Ep. 203 Chaga Changes the World: Medicinal Mushrooms meet Entrepreneurship with Brandon Mizrahie

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In this episode, we discuss:

  • Exploring the magical origin and healing ways of Chaga
  • Highlighting the powerful anti-viral and immune-boosting properties of Chaga + the power this holds amidst a global pandemic
  • How Brandon’s own wellness journey lead to the innovation of his passion-centered business venture showcasing Chaga
  • The creation, sourcing, and evolutionary journey of RENUDE

Additional Resources:


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PRODUCT: Teachable

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Episode Transcript:

Renude is really about stripping down classic drinks to the nude, natural state and renewing them for not just the health and wellness community, but for the masses.

This is a Soulfire production.

Hello, and welcome back to another episode. My guest today is somebody who you may have heard me talk about recently. His name is Brandon Mizrahie and he is the founder, creator of Renude Chagaccino. In today’s conversation, we’re talking about all things Chaga, including the incredible story of how Chaga grows on birch trees, which fascinated me and I know you’re going to love, and we also talk about Brandon’s journey growing up in LA and his experience with the food system and being an ultra-sensitive person like many empaths and highly sensitive people. He was constantly getting sick and ultimately had led him to diving into this health and wellness space after a successful career in I.T. I personally take an interest in not only the health benefits in Chaga as a superfood and an adaptogen, but also what it truly looks like to grow a product-based business and who you become in the process of building a business like this one, the Chagaccino. All right, without further ado, let’s dive in and get talking with Brandon today.

Sarah: Welcome to the show, Brandon. It’s amazing to have you here today.

Brandon: So good to be here, Sarah.

Sarah: So we’re talking about Chaga today, but I want to start in telling you my quick story of how I found the Chagaccino. So we were just talking about how we both have little ones, little kids, and I am in Michigan now, but right before we moved here, I was living in Colorado. We would take my daughter for two-mile walks every morning just to get out of the house and to move, and it was this perfect walk to our local coffee shop. And I was always so bummed because my husband is a coffee drinker and so he would get his coffee, and I felt like there was nothing for me to drink because I actually stopped drinking caffeine probably four or five years ago. And then I saw on the menu, this little thing called the Chagaccino, and I was like, hmm, I wonder what that is. I know Chaga are mushrooms, but tell me more. And I just had them put it into an oat milk steamer, obviously without the coffee, and I was the happiest mama/woman that day because it was so delicious. And honestly, it made the walks to the coffee shop way more enjoyable with my husband, those two miles, because I got to enjoy a drink when we got there.

So ever since have been purchasing it and now partnered with you all because I drink it every single day. And before we just jumped on, you also shared that you are a user of your product and you drink it every day as well because you love it. So I wanted to share that story with you. And then I want to start by asking you literally, what is Chaga and why do you love it so much? Just in case anyone listening is like, what’s a Chagaccino? What’s Chaga? What is this all about?

Exploring the magical origin and healing ways of Chaga

Brandon: Yes, I mean, we literally introduced the drink as WTF is a Chagaccino because it’s such a strange thing. I mean, it’s in the fungi kingdom so it’s a mushroom. There’s about 2.8 million species in the fungi kingdom. This Chaga is the king of the fungi kingdom, and there’s a lot of health benefits from mushrooms. A lot of people might not realize penicillin actually, and a lot of over 56 medications that they’ve derived Chaga from, but penicillin’s probably the most well-known, comes from a fungi kingdom. So a lot of people with mushroom allergies or that don’t like mushrooms on their pizza or aren’t fans of mushrooms, this is a completely different thing. In terms of Chaga, what makes it so unique is it’s wild foraged growing on birch trees. It only grows on about one in 10,000 birch trees and only in freezing climate. So you’ll see it grow in wild forests in Alaska, British Columbia. We source some from Siberia actually too, which has huge birch forests. And you literally have to go into nature, find it on one in 10,000 of these trees.

It’ll only grow on the birch trees that have a wound on them. So it’ll sort of grow on a bandaid. Imagine the tree got attacked by insects or struck by lightning and it has a wound. The Chaga mushroom will grow as a bandaid over that wound. And it kind of makes this handshake deal with the tree saying, I’m going to protect you from infection and grow on you like a bandaid, but in exchange, I’m going to start absorbing some of your amazing nutrients. And the birch tree being one of the healthiest trees on the planet is just the treasure trove of nutrients. I mean, it’s just unbelievable. And we can’t extract those nutrients directly from the birch tree because, you know, what are you going to do? Chop the whole birch tree down and try and boil it or something? You know, it’s huge.

