Kelly Slater Interviews Khalil Rafati

Photo: Todd Glaser

Why The Billion Dollar Smoothie Is A Bargain

We asked 30 people who we admire to each interview one person they admire. That’s the concept behind the Interview Issue presented by Design Within Reach.

Kelly Slater chose Sun Life Organics Founder Khalil Rafati

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Kelly Slater: I wanted to ask you about your recipes, how they came to be and where you’re going with them. When I see Sun Life Organics, I see philosophies imparted in your recipes somehow. There’s a deeper meaning to the whole thing. You might just pick it up and love it; it tastes good. But the question is, how do you formulate things, and what are you working on right now?
Khalil Rafati: The Wolverine, which is our number one selling drink, took two years to develop just messing around in my kitchen. Finding a way to take the greatest nutrients and superfoods on the planet, which, to be honest, taste like shit, and make them taste good. I mean, have you ever put royal jelly in your mouth by itself?

KS: It’s awful. Yes.
KR: It’s putrid. It’s one of the worst tasting things, or try taking a handful of bee pollen and putting that in your mouth. It’s on par with the cinnamon test. You start to gag. You start to choke. You can’t possibly choke down a handful of bee pollen. What I was doing, like a mad scientist, or let’s be even more transparent, sort of like a drug addict, was going and finding these things that are so fucking great. The challenge was, how was I going to find a way to make them palatable? That was what I feel is divinely inspired. These recipes just come to me in the middle of the night sometimes. I mean, the million dollar smoothie, which is the smoothie we get shit about because it’s $18.

What I was doing, like a mad scientist, or let’s be even more transparent, sort of like a drug addict, was going and finding these things that are so fucking great. The challenge was, how was I going to find a way to make them palatable?

KS: Anything expensive in your store, I know is good for me so I’ll just buy it.
KR: I’m fascinated with matcha. I’ve been fascinated with matcha for years. I first brought matcha six and a half years ago when we opened and nobody would buy it. No matter what I did with it, people just weren’t into matcha. For whatever reason over the last couple of years, matcha is now trending. I’ve always been a huge matcha fan. After going to Tokyo last year, or all over Japan really, I just put my foot down like OK, I’m going to now bake with matcha.

KS: Well, that’s the thing with matcha, I like matcha here and there. I’m not big into it, but it’s bitter. Like a cacao bean, right? It’s kind of bitter. You’ve got to sweeten it up. You’ve got to do something to it. You can override it if you’re a health guy, health person, and you know the benefits of that. You’re like, fuck it. I’ll eat it.
KR: Right. And not just that, but how amazing matcha is for you? I mean every day they’re coming out with a new thing that green tea does. By the way, for people that don’t know, matcha is just green tea leaves for the most part. I’m simplifying it.

There’s high-grade matcha. There’s ceremonial matcha. They all taste like shit, but what I wanted to do was make it palatable so I could get that amazing clean high. The high from matcha—and here I go with the drug addict in me again—but that high is much clearer than a coffee high. A coffee high is sort of metallic and edgy and sketchy, whereas a matcha high is clean and it’s very cerebral and longer lasting.


KS: But the metaphor to a drug addiction isn’t bad. Food should make you feel good. There are serotonin levels. There are endorphins you want to feel. You want to feel good, and those chemicals are all in our bodies. We have 2,000 chemicals in our bodies or something that can make us feel different ways. You can override pain. You can override grief.
KR: Totally. Yeah. I mean, that’s the big misnomer. Opioids are not bad. Opioids are necessary. When your body feels trauma, it produces dopamine. It produces serotonin. It produces certain chemicals. If you have to get your leg amputated, you bet your ass that opioids are life savers.

The problem is when they’re synthetically processed and then they’re peddled to the weak, the forgotten, the damaged and broken people that want to anesthetize themselves, but back to the matcha thing: Here’s this clean, beautiful, amazing compound that wakes you up, causes your brain to clear up and it burns fat.

No. I’m going to do what I always do.

I didn’t want to do some wacky, oh it’s trending now to do ceremonial grade matcha. Get the whisker out. No. I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to get a blender out and I’m going to find amazing superfoods and other things that make me feel great. So, what I did was combine real, raw coconut cream with the matcha. And instead of using milk, I used oat milk, or macadamia milk, but I like the oat milk better. I’m giving away my trade secrets and I don’t care. Anybody should do this at home because it’s fucking amazing.

