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Village Juice and Kitchen owners Bill and Tina Johnson pose for a photo outside of their new restaurant as the interior is under renovation Friday on West Bruce Street in downtown Harrisonburg.

Both Bill and Tina Johnson were through with foods that cause inflammation in the body.

When Tina was diagnosed with breast cancer and Bill developed symptoms similar to Lou Gehrig's disease due to a negative reaction to medication, the couple decided to make a serious commitment to clean eating: cutting out gluten, refined sugar and more.

Tina Johnson was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in September 2014. In 2015, Bill had what he called a “major health crisis” due to cholesterol medication and developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-like symptoms. Their daughter also has chronic Lyme disease.

They chose to change their diets.

Cut out sugar, wheat and dairy, and add more fruit and vegetables, nuts and organic foods. They learned cancers can be tied to inflammation in the body, so they decided to cut out inflammatory foods.

Tina Johnson is now cancer-free, and Bill Johnson's symptoms have since cleared up. He has managed to keep his cholesterol in check through diet and exercise. They decided to share their success with clean eating with downtown Harrisonburg with a new franchise of Village Juice and Kitchen, a clean-eating restaurant.

The Johnsons first fell in love with Village Juice’s concept when they traveled to Winston-Salem, N.C., for their daughter’s dance competitions. Year after year, when they returned to Winston-Salem, eating at Village Juice was always on their to-do list.

“We ate three meals a day [at Village Juice], Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” Bill Johnson said. “We found out the dance conference was going on again the next year and we went back [for all our meals], and we went back [a third time in] January 2019, right before COVID. And we were sitting there eating and we were like, ‘You know what? We need this in Harrisonburg.’ We’re foodies, but we only have one or two things we can eat at places. This [menu], there’s like 99% we can eat.”

Bill Johnson said he brings a business background. He had his own physical therapy practice for several years and is now a partner with Drayer Physical Therapy Institute. Johnson and his son also have a wedding venue on their property.

While Bill Johnson brings the business acumen, Tina Johnson said she has a big heart for community and has always loved bringing people together for a meal. Now that she’s cancer-free, she has a bachelor's from Bridgewater College and a master's in special education from James Madison University.

“I loved teaching, and part of this restaurant is teaching,” she said. “I’ve been given a second chance, and I want to share that journey with people. Where I’m from, it’s a small town and being around the table and the conversation and community around food seemed like a happy place. And that’s a happy place for us when people are around the table. People in this community also supported me through cancer, and it was around food. People were bringing it to my door, and I was a recipient of [Take Them a Meal].”

The menu features cold-pressed juice, acai bowls, grain bowls, wraps, avocado toast, smoothies, salads and refined sugar- and gluten-free pastries and desserts such as cheesecake with a cashew crust. It'll also have a grab-and-go option. Some items contain chicken, bacon and eggs, but those can be left off.

“It doesn’t feel like a restaurant. It feels like a lifestyle, and that is something that we wanted to bring here to the community,” Bill Johnson said.

The restaurant will be open seven days a week, and the full menu served all day.

Building permitting has caused delays in the Johnsons’ franchise opening its doors, but the couple said they’re hiring and hope to open by Sept. 27.

“Ideally, plus or minus two or three weeks,” Bill Johnson joked.

Village Juice will fill the space on West Bruce Street that formerly housed Food.Bar.Food.

The downtown Harrisonburg locale will be the business’ eighth location, according to Siler Southerland, project manager for business development for the chain. The Johnsons are planning to open two more franchises in Virginia, one in Blacksburg and another in a location to be determined. The couple said they picked downtown Harrisonburg for a location because it was similar to the one they went to in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“We wanted it to be somewhere where it was kind of trendy in a sense,” Bill Johnson said. “It had that downtown, walk-to, college town trendy kind of feel.”

They signed the lease for the building in April, and construction began roughly three weeks ago.

“We’re super excited to have the Johnsons as franchisers,” Southerland said. “They’re super passionate about our mission, and their story has got some parallels with our founders.”

Contact Jillian Lynch at 574-6274 or jlynch@dnronline.com. Follow Jillian on Twitter @lynchjillian_

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