Students seek SunLife for tasty treats and trendiness

Pepperdine students Julianna Koss, sophomore public relations major, and Mikayla Murphy, freshman business major, enjoy trendy food at the SunLife Organics Malibu Mart location (Photo by Lena Fucile).

Many Pepperdine students, along with the rest of Southern California, are crazy about SunLife Organics.

It’s impossible to walk across the Pepperdine University campus without seeing at least one student wearing a “Be Here Now” sweatshirt or carrying a lotus flower hydro flask. But students debate whether it is the food or the company’s brand that draws people in.

‘’I don’t know if my friends actually like going to SunLife to eat,” freshman business administration major Hailey Shah said. “It’s more of just to say, ‘I went to SunLife,’ and to capture a trendy Snapchat.”

SunLife Organics’ owner Khalil Rafati opened SunLife as a place to promote organic food and a healthy lifestyle, according to the company’s website.

“SunLife just has a good vibe,” Shah said. “Everyone who works there is super nice and it just feels good to eat their healthy products.”  

But as the company has flourished, some students have questioned whether the company’s focus has shifted from being good to just looking good.

SunLife Organics opened in 2011 and has six locations throughout Southern California, including two in Malibu and one in Calabasas. Most Pepperdine students go to the location in Malibu Mart, which is just two miles from Pepperdine’s campus.

SunLife sells juices, smoothies, acai bowls, proteins shakes and frozen yogurt. The most popular items on the menu include the Wolverine smoothie and the Brazilian bowl, both priced at $9.95. SunLife is more expensive than other acai bowl bars within Southern California.  Another popular juice bar in SoCal, Nekter, sells its popular Pitaya Bowl for $6.75.

SunLife’s trendiness

Many Malibuites purchase SunLife gear from hydro flasks to T-shirts. The SunLife Organics Instagram has nearly 29,000 followers and their Facebook page has nearly 10,800 “likes.”

Many of SunLife’s employees are models and famous on Instagram as well.  At the Malibu Mart location, two employees are Instagram famous. Model Amelia Edminson has about 18,000 followers and Justin Bieber look-alike Alexander Seibt has about 11,000 followers.

The eatery has a unique atmosphere that is full of positive vibes and inspirational quotes. Some Pepperdine students go as far to say that SunLife Organics has become a lifestyle.

The premise of SunLife is to, “bring health and happiness to people’s lives, providing nutrition made from the highest quality ingredients on the planet,” according to the company’s website. Rafati struggled with a severe drug addiction until juicing and superfoods changed his life. Rafati opened SunLife with a goal to, “love, heal and inspire.”

Numerous email attempts to set up an interview with Rafati about the current focus of his company and the nutritional information of SunLife’s products went unanswered. Store managers referred such questions to Rafati.

Employees regularly update the company’s social media accounts, but the restaurant doesn’t have Wi-Fi to encourage customers to remain present, according to employees and a chalkboard in the juice bar.

The interior of the restaurant at the Malibu Mart location contains a sign explaining why there is no Wi-Fi (Photo by Lena Fucile).

SunLife’s food quality

SunLife Organics is known for the high quality food.  

The food and everything they provide is all fresh,” said Rachel Bardwell, a junior advertising major and former SunLife employee.  “Absolutely nothing they make is packaged and all the ingredients are as fresh as can be … nothing is preserved, nothing has chemicals and SunLife definitely goes above and beyond when it comes to food quality.”

Bardwell worked at SunLife Organics in Calabasas for a few months.

The nutritional content of the food is not made available to customers. The company posts all the ingredients used online, but neither the calories nor the macronutrient breakdown. Employees at the Malibu Mart location were not able to give the information on request.

“SunLife does not post the calorie counts because as in most American restaurants the serving sizes are just too large,” said Hannah Tikson, (formerly DeWalt), Pepperdine alumna and Health and Wellness education coordinator at Pepperdine.         

“Particularly in smoothies and acai bowls there is going to be a very high sugar count due to all the fruits,” Tikson said. “The fruits contain natural sugars, which are relatively healthy.”

Tikson said a SunLife employee told her that some of the acai bowl mixes do have added cane sugar.

“Going to SunLife to eat a big acai bowl is definitely going to have a lot of sugar, along with vitamins, minerals and great nutrients from the fruits and vegetables,” Tikson said.  

From Tikson’s nutritional science standpoint, the food at SunLife does promote the well-being of customers. But for those focused on weight management, SunLife products should be eaten in moderation due to the high caloric content in sugar.

Both Tikson and Bardwell said they believe that SunLife Organics tries its best to fulfill their mission of serving healthy food.

What attracts customers

All 10 people interviewed for this story agreed that the restaurant fulfills its goal of providing an inspiring atmosphere for customers.

Walking into the restaurant is a breath of fresh air,  students said.

The employees are beautiful and the design of the restaurant is aesthetically pleasing.

“SunLife is an image for sure,” Bardwell said. “The employees are all very tan, tall, good-looking and have perfect smiles. This is purposeful for sure.”

Bardwell said SunLife trains employees to make all customers feel like their best friend.

Customers go to SunLife for the status and trendiness of the establishment.

“I don’t own any SunLife gear but I’ve always thought about getting a hat. I want to make my Iowa friends jealous,” junior history major Jeremiah Anthony said. “I always go to SunLife for the food and for the photo. I think one of my friends goes there to meet cute girls. I think SunLife is more about looking good but it seems pretty healthy too.”

Clay Feagler, a first-year business administration major, agreed that customers go to SunLife for alternative reasons than the food.

“Girls go to SunLife just to be basic,” Feagler said. “They go to SunLife so they can take a picture of their bowl for Snapchat and to post a picture on Instagram with the wings in the background.”

Female students agreed with Feagler’s statement.

“I probably eat at SunLife three times a week,” freshman nutrition major Abriana Zorzi said. “To be honest, whenever I go I always post it on my Snap story.”

Lena Fucile completed this story under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield in Jour 241 in spring 2017.