Claremont man builds a business, and a family, from tragedy

by Mick Rhodes |

Ryan Seward knew who he was from a very young age. His father and brother were both musicians. Clearly, he would be one as well.

He grew up a guitar obsessive. After graduating from Claremont High in 1995, he studied music at Citrus College, learning about composition and harmonic structure, and delving into jazz. He was good. Very good. His path was clear.

He took a gig playing on a cruise ship, where he met the woman who would become his wife, dancer and choreographer Julia Bourne. They married in 2004 and settled on the east coast, where Julia began teaching Pilates. Seward accepted a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in professional music in 2006.

The couple moved to Claremont a few years later, and in 2010, with Seward teaching music and working as a guitarist, she opened Bourne Pilates in the Village.

In 2014, their twins William and Lilly were born.

They’d built a lovely, suburban family life, with both parents in thriving, fulfilling careers, and a pair of joyous toddlers to raise.

But life can turn on a dime.

In 2016, Bourne was diagnosed with brain cancer. She fought for two years, but succumbed in September 2018 at age 45. The twins were four.

Seward had known this day would come. But there really is no way to prepare to become a single parent. His job as a music instructor and guitarist suddenly felt out of step with this new reality. He was at a crossroads. Did he keep teaching and run the Pilates studio? Quit one and do the other? And how exactly would he parent his kids with two jobs?

He’d been a musician his whole life. But trying to raise a young family, alone, on a musician’s income turned out to be impossible.

“I’m just hardwired to do that, so to kind of pry yourself away from that can be kind of painful,” Seward said.

He did what he had to do. He took over at Bourne Pilates and continued to teach music.

“Pilates was just not my … that was sort of way out of the scope of my wheelhouse,” Seward said. “I didn’t see me transitioning into Pilates as something that was going to be a good fit for me.”

Then the pandemic shut things down for a few months. Over that time he saw that health and wellness were going to on the minds of a great many folks suddenly locked out of nearly every routine.

There was something about his late wife’s passion for health and wellness, and her/his clientele at the Pilates studio, that kindled an idea.

“I kind of genuinely wanted to come up with an offering that would help people,” he said.

He’d been thinking about installing a refrigerator at the studio and stocking it with juices from Costco. But something about that didn’t sit right. So, he bought a juicer, fresh ingredients, and in early summer 2020, began making two-ounce ginger “wellness shots.”

The feedback was immediate and positive. He began branching out and selling to other Pilates and yoga studios in the area, with similar results.

Six months later, he formed an LLC, got a business license, a health permit, and Black Crow Juice Co. was officially off the ground. The juice is made in a shared kitchen in Upland, a term of his health license.

With business growing, he needed to increase his scale of production. Late last fall he made the leap and invested in a $15,000 Good Nature juicer.

“Because I couldn’t keep up with the production,” Seward said. “There was no way that I was going to be able to have a business without that piece of equipment. I kind of got in too deep!”

A website followed. Now he’s considering upgrading to an even more efficient juicer.

Seward’s biggest customer thus far has been Rev’d Up Coffee. He’s forever looking for ways to grow the business, but at his own pace since he’s the sole employee of Black Crow Juice Co. Pitzer College’s Grove House will be carrying his juice in the fall, and the Claremont Colleges are making him a vendor.

“Being an entrepreneur and starting your own business really is the American dream,” Seward said. “I don’t have any problem going to work for the man, who knows. And maybe I will end up having [to do that], but I have to say it is a tremendous amount of work, but it’s incredibly liberating being in charge of every aspect of what you’re doing.

“There’s really something to that.”

He still plays music, practices religiously, and gigs from time to time with Los Angeles funk stalwarts Breakestra. But his life’s focus has shifted.

“Society needs artists,” he said. “We need people that are thinking about abstract things, and pushing the envelope and coming up with new ways of thinking about stuff. That’s super important. It’s just I think to some degree it can be a luxury.”

It’s been a journey of dark and light for Seward. He’s 44 now. His twins are seven, rising second graders at Condit Elementary. He’s become an unlikely “papa bear.” It hasn’t been easy, but, as the saying goes, nothing worth having is.

“And maybe this is a testament to how much I’ve matured, but [now] I don’t even think twice about it,” Seward said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you just have to do what you have to do to get food on the table.’ I don’t even think twice about it now. I just go whatever I have to do to make sure my kids’ needs are met.”

I asked him what his late wife Julia would think about his newfound entrepreneurial flair.

“I think she would get a kick out of the thematic nature of how this has all unfolded,” he said. “It started in her gym, with her customers, and it’s still tied to health and wellness, which is what she was all about.”

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