So what the Chaga is doing is it’s growing out about two inches per year and after about 10 years, it’s arguably the most nutrient-dense. Some people call it a superfood, an adaptogen of mushroom. Some people call it the diamond of the forest because it literally has to be found in nature like diamonds. And by the time it’s about 10 years old when we harvest it, it is arguably, like I said, the most nutrient-dense superfood on the planet by far. We’re talking about the highest antioxidants on the planet by far. So it’s amazing for immune support, anti-inflammatory, it boosts longevity, cellular regeneration. You know, it protects against genetic mutation. And then there’s so many other health benefits, but I don’t want to get into all of them right now. I’m sure we’ll have a chance to talk about some of the others. But the magic is coming from nature. It’s coming from the birch tree and that’s something that makes Chaga so special. And other medicinal mushrooms have the same story, whether it’s reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, is they’re typically getting their health benefits from a tree. So you can’t cultivate it like coffee or crops in a farm because again, the magic is coming from that wild tree.

Sarah: I have a whole new appreciation for those little packets now because 10 years of extracting the nutrients from a tree. And I love how you talked about it being sort of this bandaid, but it’s like this mutually beneficial relationship between the tree and the mushroom that then you’re able to extract all those nutrients and we’re able to use them for all the obvious health benefits for our body. And I read on the box that there’s the highest antioxidant level, which is pretty cool. But I also read some research that your team had linked to that Chaga has some antiviral properties, which I’m sure is something that many people are interested in these days. So can you talk a little bit more about just that and how that serves us?

Highlighting the powerful anti-viral and immune-boosting properties of Chaga + the power this holds amidst a global pandemic

Brandon: Yes. Even though it’s in the fungi kingdom, as I mentioned, it’s actually antifungal and antiviral, as you mentioned. There was recently a study done, we had it linked on our website, and they studied all of the adaptogens. I like to think about adaptogens as kind of like the elite superfoods. It’s a term that’s getting thrown out a little more right now. There’s about 12 to 15 of them. Pretty much they help you adapt to physical and mental stress. There’s a lot of efficacy and science behind them, a lot of research papers, and they’ve stood the test the time. They have indigenous-culture use so they’ve been around for thousands of years. We’re sort of rediscovering them. Chaga’s one of them, but we have Maca in Peru. Every culture has one. Ashwagandha, which comes from India. There’s a lot of these adaptogens, like I said, about 12 to 15, and Chaga is one of them.

And in terms of being antiviral, they did a study on all the superfoods and adaptogens and they found that Chaga is the best for protecting yourself against viruses and bacteria and specifically COVID-19. That’s what they were looking for in this study, was what’s the best way to protect our system from COVID, from this virus, which is such a terrible virus, as we know, during the pandemic, how much it can spread, how many variants there are. And again, just to be clear, I’m not advocating people go in and not wear masks or take precautions, but they did conclude that Chaga is the number one way to protect yourself from COVID-19, to get your immune system strong, to get your body protected against these viruses.

It’s also an immunomodulator. So when we’re starting to feel like a bacteria or a virus comes into our system, because that’s how we get sick, a lot of times we don’t know if it’s a bacteria or virus, and what Chaga does is it protects you from both. And what’s so special about it is you can run to your local health food store, whether that’s whole foods or whatever, and buy your Emergen-Cs and your immune support formulas. And typically with those, those are great, I’m not knocking those, but typically what those do is it will hit the gas pedal on your immune system. And what happens a lot of times when you hit the gas pedal on your immune system is you’ll have a fevered response. Your body will say, oh God. Imagine it as a spark that comes into your system, whether it’s a bacteria or virus, and your body will say, I need to call the fire department before it becomes a forest fire. And that’s why we get fevers and that’s why we feel sick and achy.

And what Chaga will do that’s really special, and immunomodulators in general, is they’ll actually hit the brakes on your immune system saying, hey, that little spark isn’t going to turn into a forest fire. We can actually not have a fevered response. We can actually not overreact our immune system to respond to that. You won’t get sick, you’ll feel fine, and that spark will go away on its own with no sick response needed. And that’s something that’s really special is it can hit the brakes or the gas pedal on your immune system. And most products out there only hit the gas pedal, as I mentioned. So it’s amazing in terms of protecting against bacteria and viruses.

Sarah: Yes. I imagine that many of the people listening who have a history of chronic health issues and many of them women with autoimmune disease are especially interested in what you just shared. And I know that you also have your own health history and journey that led you to Chaga and to wanting to not only build a company but consume it personally. Can you talk a little bit about your own health journey and what role Chaga played and also just all the things that you’ve overcome in your own being?

How Brandon’s own wellness journey lead to the innovation of his passion-centered business venture showcasing Chaga

Brandon: Yes. I was really sensitive, I believe, to the food system. It might have been more just city life growing up in Los Angeles. But by the time I was in third grade, you know, my mom is the greatest person in the world that I still love; I feel like I have the umbilical cord still attached. I call her almost every day. So, you know, and she lives 20 minutes away. So I love her. I have to say that before I say this because growing up in the 80s and early 90s, it was McDonald’s, it was Ronald McDonald, it was Tony the Tiger on the cereals, and the Kool-Aid guy, and it was this fun cartoon character. So I was consuming all of these products playing in the playground at McDonald’s getting the happy meals. It was luring children in and there wasn’t as much knowledge at the time about how bad it was for you. And I was very sensitive to the food system.

