Summer Shine

By Megan Willome

Juice dealer | Juice gangster | Juice slinger

Summer Shine is the owner and evangelist behind Luna Juice Bar, which can be found in a food truck at the Magnolia Silos or at a booth at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. A recent feel-good commercial for Shine’s juice came with this disclaimer: “Luna Juice is not responsible for feeling good, feeling really good, singing, skipping, getting down on the dance floor, smiling, laughing, spontaneous acts of kindness, hugging others, hot smooches, ants in your pants and the need to dance, happy thoughts.”

But Shine does not apologize for her culinary creations, which include cold-pressed juices, whole food smoothies and soothing soups. That’s because her business is about more than selling healthy food. It’s also about second chances — Shine knows a thing or two about those — and hiring people with a past, whether they are two weeks sober or have been working in the commercial sex industry.

In addition to slinging juice, Shine and her husband run a recovery home for women called Hospitaller 1. The name “hospitaller” comes from a Catholic military order, the Knights Hospitaller, who cared for sick or injured pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land approximately 1,000 years ago. Shine is also on the advisory board for Jesus Said Love, a nonprofit that ministers to women in the commercial sex industry, and she’s the mother of two sons. With so many plates in motion, she’s learning how to give one a little extra spin when necessary. She refers to the idea of keeping balance as “kind of this mythological creature,” but she does believe in the power of work and in the power of miracles.

WACOAN: There are so many facets to your life that I hardly know where to begin, but I think I’ll start with this sentence from your mission statement on the Luna Juice Bar website: ‘We believe passionately in second chances and we hire people with a past.’ What does that mean?

Shine: I’m in recovery from drugs and alcohol. I just celebrated three years sober.

One of the things that I feel passionate about is that people need to be treated like humans when they come into recovery, and one of the best ways is through work. Work gives you purpose and something to do. I love hiring people that are two weeks sober because they need something to do. What rehabs do is take people out of society for 30 days and shelter them and then throw them back to the world. While I see the purpose in that, one of the things that is lost is a good work ethic. Real life dictates that we have to work.

I also want people in recovery to see that you can still live the American dream even if you’ve shattered everything. Things can still go really, really well for you. In the industry that I’m in, I want people’s lives to be transformed through work.

WACOAN: I read that you went to a home in Victoria to get help.

Shine: The place is called Perpetual Help Home. It’s not a rehab. I’ve been to rehab probably 10 times as an adult, and I’ve talked about that, how you go right back into the same problems. Here [at PHH] you’re required to get a job and live life but in an environment that’s safe to come home to. You get taken out of the unsafe zone, and you’re being held accountable for all your actions and all your money. But you still have to live life.

WACOAN: And you got a microloan through the Center for Peace, which is a training program operated out of Perpetual Help Home, correct?

Shine: One of their programs is they give women microloans to start their own business. I wrote a business plan. I was taught how to write a business plan from someone who had been a 20-year veteran of the streets. She was addicted to crack. When she came [to PHH], the only thing she knew about computers is that when you stole one, you had to bring the cords or the pawn shop wouldn’t take them. But she learned [about business planning], and she taught me. We’d go over my mission statement, and she’d say, ‘That’s a little wordy.’ It was just the coolest thing.
It’s such a miracle to me. I had a college education. I was employable. I’d had a family, and I’d destroyed all that. Here was this woman helping me rebuild. I call it ‘recovery through entrepreneurship’ because there was more accountability in my life. It’s like a high — running a business is like a high.

WACOAN: Was this woman on staff at PHH?

Shine: She was on staff. The staff is all people who live at the house. It’s run by people who have gone through the program. At the time she lived there. She is married and has [her own] house now.

WACOAN: You said earlier you had a college education. What did you study?

Shine: You’re gonna laugh at this one. I was a chemical dependency counselor.

WACOAN: [Laughs hard]

So, back to the microloan. It was for $5,000?

Shine: I asked for $4,000, and they said, ‘We want to give you $5,000’ because the interest rate was lower.

WACOAN: And why juice?

Shine: I’ve always been interested in how food affects the human body, not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually. If you look in the Bible, every time something big happens, they’re breaking bread together.

When I went to PHH, I was there three days when I said, ‘This food is awful; I don’t know what you guys are thinking.’ [The staff member] said, ‘You’re the only crackhead I’ve ever known who cares about this sort of thing.’

