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The three-letter word Evan Tepper will never use

Evan Tepper asks me if I want a shot of espresso in my peanut butter-banana smoothie, better known as The Cloquet. Despite the fact that it’s almost 4 p.m., I respond with a quintessential Minnesotan, “You betcha!”

We sit at one of the tables in the bright light of the café and I can see the traffic ebb and flow as the vibrant South Minneapolis community prepares for a wintry Friday night.

My intention is to learn why Evan ventured down this path – the one of a business owner, entrepreneur and adventurist. I ask him why he chose to leave his cushy office job with a nice salary and benefit package and take a risk to start a juice café.

The answer lies in one tiny word: but.

It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before:

I would love to pursue my love of teaching, but I have kids and can’t afford to go back to school.

I would love to travel the world, but I only have two weeks of vacation.

I wish I could open my own restaurant, but I have a great job with benefits.

Evan chose to buck the word but and live by another three-letter word: yes.

He took a sabbatical from that cushy job and said yes to a life full of exploration and unknown and risk. He began what would become a 15-month journey, trekking across the world bringing with him just a few items, including a notebook and camera.

“While I was meandering through different countries, I saw life at its most simplistic level,” he says. “I lived by a few simple principles. I slowed down. I became more conscious of the food I was eating.”

Evan tells me he ate mostly farm-fresh food from local markets.

“I started collecting ideas for a business I could open once I got back to the U.S.,” he says, noting his cushy office job, though still available to him, had become uninspiring. “Even though I knew nothing about the food service industry, I was learning lots about clean eating and what that really meant.”

A jaunt in Johannesburg, South Africa concluded Evan’s journey and he found himself back in Minneapolis, still taken with the idea of fresh and local food. With juice bars gaining popularity on both coasts, he decided to test the waters here in the land-locked Midwest by opening a food truck.

A farmer in Princeton, Minn., had exactly what Evan was looking for. He promptly gutted, painted and renovated it, creating the perfect avenue to sell fresh and healthy juices – sans sugar and additives. Finding a spot near the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill City Farmers Market, (Whole) Sum Kitchen quickly cultivated loyal customers, eager for his fresh and healthy menu.

The food truck prototype surpassed Evan’s expectations and he quickly started thinking about his next venture: a brick and mortar café.

“I think entrepreneurship is grasping the fact that you don’t know all the answers,” he says, reflecting on the past two months since opening his café in Minneapolis’s Lynnhurst neighborhood. “It’s going to be a rough ride. It’s going to be hard.”

Despite that, (Whole) Sum Café and Juice Bar continues to wow and impress customers as evidenced by the astounding five stars on Google reviews and a whopping 4.9/5 rating on Facebook. With reviews like, “Best hot chocolate of my life,” and “I feel so revived with a kick of ginger in my juice,” clearly, patrons are glad Evan took the risk and said yes to the path of entrepreneur.

“Juicing may come and go, but people are interested now more than ever before about what they are putting into their bodies and feeding their kids,” Evan says. “That idea isn’t going anywhere.”

His inspiration…

I asked Evan where he gets his inspiration. Here’s what he said:

Books like this one about crushing your fear.

Ted Talks like this one about the excuses people invent to avoid pursuing their passions.

Podcasts, including this one; a conversation with college football coach Lou Holz about becoming a leader in life and business.

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