Drinking To Overall HealthJuicing is a way of life for Kwai-Chang Publico, founder of So Juicy Hilo, which took first place at JuiceCon 2019 last month.
Kwai-Chang Publico, owner of So Juicy Hilo, never thought he’d be a juice entrepreneur. He’s never liked vegetables. But he started his journey with juicing in 2015 after his mother was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, and he learned he himself had an autoimmune disease.
“I needed to heal my body,” says Publico, 44, a self-professed serial entrepreneur. “But stress and the local boy fried food diet was weighing on me, literally. I started thinking about juicing and the concept of Hawaiian lā‘au lapa‘au (herbal medicine). I experienced the passing of so many loved ones and saw the declining health of our Hawaiian community and the community as a whole. All that, and I had my own battle to fight with my disease.
“The mission of So Juicy Hilo is simple: to make healthier foods and juice ‘ono, convenient and affordable to the masses,” he adds.
So Juicy Hilo is a full-service juice bar, lunch café and weekly meal prep provider.
“We offer nutrient-dense cold-pressed juices, dairy-free smoothies and original vegan dishes, majority made from scratch and mostly organic,” says Publico.
His downtown Hilo location (he also has a pop-up in Honolulu) opened at the start of 2018. A desire to help others get healthy and to show the community the benefits of a lifestyle that includes juicing pushed Publico to continue to grow his business. And less than two years after opening in Hilo, Publico would find himself on the way to Miami, Florida, to win the first-ever world juicing competition at JuiceCon 2019 last month.
“Many people have told me that our juice is the best they have ever tasted,” he says. “On a whim, I wanted to see if it might be true, so I wrote a simple but passionate description of my business (to the organizers of the event) and pressed ‘send.'”
The presenters of the convention, Goodnature, liked what he had to say, and Publico was named as a finalist in the November competition, during which he would present three of his signature concoctions in a competition with five other juicers from around the nation.
A conference for juicing professionals, JuiceCon 2019 was the official launch of the nonprofit Juice Makers Association. The competition was aimed at raising awareness of the health benefits of juicing, a subject that Publico says not many people truly understand.
“I went in with a very specific game plan: what I was going to juice, what I was going to wear and my own twist on the theme, which was winter,” says Publico. “Since we don’t have a typical winter in Hawai‘i, I came up with the concept of ocean or moana, and how winter in Hawai‘i means high surf and waves, how the ocean connects us all as people and the significance of the ocean to Hawai‘i and the Polynesian culture. I think the concept and the overall story played a big part in our win.”
After thinking he didn’t have a chance to win, Publico walked away with the overall championship trophy. He mixed Spanish champagne with his popular sunrise juice (a mix of pineapple, green apple, lime, ‘ōlena and ginger) and featured his “haka” mix of beets, daikon, oranges and red apples, garnished with an orange peel. The last drink he served, called “above & beyond,” included green apples, lemon and blue spirulina — a turquoise sea blue blend served in glass jars.
“I thought we got smashed,” he recalls. “The competitors’ spectacular presentations, concoctions and garnishes were incredible.
“Doubt started to come over me,” he admits. “After everyone presented, we all stood on stage and each winner for each category was called. We didn’t win any category on its own, so I thought we were completely out of the competition. That’s why I looked so shocked in the pictures and videos when they named me as the overall champion.”
Publico says it was a gratifying experience.
“It validated our efforts and hard work by cementing So Juicy Hilo (So Juicy Hawai‘i) as the first-ever world juicing champion,” he says. “I think for us, in all honesty, juicing is still unfamiliar to Hawaiians and other locals.”
He says that the majority of the people he knows still don’t know the benefits of juicing.
“Now, I know with every part of my being that this is the most ‘ono and convenient way for someone like me, who never ate any vegetables, to consume the benefits of those foods,” he says. “Juicing provides all of the things our body craves and needs to heal itself, in a form that someone who literally hates vegetables can drink. And it’s tasty, cold and refreshing!”
Starting So Juicy Hilo, however, was not easy.
“Right out of the gate, finding the right fit for each seat in the wa‘a (canoe) always will be a challenge for any business, team or organization,” he says. “Equally challenging is being a visionary who knows that the journey is impossible to complete alone.
In retrospect, maybe the most difficult challenge has been a combination of educating and convincing people who look just like me, come from the same background and neighborhood as me, that there is an urgency to make a lifestyle shift. It’s also about rallying support after other failed business attempts and convincing the person in the mirror to stay the course and trust the process.”
Publico worked for months to perfect the juice ratios “like a mad alchemist,” he says. He’s happy with his nine juice blends that cover total-body wellness. He also worked for months to put together the dishes on his lunch menu with a team of chefs — things like their signature kalo ‘ulu burger on toasted sour poi bread, vegan laulau and gluten-free fish tacos served on coconut tortillas.
“We are for sure here to stay and debunk the idea that this (juicing) is a fad,” says Publico. “Juicing is such an easy way to get all your nutrients. Our bodies crave these vitamins, and juicing provides such an easy way to consume massive amounts of goodness that can help our bodies and minds heal, protect and defend itself.
“There are very exciting plans in the near future for the growth of our business, but overall, the fact that we are getting our community on board with juicing and inspiring a healthier lifestyle is really the blessing,” adds Publico. “The kuleana is heavy … to break old habits and educate people is really a labor of love.”
For more information, visit sojuicyhilo.com.