So from a really early age, by the time I was in third grade, I remember just being in a fetal position, screaming in pain from stomach pain. And I went to see all the specialists; they ran all these tests and they’re looking for serious disease in Western medicine. And what happened was they didn’t find any cancer or tumors or any serious disease so they just called it irritable bowel syndrome or something like that. And they never asked me, what are you eating, what are you doing, you know? They didn’t have this holistic approach. And I was also getting sick all of the time. I was missing really important events in school and friends’ birthdays. And I was really into sports growing up and I loved basketball and I just always had it on my calendar when our big game was and the playoff games, and I was having to miss the big playoff games. I remember just sitting in my room crying because I couldn’t play because I had strep throat or, like I said, I had an overactive immune system. So I was getting taken down for like seven to 10 days, four or five times, six times a year. And that with the stomach issues and just screaming in pain all the time and for hours at a time was just, it was really tough, you know?

So when I was old enough, they started giving me pills. Those pills then created all kinds of problems in me. My bone density went down to that of an 80-year-old. When I went to go see a doctor, he said he can’t believe I’m not breaking my bones just walking. And I’m an 18-year-old kid who’s active, working out, playing basketball and sports, and he’s saying I can break my bones just walking because my bone density’s so low. So there were side effects to the prescription pills they prescribed for me. Again, I’m very sensitive to medication and just things in general. So I’m not saying that it hit everybody like that, but that was my experience with the pills and the pharmaceuticals that they gave me. Also, it started to have hormone imbalances when I was taking a lot of these pills and brain fog and just a lot of side effects that maybe they don’t show up maybe on an MRI scan. Obviously, the bone density one did because they just straight-up tested that and he saw that. But a lot of the other ones like brain fog, lethargic, just not myself, not sharp. And so, I had to get off those pills.

And that’s sort of my journey; just kind of always trying to heal myself and looking to holistic alternative medicine to do that because when I went to the prescriptions and the pills, it caused a host of other issues for me. So that was kind of the start of my health and wellness journey.

Sarah: Well, I deeply resonate with the high sensitivity to pharmaceuticals as well as processed food in our food system. And so many things clicked for me once I was in my early 20s when I started to realize or ask questions really around where our food came from and what I was putting into my body, where as a kid, it was just sort of eat what mom puts on the table or whatever’s advertised or whatever it is. And like you said, it’s nothing against our mothers, that’s for sure; we love our mothers to death, but the way that food is marketed was so different or was changing, I think, during that time. And when you are highly sensitive, when you are symptomatic to whether it’s pharmaceuticals, whether it’s food, then there’s a little bit of a benefit in that versus people who may be more asymptomatic because you do feel like shit so you’re going to do something about it as well and you’re going to start to try and find a solution, a change, answers.

And yes, that word superfood gets thrown around a lot and I think maybe too much sometimes, but there is something to be said about what foods are really nutrient-dense and can support our healing and how we can use food as medicine. And obviously, somehow Chaga landed in your lap, or you found it, or you sought it out. So where does Chaga come into that story as far as you and the discovery of it? And then I’d also love to know how…this fascinates me because I am an entrepreneur but I run a business that is service-based, not a product, and I’ve always been really fascinated by product-based businesses and the relationship-building and research that goes into sourcing. And so, I’m curious how that sourcing journey looked for you. So where does Chaga come in and how did you source it?

The creation, sourcing, and evolutionary journey of RENUDE

Brandon: Yes. Where Chaga came in was, I was, as I mentioned, on this health and wellness journey since I was in third grade. And like a lot of other people that I’ve noticed, there was gluten sensitivity. I couldn’t drink milk anymore, but again, I experience a lot of these things that I see happening later to people because of the sensitivity. And then later in life, yes, I put these pieces together. I’m like, wow, now everyone’s struggling with dairy and drinking oat milks and almond milks. And wow, everybody now is trying to get off sugar and there’s stevia and monk fruit and all these alternatives. Now everyone’s trying to do low-glycemic and low-carb and more. Keto’s popular now. And now everyone’s trying to do vegan diets and intermittent fasting and certain fasting techniques.

I was just experimenting on myself with all these things from such a young age because I was just trial and error. What do I do to make me feel better? I was trying every diet under the book. And it was a journey with my mom because I’m a kid, and it’s like, we tried the blood-type diet, we tried cutting out gluten. We were making our own kombucha at the time, this was before Dave GT was out, because I was probiotic in my gut and we were always doing these things that are good for our gut. Because what a lot of people don’t realize is your immune system, 70% of it is actually in your gut. And people say, trust your gut. And now there’s a lot of studies on the microbiome in your gut being your second brain and the linkage between the two. So that’s probably why the brain fog is happening. Because if your gut isn’t good, there’s a connection to your brain. You know, people know ear, nose, and throat connections, but ENTs and doctors deal with that. But people don’t really study the microbiome brain-gut connection.