When my [first] son was a baby [in 1998], I learned that cow’s milk may not be the healthiest thing to give your baby. I’d always thought, ‘Milk: It does a body good.’ So I did a lot of research into high fructose corn syrup, MSG, other things. And it worked because he’s not obese; he’s in good shape. It’s rare that he gets sick, and it’s because of the choices we made feeding him.

WACOAN: You have two sons?

Shine: Haigon is 18. Pierce is 12.

WACOAN: Where did Luna Juice Bar start? I read something about Belton.

Shine: We started at a farmers market in Belton. I knew I wanted to do this business thing. I moved from PHH to the Central Texas area and wanted to be close to my mom, sons and [almost] ex-husband. (We’ve since reconciled. At the time he’d filed for divorce.)

PHH said, ‘I doubt we can do this [business loan] — you’re too far away.’ So I was going to do it on my own. I got my tax refund, and it was enough money to buy a juicer, and I bought one and started juicing at home. I put it in pitchers, took the pitchers to the farmers market and poured juice in a Styrofoam cup. I put all the money I made back into the business. One week I bought a tent. The next week I bought a table. Once they saw in Victoria that I was doing this thing, that’s when they gave me the microloan because they saw I was going to do it whether or not they helped me. They gave it to me because they love me.

WACOAN: And Luna Juice grew from there?

Shine: Right, so I got the loan. We started doing deliveries. We were working out of a church — me and my sweet employee, Aprille [McLaughlin]. We started delivering every day. It grew into other farmers markets, including Waco.

Eventually one of my friends [Nicki Wilson] came to me and said, ‘I want to help you make this thing big. I want to give you some money.’ And this was when the [Magnolia] Silos started surfacing. My friend said, ‘I’ll help you get a food truck, and let’s build this business together.’ I asked four different people to invest. My friend was one of them.

Then I went back to PHH and said, ‘I paid my loan off ahead of time, and here’s why I think this is a great idea. This would be my way of giving back to PHH when my business is doing really well.’ So they became investors.

Jesus Said Love invested. I have a long relationship with them. I started as a volunteer with them eight years ago. I had a bad relapse four years ago, and they helped me get to PHH. They called me home from New Orleans, up to no good!

WACOAN: Last month’s ‘Keeping Balance’ was with another friend of Jesus Said Love, Amanda Konzelman.

Shine: Amanda is one of my close friends!

WACOAN: About Jesus Said Love, I know Luna Juice employs women referred to you by them.

Shine: Any time they’ve ever come and asked me, ‘Hey, we’ve got a girl,’ whether I’ve got room on my staff or not, I make a place. We invent jobs for people! Currently, I don’t have anyone [from Jesus Said Love], but over the last year I’ve employed five girls, all of them to go on to better, higher-paying jobs or to school. None have left on bad terms. They’re great employees! Great employees! We love working with Jesus Said Love.

Emily [Mills, co-founder of Jesus Said Love] is one of my mentors and someone I call on a regular basis for mentorship with my business, with my service work. I called [Emily] last night and asked, ‘What do I do in this situation?’ [Emily and Brett Mills] did our premarital counseling and officiated our wedding. We are deeply woven in each other’s lives.

WACOAN: When you got the investment money, why did you decide to do a food truck versus storefront?

Shine: [Wilson] wanted to do a storefront, and I talked her into the food truck because I thought we could do it for a less amount of money. Food trucks are on the rise; they’re the hot new thing. There’s less risk involved. Let’s say you spent $30,000 renovating a food truck. If it fails, you move it to a new location. If you renovate a storefront and it fails, you’re out $30,000.

WACOAN: But you are in a storefront in Temple, right?

Shine: We are inside of a gym [Titan Total Training], and we have what we call a health bar. We rent a tiny space that was already there, that was already a bar.

WACOAN: When did that open?

Shine: About six months ago.

WACOAN: Your Luna Juice truck ended up in one of the prime locations in Waco, at the Magnolia Silos. How did that happen?

Shine: I will tell you, it was through being honest about my story. Someone had kind of caught wind about me — I’m pretty sure it was from Emily. I had a meeting with Amy Gulley from Magnolia. She and I had lunch, and she said, ‘Get your food truck together, and I’ll make sure that you’re in.’

Joanna [Gaines] has heard my story, and she buys juice from us. Not to monopolize on them — I think it was a heart thing. I don’t know that they really wanted juice there. We’ve done really well there. It’s been a life-changing experience.

