Wesley Cureton was introduced to Long Beach as a kid completely by accident. Growing up in Compton, one day he and his friends were riding their bikes along Long Beach Boulevard.
“We kept hearing this roar,” he said. “We heard it and we just followed the noise. It was the Long Beach Grand Prix.”
Seeing the high rises and the atmosphere, Cureton, now 56, said he fell in love with the city. That love led him down a life path that is culminating in him opening his first-ever business, a Juice It Up! franchise, in Long Beach.
Cureton said the raw juice and smoothie bar concept used to have a location in Downtown, which has been closed for a number of years. So his forthcoming location at 6508 E. Spring St.—around the corner from Millikan High School, tucked between a brow-threading business and a mailing service—will be the only one in the city.
Aside from raw juices and smoothies, Juice It Up! serves various fruit, acai and other bowls. The space is likely to open in January or February, Cureton said, adding that the road there has been long.
He has always wanted to own his own business, Cureton said, and he knew he wanted to come back to the service industry. In high school, he worked at McDonald’s. While attending Los Angeles Harbor College, he worked at Foot Locker.
In 1987, Cureton transferred to Cal State Long Beach, majoring in political science and minoring in public administration. He has lived in Long Beach ever since—first in a studio apartment at Redondo Avenue and Seventh Street, and now in a house about a mile from Millikan.
He worked on campus as the student union manager, then he worked in food and beverage at a Hyatt hotel.
His managerial skills, however, truly formed after he graduated from college in 1994, when he started as a case worker for a community correctional center, or halfway house, in Inglewood.
From there, he entered the federal government as a probation officer for the Ninth Circuit Court, worked as a pre-trial investigator and finally landed in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, where he has been supervisor overseeing operations throughout Southern California since 2005.
“I’ve done a lot of jobs, but I hope that [being a] supervisor is what will translate into owning my own business,” Cureton said.
For a long time, becoming an entrepreneur was a waiting game for Cureton—waiting for his financial stability and opportunity to align. That time came in 2019, so Cureton set off to find an established brand he could join as a franchisee.
Cureton came close to opening a Subway, but the effort hit a snag and then completely fell through amid the pandemic. He looked into Chick-fil-A, but that was a larger footprint and larger staff than he was looking to manage.
Then he considered Robeks, which he said he grew fond of while working in Downtown LA, but the timing for the company was off.
Finally, he remembered a friend mentioning Juice It Up! as a business opportunity two decades earlier, when neither had the time nor the money to realistically consider it. But in June of last year, Cureton was ready, and so was Juice It Up!
He explored a few different locations before settling on the Spring Street shopping center at Palo Verde Avenue, which he signed a lease for early last month. Cureton said he started the permitting process with the city earlier this month.
Cureton’s managerial style includes a heavy focus on work-life balance, he said. He prides himself on working with his employees to meet their scheduling needs, a practice he said he will bring to his juice bar.
As a former student athlete, Cureton said he knows how challenging it can be to work while juggling school and sports. To that end, he said he is going to push to hire student athletes from Millikan and offer them flexible schedules to work around their other demands on their time.
“They’re a crosswalk away,” he said.
Cureton said he plans to retire from his TSA job in five to 10 years, so he wants to have his entrepreneurial endeavors solidified before then. And he said he doesn’t plan to stop at just one location. If things work out, he said he would like to open two more stores in Long Beach.
“The city kind of pushes you to be the best version of yourself,” Cureton said, noting that he wants to give back, not just to the city, but his neighborhood directly. “I wanted to give back with something that is fun.”
“These stores are indicative of that Long Beach lifestyle: fun, health conscious, living your best life,” he added. “That’s what attracted me most and that’s what I want to give to the city.”