So I was always experimenting with this stuff. And the way I found Chaga was I was listening to a TED Talk and it was Paul Stamets, I believe it was 2009. It was ‘7 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World‘ and I was blown away by it. I think everyone was. I think it’s one of the highest-rated TED Talks ever. And if you look up on Paul Stamets, who’s a mycologist, meaning he studies mushrooms, he’s one of the number one Joe Rogan podcast interviews. People are interested in this content because mushrooms can save the world; from breaking down plastics to being leather and replacing leather products to healing us. I mean, the fungi kingdom is a closer match to our DNA than the plant kingdom. And that’s just because of evolution. What happened was, billions of years ago, we started off as a single-celled prokaryote, eukaryote, and then as the evolution happened, all the kingdoms were together; plant, animal, fungi.

The plant kingdom, a billion years later, split off. The mushroom kingdom and the animal kingdom stayed together for another billion years and then they split off in the animal kingdom. So we are a closer match because of that to the fungi kingdom than the plant kingdom. That doesn’t mean we can’t extract amazing nutrients from plants, whether that’s the kale or salads or all of these amazing plants that, you know? But it’s just a fact, we’re a much closer match to the fungi kingdom. So mushrooms have amazing bioavailability to humans. So when I discovered Chaga, after listening to that TED Talk, I was making it the old-fashioned way; the way that indigenous cultures made it, you know? It’s sort of more like a tree bark than it is like a mushroom. If you saw it in nature, you would think it was just tree bark, to be honest. So you chop it up and grind it up like coffee, and then you steep it like coffee or tea in hot water. But instead of a two-minute, three-minute steep like most teas or coffees, this is like a, anywhere from eight to 48 hours’ steep because it has, like I said, after 10 years, it’s more than the most nutrient-dense medicinal; it’s carrying so much in there. So it needs a lot of time to extract all those nutrients.

And so, I let it sit for 24 hours in a crockpot. My wife wouldn’t let me use the stove because obviously, you don’t want to leave the stove on overnight. So we did it in an electric crockpot, and then after 24 hours, you have this beautiful, delicious, medicinal tea. And I was having that and consuming that for a while. And then I was experimenting with it, putting it into the refrigerator, icing it, having an iced Chaga tea, adding lemons to it, making a Chaga Palmer, adding it to, you know, making these different concoctions, adding my home-brewed kombucha it to it and just experimenting with it to make it even more palatable. And it has very nice flavor profiles. It’s similar to the maple tree and they get maple syrup. You know, you can now get birch syrup from the birch tree. You can tap these trees and get birch water and maple water. They’re amazing trees and their flavor profiles are delicious; caramel, vanilla. I mean, they’re really nice flavor profiles.

So to make it more appealing to the masses, we then started experimenting with other flavor profiles and mixing it. But that was where it started. I mean, I was just making it myself to heal myself. And my friends and family were loving it. They were drinking it like crazy and I’m like, wow, I can’t even hold onto this for myself. I need to get it out there. I need to get this out into the world. There was no product like this out there. There was kombuchas, there was oat milk, there was almond, all these other products, and I’m like, wow, this product doesn’t exist. I need to get it out there. And that was the first start of thinking about the business and doing it. And my background is in tech and data centers and I had no experience in health and wellness. It was just a health and wellness journey that I was on, tinkering and experimenting on myself, and learning as I went. I had no formal training in herbs or alternative medicine, I just took a leap of faith. My gut was telling me, you should do this. It’s helped you, it should help other people. You should do this, give back to the world. And that was basically how it started.

Sarah: So I just have a whole new appreciation too, for how knowledgeable you are and even not being a mycologist yourself, but someone who is just deeply passionate about health and wellness, has clearly been on his own journey and decided and dedicated yourself to bringing this to a mass market and making it really, really delicious. I’ve already let my community know how much I love this, but I’ll say it again, that I’m obsessed with the flavor. And it’s something that, for me, I don’t drink coffee, rather you can add it to coffee. And actually, maybe we can talk about different ways that you use it, but I don’t add it to coffee, I just add it to oat milk. And it’s that flavor that I was craving because I used to drink a latte every morning for many years. Found out, because I’m so sensitive, I can’t tolerate caffeine. But some people can tolerate caffeine better when you add an adaptogen to it like Chaga, right? So if you were to add the Chagaccino to your coffee, your body can process it more easily.

I’m still in the boat of I’ll take it straight and give me the benefits of the mushrooms; I don’t need the coffee. But my husband loves just a black coffee and he has been adding Chagaccino to his as well. And then he has also put it into a smoothie. So how do you take your Chagaccino? And let’s tell everyone literally what’s in the packet too. So it’s obviously Chaga, but what else?