WACOAN: With so many tourists coming every week, I assume your busiest time is weekends?

Shine: It is, and Mondays, for some reason.

WACOAN: And you do more than juice. On your menu I saw smoothies, salads, mixers, cleanses.

Shine: Soup is seasonal. We just started doing the soup because we get to experiment with cool ingredients. Everything we make is healthy. I like to take a recipe that’s not so healthy and turn it into something that’s healthy.

Like with our pumpkin soup, [the original recipe] was full of fat and sugar and junk. Our pumpkin soup is made with real ingredients. We use ginger root, not ginger powder; turmeric root, not turmeric powder. We use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. It’s so delicious!

WACOAN: It sounds delicious.

Shine: It is on point! We doin’ that right, we doin’ that real right!

WACOAN: I’ve seen your ‘Handle It’ video commercial. You sure did that right!

Shine: The lady that’s in it, she’s the investor, Nicki, that came to me and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We always tease that Beetlejuice [one of Luna Juice Bar’s juices, with beets] will save your life. Instead of dealing drugs, I’m dealing juice now. I’m a juice gangster, a juice slinger. These have been our running jokes.

WACOAN: How did you get the video made?

Shine: I met a girl [Isabella Maso] who goes to Baylor, and I asked how much she’d charge. We wanted it to be as sketchy and silly as we are. We got our hair put in cornrows. Every time I watch that video I just laugh. Nicki did all of that [acting] unprompted. It was so much fun. It embodies who we are — we’re super silly. We love having a good time.

WACOAN: In the video, there is a list of disclaimers at the end, including warnings that you might end up ‘getting down on the dance floor’ or ‘ants in your pants and the need to dance.’ Do you like to dance?

Shine: I love to be expressive. Dance is a form of expression. If there’s a form of expression, I love it. I’m not very good at dancing. I do love to dance. It probably looks like I have ants in my pants.

WACOAN: Back to how you enjoy adapting recipes. It sounds like you enjoy creating in the kitchen.

Shine: I always have. My mom got me a FryDaddy one year, and I fried everything. I love being in the kitchen. I love experimenting with food.

My mom loved international food. We never ate hamburgers. We had gazpacho. We had Italian meals or German [meals] with cold sauerkraut. We didn’t have taco salad — that did not happen at my house. And I’ve been able to pass that on to my son. My older son loves to cook, loves to experiment. He moved in with a group of friends after high school, and he said, ‘They love me because I cook for them.’ I think without him it was all white bread.

WACOAN: Does he work with you at Luna?

Shine: He used to. Now he works at Applebee’s. He worked with me for the first two years we were open. And he didn’t always get a paycheck. It started out he’d get grounded, and he’d have to work with me. And eventually he was so valuable that we ended up having to pay him. He wouldn’t be grounded and he wouldn’t have to come, so I said, ‘How about a paycheck?’

WACOAN: Your other younger son, where does he go to school?

Shine: He lives in Arkansas with my first husband.

WACOAN: OK, so your husband now, Ronnie Aletky. I know you were separated while you were at Perpetual Hope Home. Did you ever formally divorce?

Shine: We didn’t divorce, but it was real close. He was going to have me served with papers, but he took pity on me by the time I dragged into Victoria that he didn’t want to bother me for the first couple of weeks I was there. Then eventually, he didn’t know why at the time, but he felt an urging not to do it, a tug in the back of his mind that said, ‘Don’t file for divorce.’ There’s a certain amount of time you have to serve somebody, and he let it get past time. And then eventually he realized he was still in love with me. I never lost hope.

It’s the best love story! We have the greatest love story — we just celebrated yesterday seven years of marriage. I get goosebumps because this isn’t how it was supposed to turn out. God was just so strong in our relationship. God bless Ronnie!

WACOAN: Tell me about the women’s recovery house you’re doing together.

Shine: My husband and I run a sober living house. It’s our second recovery house. We had one before through the Freeman Center. We all lived there — Ronnie and me and our son — then it was bought out by a corporation and closed, maybe five years ago.

Recently our landlords [Jill and Josh Barrett] had heard our story and said, ‘We have this house we want to renovate for you.’ They renovated this cute cottage for us. There was [another] house for sale a block away. I went to them and said, ‘If you will buy this house, I will put women in recovery in this house, and I will make your heart happy.’ I mean, that’s crazy right? We talked them into seeing our vision.

