Amir Mostafavi always knew he would eventually open a South Block juice bar in his home of McLean.
The McLean High School graduate worked at the now-defunct Box Office Video chain that was owned by his parents for about two decades. Those days of stocking shelves, having an encyclopedic knowledge of actors, and ordering hard-to-find movies for customers were his first lessons in entrepreneurship.
“We were a local, family-run business that competed with Blockbuster, but what set us apart was our connection to the community,” Mostafavi told FFXnow. “People coming in, they knew me or my mom or my dad. We knew what our customers wanted…If someone came in and asked me about where a movie is, I could tell them it’s three rows over, three shelves down, and three videos over.”
In the years since, he has taken that experience and has applied it to create his own business. Mostafavi first opened his first juice bar on the campus of George Washington University in 2006 called “Campus Fresh.”
If working at Box Office Video was the entrepreneurial equivalent of an undergraduate education, Campus Fresh was like graduate school.
“I always joke with people that’s where I got my Ph.D. in business,” he said.
Five years later, in 2011, Mostafavi opened the first South Block in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood. While it wasn’t an immediate success, as the company’s website notes, they kept building the company “one block at a time” and eventually opened a second location in 2015 in East Falls Church.
There are now 13 South Block locations across the D.C. region, including one in Vienna.
Soon, the juice bar’s 14th location is set to open in McLean’s Chesterbrook Shopping Center in early 2023.
Bringing his company home has Mostafavi reminiscing about working at his parents’ video store.
“It’s come full circle. I feel a sense of accomplishment,” he said on working in McLean. “I think about my dad.”
Mostafavi is now 47, the same age as his dad when he opened Box Office Video in Langley Shopping Center — only 2 miles from the site of the new South Block.
“Me having that same experience at the same time in my life and opening in the same place where he opened it, it’s just kinda…” he said, trailing off and clearly emotional about the thought. “My dad lives in Vienna now and owns a Persian restaurant there. That’s kind of his retirement.”
When noted that owning a restaurant doesn’t sound like much of a retirement, Mostafavi laughed, “He works more than I do.”
Beyond the personal connection, he believes McLean is a perfect place for a South Block. He says the community is “underserved” in terms of food choices and is always “so supportive” of local businesses.
“Even though it isn’t [techincally] a small town, it still has that small-town, community vibe in that people want to support small businesses,” he said.
South Block is moving into Chesterbrook Shopping Center, which was first built more than 50 years ago. It’s now undergoing an $8.5 million facelift. Mostafavi said the renovation is “much needed for the community” and one of the big reasons why they choose to move in.
Just like Box Office Video, South Block is a family affair with his brother serving as vice president of the company. For Mostafavi, that was the only way to go, considering how much he learned from his parents about what it takes to run a small, local business.
“It’s from [them] that I learned work ethic, being resourceful, persistent, and not giving up,” he said. “That’s all huge in being a successful business.”
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