Brandon: We tried to match the flavor profile of a mocha frappuccino or a mocha latte. The frappuccino being the most popular coffee drink on the planet by far, it’s just so unhealthy for you. I mean, we’re talking about 46 to 56 grams of sugar. That’s like 23 packets of sugar in your drink. It’s amazing because when people will make a coffee at home, maybe they’re taking two to three packets of sugar in there if they do use sugar at all. And you know, but when we go to Starbucks or the coffee shop, we’re willing to let them put 23 packets of sugar into that cup. I mean, it’s just incredible. Because we don’t see it. You know, it’s kind of behind there and they’re pumping the syrup. I think if we actually saw them do that, we would say, no, stop, stop, you know? But because we don’t see it, it’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind. It just becomes a number and it’s not tangible to us. And I was doing that too. I was drinking the frappuccinos when they first came out in those blended drinks.

So anyway, we’re adding, instead of the highly-processed cocoa powders that they’re using that have binders, fillers, and multipliers, they’ve been heat-treated, all the nutrients stripped out, we’re just using raw cacao from Peru. So cacao being what they make chocolate from. It’s ground up, there are no binders, there are no multipliers, there are no solvents. It’s just literally ground-up cacao powder and it’s sourced directly from Peru. We use the Chaga mushroom, obviously an effective dose of it. So we’re giving you your daily dose in there. And again with our Chaga too, to get it in from that liquid form into the powder, because this is a powder that you add to your beverage, we freeze-dry it. So no chemicals, no solvents added to the Chaga. It’s clean, pure, pure, pure. And after we get the Chaga and the cacao in there, we add a little Ceylon cinnamon, which is the healthiest form of cinnamon. It comes from Sri Lanka; it has a host of health benefits.

And then we’re also adding some monk fruit. Not just any monk fruit. I mean, it took me six months going to every trade show, talking to all the different companies out there. And a lot of people have experiences with stevia or monk fruit and they’ll say, oh, that might have an aftertaste or this doesn’t taste good or that, and I did too. So I found one that tasted just like sugar. I mean, literally, you can’t even tell the difference. Actually the baristas at a lot of the cafes, that’s the number one question they get. You promise there’s no sugar in it? You swear there’s no sugar? And they have to say, yes, it’s monk fruit. Because we found one that tastes just like sugar. And again, it’s the quality of the ingredients because it’s solvent-free because it’s freeze-dried. There are no chemicals introduced to it. So it’s got the Chaga, the cacao, the Ceylon cinnamon, and the monk fruit. And when you add that to coffee or decaf if you don’t want the caffeine, it tastes like a mocha latte and it’s spectacular.

We like to do it where you have two shots of espresso, whether that’s caffeinated or decaf, and then an oat milk, and you pour the packet of Chagaccino in there and you’re basically supercharging and boosting your coffee and transforming it into a Chagaccino. We focus, as you mentioned, on taste first. There’s a lot of health drinks out there where you can have your green juice and plug your nose and take your wheatgrass shot. But there’s a lot of shots and products that you can take now where they don’t taste good. We wanted this to be like kind of what Impossible Burger did to the regular burger, where it’s almost an exact copy of the alternative. So this is almost an exact copy of a mocha latte or a frappuccino, but it’s the health and wellness version, but accessible to the masses and it tastes amazing first. So even if you’re not interested in any of the health benefits we talked about and you just want a delicious coffee that tastes good, that’s zero calories added, it’s vegan and keto-friendly and low-glycemic, and just some of those things, and you don’t even care about the health benefits but just a delicious treat, it’s great for that too.

And it can be added to matcha lattes, it can be added to, like I said, decaf coffee, it can be added to just a plant-based milk and you’ll have this sort of, some people say it tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal when the milk is at the end of it, or people say it tastes like mocha ice cream. You know, we’ve heard different things. So it’s really versatile. We didn’t want to put coffee in it like some of our competitor brands because we wanted it to be versatile. We wanted people to use it in their morning rituals, which everyone has a different morning ritual, whether they’re having tea, matcha, coffee, decaf. And the way that they even consume those things it’s with their Keurigs and espressos or Chemex or if they have a fancy machine. So we just wanted to plug into how people would consume it and not give them this Folgers Coffee Crystals that I don’t want. I didn’t want to give people a product that I wouldn’t want to have, you know?

Sarah: Totally.

Brandon: And so, we kind of made this how I would consume it.

Sarah: So I can attest to it not having any of that aftertaste, tasting so similar to sugar. And so, something I didn’t share with you yet, but I also have been mostly sugar-free. So I’ve had natural sugars like fruit and carbohydrates in my diet, but not added sugar in probably three years after a really strong history of candida. And so, initially, it was to get rid of candida in my body. And then I realized that sugar triggered panic attacks for me and so it was something that I really just needed to cut out. And now, actually ever since pregnancy and giving birth, I will have little amounts of added sugar. My body needs it for breastfeeding. But I tasted this for the first time and I was like, wait a second. There’s no sugar in this because it is, it’s so similar.

And it’s not that I didn’t still, at times at least, crave something sweet as just an experience for my palette, right? I still crave that at times. And ingredients like you just spoke to are so simple and I, for one, am extremely grateful that you didn’t add the coffee crystals to it because I wouldn’t have been able to consume it. So now I can use it in a way that suits my morning ritual and my lifestyle, like you were speaking to, whereas my husband’s going to use it differently because he is a coffee drinker and he loves his caffeine and he can tolerate it. I just can’t. So I love that there’s versatility in it, in that sense.

