By Carolanne Wright
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Looking at Khalil Rafati, the 46-year-old owner of the juice bar chain SunLife Organics, you would never guess his life history. Born in Toledo, Ohio to a Polish Jewish Mother and Muslim father of Palestinian origin, his childhood was peppered with trauma. In a bid to escape sexual abuse and have a fresh beginning, he left his hometown and drove nonstop to Southern California. Through diligent hard work, he climbed the social ladder and began a sports car detailing business — with clients ranging from actors Elizabeth Taylor and Jeff Bridges, to the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses.
But Rafati wasn’t satisfied, and started investing his earnings in the drug trade. Eventually, he fell victim to heroin and began a downward spiral of drug addiction, homelessness and time in prison. After reaching “the bottom of all bottoms,” he had enough. As luck would have it, this wasn’t the end for Rafati, but the beginning of an extraordinary success story fueled by coming clean with superfoods.
Thirteen years ago, Khalil Rafati was addicted to heroin, homeless and living in Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row. Covered in ulcers, and weighing in at 106 pounds, he was emaciated and sick.
Today he’s a multi-millionaire.
Rafati is now sharing his story to inspire others, chronicling his incredible journey in the book, “I Forgot to Die.”
Heroin Overdose and Near Misses
By the late 1990s, Rafati was selling ecstasy at raves and smuggling the surgical anesthetic ketamine across the Mexican border. It was around this time that he also tried heroin and became hooked. In 2001, he intentionally overdosed on IV heroin at a house party in Malibu and nearly died. Paramedics saved his life, but Rafati had another close call the very next year when armed intruders shot through the door he was hiding behind, while he was shooting up drugs in the bathroom. Several times he ended up in the Los Angeles County jail. He said withdrawals there were “the worst ever. On a cold, cement floor, just horrible.”
He finally hit bottom when the seizures became too much, along with the abscesses and his teeth “literally rotting out of my head.” His physical condition “really drove me to kind of have the realization that, like, my time is pretty much up if I don’t make a change.”
Coming Clean — Once and For All
In mid-2003, Rafati went through his last detox from drug addiction. “There was no more digging left to do; all my shovels were broken. I was done.” After finally getting clean, he started various odd jobs — yard work and cleaning houses. Steady jobs followed, and then investments. A friend subsequently introduced him to juicing and superfoods.
He later established Riviera Recovery in 2007, a sober living house in Malibu, California, where he created what was to become SunLife’s signature smoothie — the Wolverine, a drink based on dates, bananas, maca, bee pollen and royal jelly.
“It was meant to rejuvenate and strengthen the patients,” he told the New York Times, “and give them some much-needed strength. Lethargy in early sobriety is pretty brutal, especially if you’re coming off a long run with hard-core drugs.”
He also began to make juices for patients and staff. Soon enough, word spread beyond the walls of the center. Before he knew it, outsiders from Malibu came to Riviera Recovery just to enjoy the smoothies. “It even became a bit embarrassing since many of these people were not part of the Riviera Recovery program,” says Rafati. But he saw firsthand how the juices and smoothies were making a real difference in the health of the patients.
In due course, Rafati began to seriously focus on marketing his nutritional drinks, and, with the help of CDs and DVDs by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, his entrepreneurial spirit blossomed. With ruined credit, Rafati instead used $50,000 worth of gold coins that he had stashed away to start his first juice bar. Together with his girlfriend, and financial support from a professional gambler, SunLife Organics was born. His mission was simple, he wanted to “love, heal and inspire.”
In just five years, SunLife Organics has expanded to six locations throughout the Los Angeles area. Each sell 32 kids of juices, protein shakes and smoothies, along with acai bowls, coffee, healthy sundaes and frozen yogurt.
Although he’s been sober for over a decade, Rafati admits he sometimes still thinks about getting high. But the life he has now is reason enough not to slide back into drug use — a thriving health and wellness business with roughly 200 employees that rely on him.
“The addict in me is what I bring to this operation,” he said. “This relentless pursuit of greatness and pure, authentic self-expression, that’s what it’s all about. So what I bring to the table is, yeah, being nuts.” [source]
When questioned if his superfood empire and healthy way of living has become his new drug, Rafati replies, “This isn’t just my new drug,” he said. “This is my anti-depressant, and it’s the greatest anti-depressant I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried ‘em all.”
And when CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal asked, “What is that advice that you give to, maybe not just recovering addicts, but also people out there who have the dream that you had of owning a business?”
Rafati responded: “Never, ever, ever give up. That’s it. Never give up.”
About the author:
Carolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.
Through her website Thrive-Living.net, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.