We remodeled it, and it’s now a three bedroom, two bath. The second the doors were open it filled up. We have five wonderful, wonderful women over there. I can’t tell you how precious they are.

WACOAN: What are the particular needs of women in recovery?

Shine: Safety is a big one.

Jobs are huge. I’m a huge proponent that people need to work. If you’re not fulfilling your needs through legal work, you’ll fulfill them through illegal work.

They need a community. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a village to raise people in recovery as well. They’re beat down. They’re like a child. Their needs are love and compassion. They need to know you can recover, you can come back.

WACOAN: Is five the maximum number of women you can take?

Shine: Yes

WACOAN: And how long can they stay?

Shine: As long as they’re following the rules and paying rent, they can stay as long as they want.

WACOAN: With such a small place, I assume you can’t accommodate women with children.

Shine: It’s too small for that.

WACOAN: Why is it called Hospitaller 1?

Shine: Because hopefully there will be a Hospitaller 2 and 3. We finished renovation on it three weeks ago. It has been in the works for about three months.

WACOAN: How did the women come to you?

Shine: God. It truly has been that way. Everyone has had a different story as they’ve come in. Some found us through my friends. Some people have called because they read an article in the newspaper. Some people saw it on Facebook. My husband sits on the board of directors at a drug and alcohol rehab. All different ways.

WACOAN: Going back to the awesome ‘Handle It’ video for Luna Juice, I usually ask women how they keep balance. But I think I’ll ask you how you handle it instead.

Shine: Ha! The key to this idea of balance is knowing that that’s kind of this mythological creature, that honestly there are going to be times you have to pay more attention to your family than your job, and times you have to pay more attention to your job than your husband, and times you have to pay more attention to your husband than your friends.

For me, keeping balance is knowing which of those plates needs my hand to give it the extra spin. There’s a great quote by someone — I don’t remember [who] — something like, ‘The way to juggle is to not keep your hand on the same ball too long’ — I don’t know, it’s a juggling thing. I’m learning a lot of that right now in business, in personal relationships. Everything in life is still happening even though one thing may need more attention.

WACOAN: Where do you go to church?

Shine: DaySpring Baptist Church. It’s so fantastic. We started going there, and I’m like, ‘I do not fit in here.’ I’m loud. I’m outgoing. I wear bright colors. It’s a contemplative Christian church. And I’m like, ‘Oh, God, please don’t let my water bottle crinkle.’ Sometimes I’m the only person who laughs audibly when the pastor says something. I don’t fit in there, but it’s wonderful because it makes me dive into my time with God there. I have to really focus on God there because I don’t want to be too loud.

WACOAN: When you have time off, what do you like to do?

Shine: Cameron Park is the place to be! I’m real physical. I work out a lot. I do CrossFit, and that’s more fun than you can imagine, but I like to be challenged physically.

I love the farmers market. I tell people all the time that that’s where I find God: Cameron Park and the farmers market.

WACOAN: You said something earlier about service work?

Shine: I love to volunteer with other women who are not necessarily in recovery but that’s what it ends up being a lot.

WACOAN: And you said you volunteer with Jesus Said Love?

Shine: I’m on their advisory board. We get together, and we come up with ideas. Every city [they are in] has an advisory board. We’re the helper bees.

I’m on the club team, so you go through me for a [volunteer] interview. I screen out the B.S., make sure we don’t get people who just want to tell them they need Jesus. I make sure we go in there and love them. But we all need Jesus.

WACOAN: We can’t end this interview without you telling me about your tattoos.

Shine: There’s a lot of them! I want to be a bird sanctuary because I’ve got about seven birds on me. I love color and art. And it’s just the way I express myself. I like being expressive. [Tattoos are] one of the ways that I do so. Some are meaningful. My son has one part of [one tattoo], and I have the other part of it. I have a scar from when I was using drugs and had to be rushed to the operating room, and I got a Celtic tattoo over it. It says, ‘We will live to fight another day.’ It was an Irish battle cry. One [tattoo] is a sunset and clouds, and it has no meaning at all. I have a peacock; it’s just real pretty. And a flamingo. My flamingo’s pretty cool.

WACOAN: Anything else? Anything we didn’t cover?

Shine: Nope, we got it all. Did you think the interview would go this way?

WACOAN: Yes, yes I did.