Meet the Malibu mogul, 46, who turned his life around in just 13 years by creating a health drink empire
Thirteen years ago, Khalil Rafati was homeless, addicted to heroin and living in Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row. He was emaciated, covered in ulcers, and 106 pounds.
Today he’s a millionaire.
Rafati is the owner of SunLife Organics, a juice bar chain that has spread from its birthplace in sunny Malibu to six different locations in Los Angeles.
The juice bar, whose regulars include David Duchovny and Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, has become famous for the long lines of people waiting to purchase drinks with names like ‘The Elixir of Life’ and ‘The Happy’.
In just five short years Rafati, now 46, has created a juice empire built on the very drinks that he credits with saving his own life.
When Rafati first arrived in Los Angeles, it seemed everything was going better than he could have possibly planned.
The Toledo, Ohio, native drove nonstop from his hometown to the City of Angels to escape a childhood filled with sexual abuse.
And Rafati found success fast in Hollywood, starting his own business detailing sports cars, according to the New York Times.
His clients included Elizabeth Taylor, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, and Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges.
But Rafati was also dealing marijuana on the side, eventually escalating to selling ecstasy and ketamine.
And then, one night, Rafati tried heroin.
He described the moment in his memoir, I Forgot To Die, as giving him the childhood he had always dreamed of.
Rafati soon spiraled into addiction, nearly dying in 2001 when he intentionally overdosed on IV heroin at a house party in Malibu.
Paramedics saved his life, only for Rafati to almost die the very next year when armed intruders shot at the door he was hiding behind.
He had been in the bathroom at the time, shooting up drugs.
By 2003 Rafati had served a stint in Los Angeles County Jail and reached ‘the bottom of all bottoms’, he said.
‘There was no more digging left to do, all of my shovels were broken,’ he said. ‘I was done.’
Rafati became dedicated to his health and sobriety, but the real moment his life changed was when a friend introduced him to ‘juicing and superfoods’.
‘The results were remarkable and instantaneous,’ he told Sober Recovery.
Rafati began making his own juices for patients and staff at the Riviera Recovery Center, a sober living house he opened in Malibu in 2007.
It was there he created a smoothie he dubbed the Wolverine, a date and banana concoction that would eventually become Sun Life’s signature drink.
‘It was meant to rejuvenate and strengthen the patients,’ he told the Times. ‘And give them some much-needed strength.
‘Lethargy in sobriety is pretty brutal, especially if you’re coming off a long run with hard-core drugs.’
But it wasn’t just the patients at Riviera that loved Rafati’s smoothies. News of his incredible juices started spreading through Malibu.
‘So many outsiders came to Riviera Recovery just to enjoy one of my smoothies,’ he said.
‘It even became a bit embarrassing since many of these people were not part of the Riviera Recovery program.’
But when it came to the patients, Rafati was witnessing firsthand just how much his creations were helping their health.
It was then, Rafati said, that he knew he had to open SunLife Organics.
And he did, with the help of $50,000 he had saved away in gold coins in addition to financial support from a professional gambler.
Rafati’s mission for his first store was simple. He wanted to ‘love, heal and inspire’.
Those three words are now written in jackets and shirts Rafati sells through the SunLife Organics brand, as well as 32 kinds of juices, protein shakes, and smoothies, plus acai bowls, coffee, sundaes and frozen yogurt.
Now Rafati sells 32 kinds of juices, protein shakes, and smoothies, in addition to acai bowls, coffee, sundaes and frozen yogurt
Ingredients in his drinks include the likes of Alkaline Water, Himalayan Pink Salt and Dandelion Greens, chosen specifically for their contribution to the body’s health.
And when it comes to hiring his staff, Rafati also selects people who need the kind of help he was desperately searching for 13 years ago.
‘Right from the start he was trying to better my life,’ said Cache Coelho, who was addicted to OxyCotin before he moved to Los Angeles.
‘He pushes us very hard,’ he added. ‘In a father-like sense’.
Coelho said that Rafati signed him up to run his first Tough Mudder, and bought him 20 James Perse shirts.
‘He gets very personal with us,’ Colho added.
‘Especially the ones he believes in.’