Because so many of the women listening are also on entrepreneurial journeys, I’d also love to just get some insight into the beginnings of Renude Chagaccino. And before you knew it was going to work out, before you knew that there were going to be coffee shops that had their little billboards, ‘Drink the WTF is a Chagaccino‘, before you had the branding, before you knew it was going to be successful, can you talk to me a little bit about that gap between yes, I’m doing this and oh my gosh, yes, it’s for sure successful and the resilience or the staying power that it required for you to continue on that journey as an entrepreneur?

Brandon: Amazing question. I mean, that was the hardest part for me. You know, as I mentioned, my background was in technology and I had been running data centers and websites and bringing websites online, helping mom-and-pop shops sell their products online in the early days before the Amazons and the Microsofts of the world were doing it. And there was Cloud setup and all this stuff. We were building server farms and helping people bring their mom-and-pop businesses; hey, you can bring these things online. So I had zero experience in the health and wellness industry. And actually, all my friends were telling me, don’t do it. You don’t know anything about this. If you want to build an app or you want to do something else, go do that. So I was actually getting advice from all my friends, which is good advice because they’re like, use your skillset to start a new company if you want to start a new company. You have 20 years of experience in this other industry, do that.

But again, I don’t know. I think the Chaga just kind of decalcified my pineal gland. I don’t know what it is, I just felt strong intuition and I had to take a leap of faith. And before I did that, I knew it was going to be years and years and years that I was going to put into this thing. You know, they say 10,000 hours makes you an expert or a black belt in something. That’s a lot of hours. I mean, you think about it; eight hours in a day, you do the math. That’s years and years and years of dedicating yourself to something. So before I did that, I was in a research rabbit hole going down the well on Chaga because I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just anecdotal. My asthma healed, I haven’t been sick in four years, the brain fog is gone. My intuition is strong, I’m feeling so much energy, I’m feeling great like my old self and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t anecdotal. So I was going on PubMed, I’m going on all the science research papers, I’m studying them, learning how to read them, trying to, you know, with the internet, I can get a dictionary on a word in one second and get the source going and just learning all of these scientific words and being able to read these research papers.

There’s over 1600 research papers on Chaga. So I was just doing a deep dive and then figuring out which version is the best and where to get it and where to source it. So it was really a lot of R&D in the beginning, you know? And I would say when the business first started, we kind of had a decision to make. I was going to hire a market research group to help me with flavors or a beverage flavor house and maybe bottle it and do that. And I really would say that, again, I just would always follow my intuition. I would go into these meetings and there’d be someone in a lab coat in these flavor houses and they would say, oh yeah, you can add our natural flavors to it and we can do a lemon Chaga drink, we could do this strawberry, we could do this drink. And I would just ask the questions and say, well, why are you wearing a lab coat? This is an all-natural drink; you know? They’re like, well, we’re going to be adding natural flavors to it. And I’m like, oh, natural flavors. That sounds good. What is it then? And then he goes, oh, it’s just something that we make in-house. And I’m like, well, can you tell me what’s in it? And they said, no, no. And you have to buy it from us too if you use us to make your drink.

So I’m like, okay, so you can’t tell me what’s in your natural flavor and I have to buy it from you like it’s the only gas station I can go to and, you know? And I’m on the hook for you guys. What happens if I want to move my drink to a different flavor; lemon flavor? It’s never going to match ours. So that’s how most people do it. And then again, my intuition and my gut’s like, don’t do it this way. So I went to this local farmer’s market. Here in Los Angeles, we have these beautiful, amazing farmer’s markets here. So on Melrose Place, I applied for a booth and bought the tent and did the whole thing and had some light artwork on, and I was just sampling Chaga drinks there, you know? It was the plain Chaga tea, it was the Chaga Palmer, then it was the Chagaccino. And we got one of those square card-readers and week after week, we just had the data from the people. I didn’t need to hire an expensive market research group to do this because I had the people right there. I was sampling and bringing it for them.

So I was selling them, but I was also getting data. And the data showed, week after week, people wanted the Chagaccino over the other drink. So I said to myself, okay, if people want the Chaga in a coffee delivery system, where are they getting coffee? They’re getting coffee at the coffee shop. So I’m going to meet them where they’re are at. You know, if people voted for the plain Chaga tea, I would’ve happily put that out. But again, it was like two to one, three to one, four to one they’re voting for the Chagaccino and buying that drink over the plain. So, and we met them at the coffee shops. Luckily, one of the trendiest coffee shops in LA called Alfred Coffee was right there in Melrose Place; we caught their attention. And then it was three months of me trying to convince them to get Chagaccino in there; sampling it for them, meeting with their beverage director, just every day just calling them, friendly stalking, just trying to get it in there. I’m like, look, why don’t you do one location, you guys are on the cutting edge.

