On a gray, cloudy day at the Apex Farmers Market, a rainbow of juices shines at the Blend of Soul booth, bringing a spot of color into the lives of everyone who walks by.
The cold-pressed juices—healthy blends of fresh fruits and veggies—are the creation of Margo Newkirk, a tall woman with a deep, quiet voice. Standing by her side, as always, is Kiera Gardner, her partner in life and in business.
“She made me laugh,” Gardner says, describing her first meeting with Newkirk over social media. “For us, it just created this amazing, blossoming friendship. Then from the friendship, we turned into, well, we call it ‘our love supreme.’”
Gardner and Newkirk’s “love supreme” started four years ago, while they were living in different states. They’ve since moved to Durham together with their dog, Marley, where Gardner works part-time as a traveling nurse, and Newkirk, retired from the military, works full-time in the juice business.
The couple started Blend of Soul, which delivers juice around town, about two and a half years ago. Newkirk, who was still in the military at the time, had an upcoming physical fitness test and was struggling with weight gain after an injury. Unable to work out as much or as hard, Newkirk looked for a new strategy to manage her health. She found juicing.
“I did it with small meals [at first],” Newkirk says. “Like oatmeal in the morning or maybe a bowl of fruit or something like that. From there, it eventually spread.”
Newkirk started creating her own juice recipes and sharing them at work. People began asking her to bring bottles in more often. Then, people in the office next door began asking about the juice. Eventually, people throughout her entire office building were craving it.
Over time, building a business started seeming like a better and better idea, Newkirk says. She could handle the ingredients and recipes, and Gardner could deal with the retail side of things—branding the product, answering emails, doing client outreach.
“The recipes are all her,” Gardner says. “The branding, the funky names—that’s me because that’s just what I like to do.”
One of the couple’s best-sellers is “Mango Me Crazy,” a tropical, bright yellow blend of mango and pineapple. The juice’s natural sugars put it on the sweet side, making it an easy drink. The $10 bottle is also near zero in total fat and contains no cholesterol or sodium. Meanwhile, vitamin C levels are through the roof.
Gardner, who has a nose ring and a wide, easy smile, is the more outgoing of the two. Her infectious energy is counterbalanced by Newkirk’s calm—a laid-back vibe she keeps even when laughing and joking around with her partner.
Building the business has been a tough uphill climb for the couple, but their different approaches make it easier, Gardner says. While she’s focused on the details, organizing, scheduling, and overseeing orders, Newkirk is experimenting in the kitchen. “Honey-do” lists are pinned up all around their house.
“Trust me, there have been some days where I’m like, ‘Oh, I can’t do it, Kiera, Kiera, hurry up, answer the phone!’” Newkirk laughs. “But she can’t because she’s with a patient. She’s trying to save the world, and I’m over here crying about juice spilling everywhere.”
Newkirk and Gardner’s business isn’t just about blending juice—it’s also about creating a blended community.
“We wanted [our business] to be a safe space for people to talk to us, to converse. A blending of souls,” Gardner says. “We’re not all the same. We don’t look the same, we don’t speak the same. So it’s important to bring everybody together … to let people know that, yes, you may be different from me, but we value your opinion, we value your voice.”
That’s what Blend of Soul means to her, Gardner says.
“It’s a melting pot of love, of inclusivity, of joy,” she says. “That’s the key. Especially with what we have going on in life, the pandemic, systemic racism. It’s really important to pull out and digest the joy, even through turmoil.”
Everything about Blend of Soul—the bright labels, the colorful juices, the name—comes down to celebrating identity. On social media, Gardner posts about juice but also about the Black Lives Matter movement, social injustice, and the first Black woman on the US Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Some juices are even inspired by Black icons, like “Lemon Crush Lemonade,” a lemon, ginger, and agave juice named after a Prince song. “Rim Shot,” a $4 green mini-juice made from lemon, celery, and apple, is inspired by neo-soul singer-songwriter Erykah Badu, according to the Blend of Soul website. It’s a nice complement to a full-sized green juice made of kiwi, celery, apple, and pear.
Newkirk and Gardner, two Black women in a same-sex relationship, want to encourage people to embrace who they are, Gardner says.
“We love our identity,” she says. “We are not ashamed of it. We embrace it. And we stand in it. We stand in our Blackness.”
As the business grows, Gardner wants to keep reaching out to the community, inviting everyone to become part of what she calls the “soul tribe.”
“I don’t want anybody to feel left out,” she says. “It’s for all of us. That’s the fun part. Everybody’s invited. I want to be a vessel in the community where people know us beyond the juices. They know us for the love we have for [our community] and the love we have for our environment.”
Gardner and Newkirk have dreams of donating juice to local high schools, starting a community garden, partnering with nearby farmers, eliminating food deserts, giving fresh produce to the elderly, and hiring teenagers to intern with the business.
Gardner says she wants to mentor and inspire, showing people they can create their own seats at the table.
“[We want to] take those disparities that we see within the environment and really try to knock down some of these barriers. That’s the goal,” Gardner says. “It’s beyond saying, ‘Oh, we got some cold-pressed juices.’ It’s knocking down these barriers that we see and creating a platform that can allow the next person to pay it forward.”
Earlier this year, Gardner and Newkirk’s hard work paid off—literally. In February, the couple won a $10,000 grant from the BOSS Network, an organization that supports Black women entrepreneurs with financing, training, and networking. The couple was one of just 35 grant recipients, chosen from roughly 12,000 applicants nationwide.
“[The grant] is a huge, huge win for us because we’re a self-funded, Black-owned business,” Gardner says. “We don’t have any investors. It’s just us.”
The money will help Gardner and Newkirk develop and grow the business, Gardner says. They hope to eventually sell their juice in local grocery stores. They also hope to eventually establish a brick-and-mortar storefront where people can just hang out, Gardner says.
While the two are sticking to juice for now, they foresee a future selling food—specifically, healthy, delicious soul food. Like Newkirk, Gardner has also struggled with her weight, she says.
“I’m always trying these crazy diets, and it doesn’t work,” Gardner says. “Some healthy foods, I’m like, ‘This is not good, I don’t like it. It’s bland, there’s no taste.’ I’m a country girl. I’m used to soul food, the salt and pepper, and seasonings.”
Gardner wants to reimagine healthy food, putting her own spin on health and wellness alongside Newkirk, who typically takes charge of the kitchen.
“I want to create a revamped version of healthy food where it’s delicious, it’s good. Because that was my problem,” Gardner says. “I want to kind of do a revamped, soulful version of acai bowls. It’s healthy, it’s good for you, but it tastes absolutely phenomenal, and it leaves you wanting more.”
There’s already a hint of spice in Blend of Soul’s current products. “Hot Girl,” another $4 mini-juice, is made with lemon, ginger, and cayenne pepper, giving it a hit of heat.
For now, the couple is in the midst of both farmer’s market season and wedding planning. After getting engaged in January, Newkirk and Gardner plan to get married next October. They’re busy—so busy they both often work 10- or 11-hour days. But they have a rule: no work talk after seven p.m.
“Our favorite thing is naps. Marley, all of us, we have family naps. And then we’ll get up and then Margo will be like, ‘Let’s go to dinner, let’s dress up, look cute, go to dinner,’” Gardner says. “It’s a balance. It sounds crazy to everybody else, but I think for us, it works. It fits.”
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.