Then, I thought, I want to sweeten it. Do I want to do the stevia? No, it’s got a little weird aftertaste. Definitely would never in a million years use sugar. I want to use honey, but I didn’t want to just use honey. I wanted to use, again, an amazing honey that resonated with the highest vibration. Instead of using Yogi Bhajan or Himalayan honey, I found this dude in Texas that has an organization that removes bee infestations for people that can’t afford to keep them or don’t want them. Typically, they would have an exterminator kill the bees. They kill them using chemicals and it’s fucking horrible because the bees are all dying already.

What this guy does is he removes the bee colony and takes it to this beautiful farm. Then he sets them up in their own area where they can have a hive and live in harmony and nature. In turn what the bees then do is what bees do, make honey. He then harvests the honey gently and humanely, without harming the bees. I buy that honey from him. I buy a couple hundred pounds of it a month. I take that honey and I mix it with the matcha and I mix it with the raw coconut cream, and I mix it with the oat milk. Buddy, I tell you, when you drink it, because I know you haven’t had one yet, you’re going to love it. You’ll be hooked, to go back to the drug terminology. Honestly man.

The Brad Problem

KS: I probably will be. I mean, I’m already hooked on a number of things. You know me, I come into your shop in the morning and I’m ready to spend two hours there because I’m going to see people I haven’t seen in a little bit. I’m going to meet people I haven’t met. I’m going to have something hot. I’m going to have a bone broth or a turmeric tea. Then I’m going to follow it up with a smoothie and maybe a little bite to eat. I’m going to have good conversation the whole time because I know I’m going to run into a bunch of cool people.

One last thing about your recipes. I don’t say this in a negative way, but you’re so anal about your recipes. You want to make them perfect. You want to make all of them yourself and I know you have a sense of pride that you actually do. You’ve created about 90 percent of your recipes, but you told me about one where a kid that worked for you came up with one that has rose water in it and it freaked you out. It kind of pissed you off because he made such a good drink. Could you tell me about that one?
KR: First of all in a nutshell, the kid was the bane of my existence. I didn’t hire him. I always hired everybody in the beginning and somebody else hired him. He came from, I think Jersey Mike’s or something, and we just didn’t hit it off. Every position we put him in, he just floundered except he worked harder than everybody else, and he would drive me nuts because he was so passionate, but he just kept making mistake, after mistake, after mistake. I wanted to fire him. Everyone is like, “Are you kidding me? He’s the hardest worker.” I’m like, yeah he’s the hardest worker, but he’s wrecking things.

He came from, I think Jersey Mike’s or something, and we just didn’t hit it off.

One day they came up with the bright idea to make him manager of the Calabasas store. They put him in charge of the Calabasas store. I show up there one day, in true to form, and I start complaining about the door because it was sticking a little bit. When you went to open the door, it kind of stuck a little bit, which according to feng shui is really, really, bad for a home, but especially for a business. You don’t want your door not opening and flowing freely, because everything is energy right.

I didn’t really get along with the kid, so I kind of snapped at him and said, “Brad, what’s wrong with the door?” He said, “What do you mean?” Just him asking me what I meant drove me nuts. I said, “The fucking door. It’s sticking. Fix it.” He said, “OK.” Fast forward about three weeks later. I’m combing through all of the accounting and the bank accounts and whatever, because we were hemorrhaging cash at that time and I was terrified and paranoid—always paranoid of going back to being homeless and being a drug addict again. Maybe it’s why I’m not, but I’m going through the accounts and I look, and there’s a check for $5,000. First of all, we never wrote checks that big, but second of all, any time you see an even dollar amount, you know you’re getting robbed, because criminals are dumb. If they weren’t dumb, they wouldn’t be criminals. Obviously I’m generalizing. There are probably tons of brilliant criminals out there, but in general, people who steal checkbooks and write checks, they’re like $3,000, $2,000, $1,000.

I was terrified and paranoid—always paranoid of going back to being homeless and being a drug addict again.

