In this web series, we will be shining a spotlight on several local women, on top of their game in a variety of fields, showcasing the diversity of interesting and accomplished women in our fine city. See the rest of our Spotlight on Women series.
It’s a special type of small business owner who makes it her mission to help others share in her success. JoAnne Johnson-Sabir is an entrepreneur, but first and foremost, a community leader. She owns The Juice Kitchen in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood with her husband Maanaan Sabir. The fresh juice cafe opened in 2015 and through the experience, Johnson-Sabir began thinking about how she could create opportunities like this for other minority business owners.
In 2018, she partnered with Milwaukee developer Juli Kaufmann to transform the former BMO Harris Bank branch in Sherman Park (3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave.) that was burned during the 2016 unrest into a community and wellness hub. The Sherman Phoenix opened at the end of November and includes about a dozen different businesses, including her second venture with her husband called Shindig Café.
Name: JoAnne Johnson-Sabir
Hometown: Born in Detroit, raised in New York, been in Milwaukee for past 17 years
Family members: Husband Maanaan Sabir and children Ameera Pearsall (16) and Taj Pearsall (14)
What type of education do you have?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Master’s in Social Work from UW-Milwaukee.
Defining moment in your personal life?
It was definitely becoming a mom. It felt natural to me instantaneously after they wore born. But I’m still getting used to it every day. I’ve been learning to adapt at each stage of their existence.
Most impactful professional experience?
Coming from academia and going into community work has been a really rewarding transition. I wanted to be able to see the results of my work rather than resting on a theoretical plane.
My mom had retired and gotten into community development work at Walnut Way so I decided to follow. I knew that I had a skill set and understanding to serve the community. Her work at Walnut Way gave me a pathway to get involved.
What made you want to start your own business?
I knew one of the pathways in community work had to be centered on the economy. I asked myself, “How do we create a pathway so that can people can sustain themselves?” Creating businesses is a pathway so that wealth can rest in the community.
In regards to my own business, I knew community work is a response to a need. In my community, there was a need for places that nurtured your body, so we created The Juice Kitchen.
Hardest lesson you’ve learned?
It’s all been hard! There are so many ebbs and flows. We’ve wanted to support people that have had employment challenges, but for various reasons it doesn’t always work out.
Best part of owning your own business?
The best part is the hardest part – the people and employees. The challenges are significant, but so is the joy. So many people are touched by our work.
What do you do when you have free time?
Define free time. We (Maanaan, the kids and I) all bought matching pajamas and like to sit on the couch and watch the show Black-ish.
Any mentors you credit for your success?
My momma! Actually both of my parents have provided a strong foundation for me.
Also, Juli Kaufmann has been an amazing business partner. There is a flow of reciprocity. I hope she gets as much as she’s given me.