – running a restaurant, a catering business and serving in the National Guard – Johnson says, “My daughter Layla. That's my biggest motivation. She keeps me fueled.”
Groove Smoothie & Juice Bar is located at 7510C Garners Ferry Road in Columbia. It is open from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Friday, and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Orders can be placed by calling (803) 995-7245 or through the Groove Smoothie app (download on the Google Play store now, coming soon for Apple devices). To learn more, follow Groove Smoothie & Juice Bar on Facebook and Instagram.