You know, anyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Kourtney Kardashian to Bill Clinton to Larry David to LeBron James, I mean, they are walking into Alfred Coffee. So it’s like they have an amazing influential audience that are posting and they’re really trendsetters in that cafe experience. So after a while of just being persistent, they said, okay, we’re going to try it in one of our locations. They had like 10 locations. They said, we’re going to try it in one of our locations. We had a big party and it was a smash hit from day one. I mean, we have Gwyneth Paltrow posting the Chagaccino, we have Hillary Duff posting the Chagaccino. Kourtney Kardashian was so obsessed with it that she posted a blog, ‘Kourt’s Iced Chagaccino‘, and she drinks it with matcha. She loves it with matcha because she’s not a big coffee drinker either. But she posted ‘Kourt’s Iced Chagaccino‘ and then we somehow get in touch with them and Poosh. Now you can get a Chagaccino on Poosh on her website.

And we’ve had so much and we haven’t paid any of these celebrities to post this. Then next thing we know, we’re in US Weekly. Next thing we know we’re in this magazine, that magazine, and it was just all organic. Now Alfred’s launching it at all their locations. And now I’m like, okay, if this is so successful in one location, in one coffee shop, there should be a upgraded supercharged coffee in every coffee shop. People should have that option. They get the option to have the Impossible Burger now and I love that. And not that the Impossible Burger has the best ingredients. And I think within the health and wellness community, it’s easy to nitpick. It’s easy to say, oh, we don’t like this, or we don’t like that. We have to realize that everything that builds on something is a baton that constantly gets passed down.

If we can have a meatless Monday, if carnivores can have that Impossible Burger one day a week, that’s an amazing thing for the environment, for the food system, you know? And yes, of course, I can choose a million things or a few things that are wrong with the Impossible Burger and say, there’s this ingredient and that ingredient. But again, I think that’s a good place to start and then other brands or they can even improve on it. When it came to the Chagaccino, we wanted to give people a healthy, upgraded, boosted coffee at the coffee shop that was a competitor to the mocha latte or frappuccino. And now we’re in over 800 coffee shops. A lot of it is service-related because we have direct relationships with all of the decision-makers, all of the cafe owners. We set up our own network. We don’t use the outside distributors so we have direct relationships with them. We’re the distributors of it, you know?

It’s like somebody starting their own record label in a way. We don’t need you to distribute it, now it’s like we can do it ourselves. With the way that the internet is and the way that these networks are all open, we just took advantage of that. And we still have to knock on the doors, we still have to talk to them and maintain those relationships, and get the baristas to try it and get them excited. Because if the baristas don’t love it at the coffee shop and someone wants to order it, they’re not going to be excited and recommend it, you know? So we’re constantly doing demos and outreach and sampling and then connection and promoting shops on our Instagram and our website. And we have store locators there at drinkrenude.com, where you can see your local cafe that serves Chagaccino.

We’re doing feature Fridays with different coffee shops that serve it in LA and New York and Chicago and Miami and Portland and San Francisco. I mean, all over the country. We’re in Vegas. I mean, there’s so many places now that we’ve launched in. And then, you know, the at-home version is available on our website and on Amazon. And that’s just something people can make at home, you know, because people have their at-home coffee ritual and then their experience at the coffee shop as well. So we wanted to give people both options, really.

So motherhood and breastfeeding have been so truly deeply emotional for me, far more emotional than I would have ever realized. And my daughter is going through a progression, which is leading to a sleep regression, which means we are low-energy over here. And I’m looking for anything to make my life just a little bit easier these days. So LMNT Electrolytes have been absolutely lifesaving for my supply and for my overall hydration so I can get through the days with a now five-month-old. Y’all time flies and these little ones are just such a gift. I love spending my days with her. My husband also loves these electrolytes. He’s always asking me when we’re going to get more in the mail and he uses them before his workouts. I’ve also started sharing them with some of my mom friends. And now I’m just dealing LMNT Electrolytes down the street in our neighborhood and everyone is loving them.

So if you want to give them a try, there are some ridiculously amazing flavors. I love some of the summer flavors, Grapefruit and Watermelon, but I love adding Chocolate to smoothies, and I love the traditional lineup of some of the Citrus, Raspberry, and Orange as well. To get your free sample pack, simply go to drinklmnt.com/empath. That’s drinklmnt.com/empath. All you have to do is pay for shipping and your free eight-pack sampler will arrive in your mail. Tag me when you receive it and let me know what your favorite flavor is.

Brandon: There was a ton of struggles along the way that I haven’t mentioned. There were periods of time where I’m like, all right, this is over. I’m not doing this anymore. Like, okay, we tried it, we got Gwyneth Paltrow to drink it, it was in US Weekly. And I was going to shut down the business. There were so many moments like that. It always sounds, when I tell the story, like it’s a fairy tale, but again, there was a ton of struggles and I’m happy to talk about the struggles too.