So, I saw the check for $5,000. I flipped the fuck out. I’m like, “Oh my God. Somebody stole the checkbook. We’ve been robbed.” I called the general manager. She said, “I don’t know. I didn’t write a check.” I said, “Well then who would write a check?” She said, “I don’t know.” I’m calling all the stores. No one knows anything. Now I’m driving to each store because now I’m going to call the police and find out what the fuck is going on. I get to Calabasas and I walk in and there’s Brad. I said, “Brad, what the fuck happened? Did someone here write a check for $5,000?” He goes, “Yeah. I did.” I said, “You did?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “What in the fuck was a check for $5,000 for?” He goes, “You told me to fix the door.” I said, “Brad. I’m going to kill you. Did you replace the door?” He goes, “No. I called some door company and they came out and they fixed it and the guy gave me an invoice, so I paid it.”

KS: Oh my God.
KR: Five thousand dollars to fix a door that was sticking.

KS: Did you call the company that fixed the door?
KR: Called, went crazy, threatened to call the Better Business Bureau, etc. The guy was like, “That is what we charged, and the check cleared. Best of luck. Take me to court.” I let it go. At that point, obviously Brad was no longer the manager of the Calabasas store. He started to lay low and he started to just put his nose down to the grindstone and work hard. Then all of the sudden he started coming up with some recipe ideas, which I didn’t particularly like. However, some of them were really good, and then one day we had this pink drink on the shelf called The Lotus.

It hurt. I was happy in one regard, but kind of felt like getting punched in the stomach in another regard.

I grabbed it, and I said, “What the fuck is this?” Somebody said, “That’s the new drink that you wanted.” I said, “I didn’t ask for any new drink.” I said, “Who made this?” It’s a big deal for our juice press operation to do a new recipe. They said, “Brad did.” I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me. I called him up, and I said, “Now you’re making recipes at Sun Life?” He said, “Yeah, you told me come up with a drink with rose water in it.” Which I never remember saying to him, but apparently I did.

I opened it up and I took a sip, and it was, honest to God, it was one of the best tasting juices I’ve ever tasted in my life. Yeah. It hurt. I was happy in one regard, but kind of felt like getting punched in the stomach in another regard. Then he came up with another one right after the called the Ahava, which means love in Hebrew, which is probably the second best tasting juice I’ve ever tasted in my life. Now, this matcha latte that I’m pontificating about, he and I actually went around to different matcha shops all over LA, all over New York City, all over Brooklyn, and he and I worked on that recipe together. We just brainstormed.

Although, I’m going to take 100 percent credit for it because it is the new best tasting drink on the menu, for you and for Whalebone, Brad actually is a co-creator of the new matcha latte at Sun Life Organics.

KS: That’s epic. We’ll send it off with just a comment on my end about the Billion Dollar Smoothie. Sun Life Organics has a smoothie called The Billion Dollar. It’s $28. I’ve heard people that are new to the store walk in and look at the menu go, “What the hell are they doing? How can you charge $28 for a smoothie?” When you first did that, I said to you, “Well you know it’s nothing for people to go out and spend $30, $40 on a steak. There’s probably very little chance that steak compares in any way to the nutrients in this smoothie.” Why wouldn’t you agree?
KR: Not even close.


KS: Exactly, why wouldn’t you start the day out spending money on yourself and your health?
KR: Well, how many people do you personally know that will spend $80 on an eighth of weed, and think nothing of it, and $30 for a steak. Yeah. Maybe in Florida where you’re visiting, but where I live a steak is $80, $120 or $160 at some of the restaurants. No one ever blinks at spending $22 on a cocktail at SoHo House Malibu, and getting five of them or eight of them, but then when I put together a meal in a cup more protein, more nutrients, and everything that you could ever hope for in a meal, people freak out. Here’s the funny thing about The Billion Dollar smoothie, that’s our least profitable smoothie on the entire menu, because if you cost it out, there are $21 in raw materials so it should be a $52 smoothie.

I’m not going to be a dick. I don’t want to be known as that guy, but $28 for me is the threshold. $28, if somebody is going to make me an incredible smoothie, I would say $28 to $30 is my threshold and it better taste great, fill me up, and keep me filled for five to six hours. There better be some amazing things in that smoothie. There is, and I drink it all the time. People buy the shit out of it. People love The Billion Dollar smoothie. All kinds of people. Plumbers love it. The celebrities love it. The house moms love it. It sounds insane, but yeah, that’s my madness. That’s my passion. That’s my mission. That’s what we do. I hate even calling it a smoothie because it’s not. It’s a meal in a cup.

KS: Yeah. Hey, a billion dollar meal for $28 is a bargain in my eyes.

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