Interview by Jessica Luza
Edited by Bonnie Davidson
Portrait by John Russo
Kombucha (@gtskombucha) enthusiasts credit GT Dave with their digestive health, robust immune systems and overall wellbeing. Here, the creator of the world’s most popular brand of effervescent probiotic tea talks about his spiritual life and times.
Your handcrafted brew, GT’s Kombucha, has been around for 23 years. At 15, could you have even imagined your fizzy drink would be so successful or influential on today’s health-conscious culture?
When I started bottling my organic raw kombucha, I had no specific business aspiration. All I wanted was to make an authentic and handcrafted offering that would help people, much like how kombucha helped my mom during her battle with breast cancer [in 1994]. I felt deep in my soul that kombucha was a gift that needed to be shared with the world.
Do you remember your first sales pitch? How did you make a fermented probiotic beverage sound sexy and delicious to buyers?
Yes, I remember it quite well. Keep in mind, this was the mid-’90s, so the standard for health food had not gone beyond tofu and flax seeds. Therefore, trying to sell a fermented tea was not easy. I would describe kombucha as something that was similar to a kefir or yogurt because it was cultured, but I also described it as a cousin to apple cider vinegar, which is a known health food staple. The best sales pitch was to get people to actually try it, because that’s when the people would realize how unique kombucha is.
You are a self-described perfectionist and hands-on owner. Are you involved in the daily decision making at your company?
Yes, I am. However, I’ve learned that perfection is a false reality, but the pursuit of perfection is very real. This philosophy causes me to always try to be my best in everything I do or stand for. I’m an all-or-nothing type guy, so if I can’t do a great job at something, I won’t do it. I’m involved with every major decision at my company; the brand is, in many ways, a personal reflection of my beliefs and who I am as a person.
Can you describe a day in the life of GT?
I always start and end my day with meditation, as I believe we all need to do a mental reboot and mental shut down on a daily basis. I’m also very committed to being physically fit and healthy. Therefore, a day always starts with a raw smoothie, a workout and then a post workout smoothie. The rest of the day is filled with meetings, taste testing, creative exploration and the periodic “fire fighting” that is inevitable in a fast growing business. My days off are made up of lots of sleep, quiet time with friends and something outdoors, like a hike or some beach time.
Did being raised with Eastern philosophies help shape your career and life?
Being exposed to Eastern philosophies at an early age played a dramatic role in who I am today, because it made me very self-aware and instilled in me a spiritual belief that there is more to this world than meets the eye. Therefore, it’s helped me be more detached from material things and to understand that we’re all brought into this world to give love and get love.
How did growing up in Los Angeles help shape you?
Los Angeles is a great place to grow up for an entrepreneur, because you feed off of the ambition and energy of the city, which creates this very strong drive. However, at the same time, you’re exposed to the beaches, mountains, deserts and so many inspiring aspects of nature that also feed your creative and spiritual side.
Did you meditate as a child?
Yes, I did. Growing up with a strong understanding of meditation helps me to be in a state of reflection and to remain centered.
Did you realize how unique—and ahead of their time—your parents were, or did you think it was just typical L.A. parenting?
It was very apparent that we had a different upbringing than most of our friends. Whether it was being raised vegetarian or staying at an ashram in India. Through my parents’ spirituality, I learned about astrology, chanting, prayer, meditation and other mindful ways of existing at a very early age.
You’re very close with your mother Laraine, who loaned you the money to start your company. What life lesson did she teach you that you are grateful for?
My mom raised me with the understanding that all living things exist to be loved. But we frequently forget this and get caught up in our ego and pride, which can distract and distort our perspective. Once you accept that love equals happiness and that happiness equals health, that’s when you learn that love is all you need. Everything else will come.
For someone who has never tasted kombucha, can you describe it?
Kombucha is a fermented, effervescent, probiotic tea that works with the body to detoxify the liver, replenish the good bacteria in your gut and restore overall balance. Once your body is restored to a healthier state, it can heal itself better and faster.
What are the benefits of drinking kombucha and how much should you drink for best for results?
Every ailment is a symptom of an imbalance. Therefore, once your body is restored to a more balanced state, you start to experience overall wellness. Generally, people experience improved energy, weight loss, skin/hair and digestion. I recommend drinking about 16 ounces of kombucha daily. It can be consumed at different times of the day for different results. You can replace soda and juice with kombucha for a less sugary experience, as well as to help control your appetite and food cravings.
What is a scoby and why is it needed in the beverage?
SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” which is essentially what a kombucha culture is. Like a plant, it is a living thing that grows and the fruit it bears is the liquid we consume. The SCOBY is the heart and soul of kombucha. It should always be visually present in the form of a “mother,” like apple cider vinegar. Without it, you’re just drinking overpriced carbonated tea.
During the 2010 recall, did you ever think about stopping production altogether?
I never imagined that I would go though something like that and it was obviously tough, but in the long run it made me stronger and made our brand lovers supporters for life.
The lawsuits were surely a very challenging time in your career, but you seem to have come out stronger and more successful…
Being sued is clearly not fun and can be emotionally and financially taxing. However, it has reinforced the detached point of view that I believe one needs to adopt in this world in order to survive. I’m a big believer in “easy come, easy go” and “this too shall pass.” These both basically encompass that you can’t take life too seriously or let your problems steal your happiness, because nothing is worth being unhappy.
What does the future hold for GT’s Kombucha?
I recently renamed the company GT’s Living Foods as a reminder that we stand for foods that support life, provide life and make you feel alive. In the last few years, we have created products that are outside of the kombucha category but still within the living and raw food space. The first examples were CocoKefir and CocoYo, which launched in 2015. In 2018, we have VeggieKefir and Alive, which are both probiotic and fermented liquid offerings that compliment our kombucha and create a different consumption “occasion.” The kefirs are therapeutic probiotic shots that you take in morning and at night, and Alive is an adaptogenic cider that strengthens your body’s defenses.
The purpose of your company, according to its website, is to “Bring Beautiful Living Things Together…” Do you follow that philosophy in your own life?
I believe that nothing is more powerful or sacred than life. I personally enjoy seeing unity, harmony and happiness in people, and I make a conscious effort to make sure I live my life through love, compassion and selflessness.