The incredible life-changing story of how Khalil Rafati went from homeless on LA’s skid row to starting his own health and wellness company.
In 2003, I had reached a peak — suffering the high cost of low living. I made the decision to eliminate drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, but I was still smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, eating fast/junk food and drinking copious amounts of coffee and energy drinks. I always felt completely drained and devoid of any energy or vitality; depression was a constant.
A friend of mine introduced me to juicing and smoothies made of superfoods, along with some organic whole food supplements (quite different from your standard vitamins made of synthetic chemicals). The results were remarkable and instantaneous. I began to feel alive again. My anxiety was soon replaced with excitement and a renewed lust for life.
So began my journey (some would say obsession) with finding and consuming the best products nature has to offer. I travelled extensively all over India, Indonesia and Central America, constantly asking questions, experiencing and learning everything I could from gurus to surf bums, ayurvedic doctors to street vendors. Here in the States, I explored what traditional Western medicine had to offer. I also went to longevity specialists, as well as a handful of so-called “healers.” In the end, I found the truth was not much different than what most people’s great-grandmothers advised: “eat your fruits and veggies.” I found by taking that simple age-old advice and adding some superfoods and exercise that I didn’t need a guru or a “healer” or Western medicine.
In 2011, my girlfriend, Hayley Gorcey, and I opened the first SunLife Organics juice bar in Malibu, California to share with our neighbors, friends, and members of the community an opportunity to experience what I had and to provide access to true nourishment. But beyond that, we wanted a place where we could come together as a community, away from our Blackberrys, iPads and Facebook; a place where we could meet up after a surf, a paddle or yoga; a place where we could strive to love, heal, and inspire one another.
At SunLife Organics, we won’t make or sell anything that we wouldn’t personally eat or use and, rest assured, our standards are high. We have spent years seeking out top of the line organic produce, superfoods, supplements and more. Every day, we aim to provide the best example we can for operating a business with the well being of people and the planet in mind.”
How does a juice or smoothie recipe come together?
Creating an item for our menu is no small task. Khalil traveled through India and Southeast Asia for almost a decade creating our signature Wolverine smoothie. He worked diligently to source the coolest superfoods and highest quality products he could get his hands on. Nobody was putting goji berries and royal jelly in their smoothies yet. He used to make smoothies at home and people from all over the neighborhood would line up every morning to snag one. One recipe kind of organically inspires the next.
Paying really close attention to health & wellness industry trends and discoveries inspires a lot of recipes as well. Although the Wolverine took 10 years to make, we are getting better. The latest addition to our menu, the Samurai Bowl, only took 6 months to perfect!
The staff is always so energetic and nice — how do you keep your team so engaged and welcoming?
We do everything we can to create a fun, sober, safe work environment for our kids. We host movie nights, take them to Sky High, bowling, yoga, SOULCYCLE, and so much more. The smoothies and juices are incredible, but that’s not what made SunLife Organics what it is today. They did.
We are also completely transparent and inclusive with our business. I think because they know that we aren’t hiding anything from them, they feel like they are part of something bigger. It instills a true sense of ownership and they take great pride in knowing how we perform as a company.
Our hiring process is a big part of keeping that energy going. We only hire local people who have referrals from existing employees. Since we trust our current staff we are confident that process will lead to us only hiring people who have a similar work ethic and values. Every single person who applies has to be ultimately hired by the owner, Khalil.
Lastly, our training is some of the best I have ever seen. We have established a department within our company operations team called the Ministry of Culture. They are a small group of long-time employees who introduce every new hire to the company. They do an amazing job of getting people stoked on what we do and where we’re going. I’d say 80% of the work is done with the orientations they host.
That is really incredible! Is there a favorite juice among the staff?
Zuma Canyon is always the favorite. It’s so refreshing, especially after a long shift on a hot day!
The Million Dollar smoothie wins that round. It’s made up of some of the most powerful nutrient-dense superfoods on the planet, all packed into one delicious shake. The ingredients are some of the strongest natural anti-oxidants, minerals, essential vitamins, and fatty acids in the world. Plus, it tastes like cookies & cream.
When is a juice cleanse recommended? How often do you do them?
Juice cleanses are not for everyone and you should consult a medical practitioner first if you have certain conditions. You know your body best, so do what feels right. We usually see people do them for anywhere from 1-7 days. I myself do a 3-7 day cleanse once every 2 months. For me, personally, it’s just a really great reset on my body and general diet.
How do you stand apart from other juicerys in LA, the land of juice bars?
Authenticity. We truly believe that’s all it comes down to. We aren’t faking it. We aren’t selling anything in our stores that we don’t use or eat ourselves. We are not claiming to be any authority figures on health or wellness. We aren’t trying to tell people how to diet or where to workout. We’re just trying to exemplify a better quality of life led by the daily practice of self-improvement.
Beautifully said. So what is next for SunLife Organics?
We will be opening our Pasadena location in the beginning of March. Following that we’re so excited to announce we’ll be opening 4 more stores throughout Southern California before the end of 2016! That’s all I can say for now!
This exclusive juice recipe, made especially for Free People, is a great one for the ladies. It’s easy to find, affordable ingredients are at any grocery store. Feed cut fruit through processor.
FP Free Falling Juice
2 sprigs of watercress
1/4 cup of beets, washed
2 large handfuls of carrots, washed
4 oranges, peeled
1/2 oz of lemon juice
Carrots and beets, along with their many benefits, support a healthy skin glow. Oranges, along with vitamin C, protect skin from aging. Watercress is said to support athletic performance as well as help to maintain healthy bones.
If you want to get fancy, throw in some goji berries, super rich in Vitamin C, or resveratrol, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants in the world that is said to also support heart health!
The juice has a beautiful bright pink color. The fresh citrus with the peppery watercress allows for a palate pleasing, full-bodied flavor profile, and surprisingly earthy. Enjoy!
“It was tough, but by the grace of God I am alive and happy now. I am grateful to be where I am and would not be in the position I am in had I not gone through all that pain. Strange paradox, but my reality nonetheless. That’s why I chose the pink lotus as my symbol for SunLife Organics. From the mud and the darkness and dirt grows a beautiful flower. That’s why I chose the name SunLife. Life in the Sun. It’s not just a catchy name and logo, it’s who I am.” – Khalil Rafati
+Thank you for sharing your beautiful story! We’ll see you soon, SunLife!
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