Sarah: I appreciate you sharing your entrepreneurial journey because I geek out on the behind-the-scenes of what goes into a product being drank by Gwyneth Paltrow or Poosh-approved in Kourtney Kardashian. I mean, that is huge. And I’m sure that it didn’t come without some hurdles, hiccups, stumbling blocks along the way, but I can tell just from the excitement and energy you bring to this conversation, that there is a true passion behind the product. And I feel like that dedication to a product or to something you love or a purpose that you care for is going to help build that resilience muscle so that you don’t shut it all down and you don’t throw in the towel and you do continue. And like I mentioned, most of the women listening are probably more in the service industry as far as entrepreneurship goes versus product, but I still think that there is a overarching message that we can all take home from this conversation around that resilience that it takes to continue to find the resources, to continue to find the mentors, to continue to find for you probably, on a product-based side, the sourcing partners and model for how you’re going to get this into stores.

And I will say I mentioned I found Chagaccino at our local coffee shop in Lafayette, Colorado. Now I am in the Detroit Michigan area and I went on your website to find the store locator and the closest one is in Ann Arbor. And I am determined to get it in a coffee shop closer because that’s about 45 minutes away. So I hope it gets closer. I would like to end on where do you go from here? So Brandon and Renude and Chagaccino, a year from today or five years from now, what’s next for you, and how do you continue to build that excitement and awareness?

Brandon: Yes. So in terms of the Chagaccino, we just want to get it out there in as many coffee shops as the frappuccino had. You know, Starbucks, I think had like 40,000 coffee shops, so we have a long way to go. We’re in, right now, about 800 coffee shops. We also want to grow the online sales and get into as many people’s hands as possible. As we mentioned, the difference between us and a lot of the other brands is the taste and also the quality of ingredients, I would say. And then in terms of Renude the company, Chagaccino is the first drink we’ve launched, the first beverage. But Renude is really about stripping down classic drinks to the nude, natural state and renewing them for not just the health and wellness community, but for the masses. So our next drink we’re working on is actually a soda.

So the most popular soda on the planet being a cola, it’s really gotten bad, you know? And we all want to have our Coke or our cola once in a while. And we have to feel shame when we drink it. If you drink the regular one, again like with the frappuccino, there’s like 46 grams of sugar in it. And not even sugar, it’s high fructose corn syrup most likely, unless you get the Mexican Cola with the sugar. And then if you drink the diet version, it’s aspartame; so something that has cancer links to it, you know? And then not even mentioning what we talked about, the natural flavors, the phosphoric acid, all these terrible ingredients that you can’t pronounce. I mean, there’s rumors they use Coke to clean off blood on the freeway. I mean, there’s all these crazy rumors, and look, those rumors might not be true and they might be farfetched, I haven’t researched them, but just the fact that we even think that’s true is crazy. And we know it’s bad for us and we feel shame when we drink it, but it’s delicious and we love it.

So there’s a lot of companies out there that have done Kombucha-flavored colas or apple cider vinegar and then you have a cola flavor, but it’s fitting into their niche and then they’re making a cola flavor. What we’re just doing, Renude is doing a Renude Cola, which is going to taste just like a Coca-Cola or Pepsi, except it’s going to be going back the way that Dr. Pemberton, who is a pharmacist; in 1898, when he embedded it, it was meant to be an elixir for people. And yes, he did put cocaine in it, you know, now, but people had scurvy back then and that was a different time. They used novocaine or cocaine but it was in such small amounts. And yes, we’re not going to put cocaine in ours. But he had a lot of other amazing stuff in there. I mean, he was using the essential oils from the lime peel, from the orange peel. He was extracting plant and botanical nutrients and he made this concoction that it was amazing.

And throughout the years, corporate greed, and all of a sudden it got…you know, they took this ingredient out and put this flavor and they took that out and put this in. So we’re going to restore it to the original. And yes, maybe it’ll cost a dollar more, but you’ll be able to close your eyes and have that delicious cola flavor. You won’t even know the difference. It’s going to taste even better actually because it’s made from real ingredients. And there’s not going to be any natural or artificial flavors in it and it’s going to be amazing for you. We’re going to have an adaptogen in there as well, and it’s going to be clean and delicious, and we’re very close on that. And just so many other projects we’re working on; getting the Chagaccino into every hotel room, into every coffee shop, doing little K Pods, just so many other iterations of it. That’s basically what we’re up to right now.

Sarah: Wow. I can say after this conversation that you are truly embodied in the innovator archetype and are just a true innovator in the way you think, in the way that you are bringing these things to market. And I think that we can all take a lot of inspiration from your innovation. And I want to remind everyone listening that there is a promo code that is the word empath for 15% off of Renude’s Chagaccino if you go to their website drinkrenude.com. And you guys can order it and have it in your home, or like Brandon mentioned, there’s a store locator if you want to find your closest local coffee shop. Brandon, thank you so much for being on today. I so appreciate your time.

Brandon: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much, Sarah.

Follow Brandon:

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Website: www.drinkrenude.com

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December 16, 2021


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