A giant unicorn is gyrating on the corner of Balcones and Northland drives, occasionally pausing to wave, raise the roof or make a lasso motion at the cars that zip past.


If someone were to create a mash-up of "My Little Pony" and "Magic Mike," it might look something like this.


But what the passers-by who honk and holler words of encouragement at this magical creature — who also frequently wields a JuiceLand sign — don’t know is that this isn’t just some overzealous sign spinner. Inside the costume is JuiceLand founder and CEO Matt Shook, and doing this type of marketing in costume has been a beloved part of his job for nearly two decades.


"It’s starting to get hot in here, just like a club," Shook joked from inside the suit.


"Who thought they’d see a dancing unicorn today?" he added, gesturing toward a passing car off Balcones Drive. "Not that guy!"


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Shook’s latest favorite costume is his inflatable unicorn, which he donned May 14 to draw attention to the reopening of JuiceLand’s Balcones location, but he’s also been a carrot, a banana, kale and Santa Claus. Whenever a new store opens, which is about a half-dozen times a year, Shook is out front, courting customers in costume.


"See, I got that guy taking a picture already," he said on May 14, pointing to another car. "The real goal is to end up on social media, because then the word really spreads. Ever since I was just an employee, I found the best marketing you can do is make eye contact and try to make people laugh. I’m really a performance artist at heart."


Safe to say, Shook’s never been afraid of the spotlight.


"I’m the kind of guy, if I go to ACL or whatever, I’m just looking to dance. I just like to move. I love going to shows, and I noticed at a young age that at the middle school dances, I was the guy that wanted to be out in the circle," he said. "I’m a DJ by trade, that’s how I got my start in Austin, I was doing weddings and parties."


Shook, 42, fell in love with the juice business in 2001 while working at the Juice Joint on Barton Springs Road. It later became Daily Juice, where he was a co-owner, and eventually his first JuiceLand location in 2011. Many of Shook’s co-workers and friends from his Juice Joint days are now on his executive team.


JuiceLand, which offers a plant-based menu of fresh-pressed juice, smoothies and meals, now has 36 stores across Texas, and all of those openings have included costumed marketing from Shook. He recalled standing outside the Houston Medical Center store in December 2019 and working especially hard to win over serious doctors and nurses on their lunch breaks by dancing to Ginuwine’s 1996 hit, "Pony."


"They all just start laughing, you know?" he said. "I think if they knew the CEO of the company was the one inside of the suit, they would laugh even harder."


Shook said the coronavirus pandemic brought unexpected challenges for the company, which temporarily shuttered 23 of its stores out of caution in mid-March. The remaining stores remained open because they featured drive-thrus or walk-up windows.


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"Restaurants operate on razor-thin margins anyway, and because it’s such a competitive landscape, you have to keep pricing competitive," Shook said. "When a day goes by with bad sales, you can handle it. When a week goes by with bad sales, you can handle it. When several months go by, it’s like the engine falling out of the car, and you’ve got to pull over and try to figure out how to rebuild the engine."


Now the company is in the process of reopening its closed stores in phases with curbside service. Five stores reopened on April 30 and five more on May 14, including the Balcones location, where Shook’s dance moves were on full display.


"Our business is set up for to-go mostly, so we’re feeling inspired and we’re feeling enthusiastic about trying to get as many people as we can back to work," he said.


Meg Dreibelbis, manager of the Balcones location, said the company’s willingness to embrace fun is part of the reason she has stayed.


"They really strive to take care of their employees, which is something different than I’ve seen in a lot of places. And the owner goes and runs around in a unicorn suit from time to time," she said, laughing. "(It’s like), oh, he’s a weirdo like me. That’s why I love this place. You kind of have to leave your inhibitions at the door. He obviously accepts your shyness if you’re a shy person, but he really just knows how to pull everyone out of their shell."


Shook even has pro tips at the ready when it comes to inflatable costumes. For "maximum inflatability," he advises, buy extra fans.


"That’s a little trick," he said. "I bet a lot of people out there would love to know you can modify it."


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Shook’s maximum time without a break in the unicorn costume is about two hours, and the only song he ever dances to is Ginuwine’s "Pony."


"I listen to it on repeat. It really is the perfect beat," he said. "I get the most intense workout. CrossFit has nothing on this unicorn suit. It’s like you’re in a sauna. I literally went home and weighed myself last time and I had lost 4 pounds."


So what do Shook’s three daughters — Annabelle, 11, Clementine, 9, and Hazel, 5 — and wife Kelly Shook, his high school sweetheart, think of his costumed escapades?


"They love it. They think it’s funny, but at this point it’s all old hat to them," he said. "They’re all three at home. I said, ‘OK, guys, who wants to wear a costume with me,’ and they all said hard pass."


No matter to Shook, who has no problem dancing with himself.


"One of the things I like most about the whole deal is it allows me to remember not to take myself too seriously. I think people do that in this world and they forget they should have fun," he said. "My goal is to lighten things up."