Interview with David Lindenbaum

DigiLetter: So! Dave Lindenbaum.

Dave Lindenbaum: Hey hey, DigiLetter!

DigiLetter: Juicing!

Dave: Juicing baby!

DigiLetter: Ok, I think we’ve had a good interview. Alright!

“Health and wellness is composed of many things, but food is a major part of it. You might even go as far as saying, ‘We can’t live without food.’”

Dave: That’s it?!

DigiLetter: That’s it. Unless you have something to tell me about the road to juicing…

Dave: The road to juicing…

DigiLetter: Wait! Do we call it juicing? Isn’t juicing what bodybuilders do?

Dave: Yeah! Well last time we spoke, we kind of coined the phrase “liquid alchemy.”

DigiLetter: I love that.

Dave: So juicing is under that umbrella. Liquid, aside from the dictionary definition is very Zen-like and flowing, and alchemy is transformational, which I think relates to the active participation in the transformation of your body. A lot of the things I talk about are very DIY and I really like the idea of directly participating in your food, so to speak.

You know, it’s one thing to watch a game on tv but another to go outside and kick a ball. Health and wellness is composed of many things, but food is a major part of it. You might even go as far as saying, “We can’t live without food.”

DigiLetter: Well I, for one, have learned something today.

Dave:. Right? Anyway, I feel like we take a lot of our food for granted, even though it’s a part of our daily routine. One way to slow down and become more aware of what we’re doing is to consciously participate in it. Even going to a farm, you have much more of an appreciation for the strawberry. And I believe that that strawberry actually tastes better, even if it was the same fruit we would have otherwise picked up from the supermarket.

Of course it might taste better because it’s fresher, and it might taste better because it’s a juicier strawberry or even organic and less processed, but even aside from all of that, I believe it tastes better because you got to experience it in a truer sense. This concept of participation all came about initially when I started making kombucha, which eventually led to me going all in and making my main company getkombucha.com.

So for me kombucha is more than just about health, but also about the satisfaction of knowing, “I made this.” Now about liquid specifically, you know I like to stack the cards in our favor, so for example some of the major brand companies, like the ones that rhyme with “Jepsi” or “Mocha Bola” … actually, Mocha Bola sounds like a new ice cream flavor.

DigiLetter: That’s a good product name!

Dave: Or it could be an anime character or something. “Augh look out, it’s Mocha Bola!”

DigiLetter: “Mocha Bola! I will defeat you!”

Dave: So those companies are banking on delivering a liquid product because it’s so convenient. It assimilates. You feel it right away. It’s easy to package, and it’s easy to carry and consume, not to mention refreshing. I totally agree with the idea, but not the product itself.

DigiLetter: Let’s step back a bit. How did you initially get into kombucha?

Dave: Sweet, it’s a crazy story. Right after college I was doing finance in NY for about two years and my first day of work was actually 9/11 when the World Trade Center was hit.

DigiLetter: Holy crap!

“I moved around for a little bit, came out to Los Angeles, started an exercise/entertainment company working with seniors called ‘Stretching and Kvetching.’”

Dave: I guess we never spoke about it. It was my first day of work and I was in the floor of the trade center, on the bottom –

DigiLetter: Oh my god!

Dave: – yeah I was on the last subway into the World Trade Center because I was living out in Hoboken. Anyway, that was a defining moment in my life, though it took another two years to decide that I didn’t want to stay in finance. I moved around for a little bit, came out to Los Angeles, started an exercise/entertainment company working with seniors called “Stretching and Kvetching.”

DigiLetter: That’s great.

Dave: Our tag was, “Putting the ‘Oy’ in ‘Joy.’” And while I was there, I met a gentleman who had his own tea company, it was just starting to take off and he was looking to have his first real hire. We totally hit it off. I’ve always been – I’m not even sure what the right word is – potions and elixirs and extracts and all of those things that are off the beaten path, which is really funny because I’m not a big fan of taking an Advil if you have a headache.

But if you have some licorice root that’s been steeping in vodka for three months, I’d love to try it. You know what I mean? I love all these weird medicinal herbs and ayurvedic herbs and all this stuff, so you when he said “tea” I was fascinated because up until then my background with tea was always that Lipton box that was in the way way back of your parents’ cabinet when you were a kid, where you kept the nonsense like the duck sauce packets you saved from the Chinese restaurant, those disposable napkins and forks that you never know when you’ll need…

DigiLetter: Maybe a few recycled birthday candles?

Dave: Yes! The birthday candles. That’s the best because you’d have a number where you’d always need to get more unless someone’s turning one. That’s awesome. So yeah, you’d have that one box of Lipton that you bought four years ago and it’s going to last you a lifetime. You pretty much only drank it when you were sick, so the association was like, “Ugh, disgusting, I’ll only drink this when I don’t feel well.”

Anyway, America didn’t really start getting into coffee and tea until about a decade or so ago with Starbucks and everything, but I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with tea, I fell in love with herbs and preparation, but oddly enough, though we carried probably four hundred varieties of teas and herbals we never once spoke about or talked about kombucha until one afternoon I was having lunch with the owner and I tried it at a store. It’s LA so they have all these raw vegan restaurants and macrobiotic type places to eat and I think the name of the place was Vegan Glory. Great name.

They had a kombucha and so I tried it but we had a meeting right after that, and as much as I love to say I enjoy every meal and I meditate on the mean and we try our best to practice what we preach, this was not one of those lunches. It was like, “We have ten minutes before we have to go and continue working and get these orders out,” so we were just scarfing down the food and even though it was a restaurant called Vegan Glory, I think we had the deep fiend tofu nuggets.

DigiLetter: As close to meat as you can possibly get in Veganville.

Dave: Exactly! So there wasn’t anything special about this meal. In fact it was rushed, not the most thought out, wasn’t the best foods, but after I had this kombucha I had one of the best bowel movements of my life.

DigiLetter: [Laughs]

“A lot of people don’t like to talk about throwing up in their mouths after every meal, you know, it’s not pleasant, it’s not socially acceptable, and I’m trying to break down the barrier and reach someone to let them know that there are alternatives.”

Dave: It was just incredible. I’m sure half of the people that were thinking about subscribing have decided not to, but the other half are probably more intrigued and might be signing up well on past the free trial. And this is the other amazing insight. Now I share this because it is my own personal experience and obviously everyone’s different.

But up until then as much as I’m not a big fan of medicine, the one medicine that I was on – and I say “was” because I haven’t been on it in years – was acid reflux medicine. Whether it was Protonix or Nexium, I don’t even know when I started – it was probably as far back as middle school – I went to an ENT and I was diagnosed with having acid reflux. Certainly there are things to mitigate it that did work for me. You know, if I have a lot of tomatoes, a lot of eggplants, a lot of the nightshade foods, it triggers it. Stress, of course, alcohol, all these things.

At one point I even tried this wedge-type pillow so I slept a little bit upright, and it didn’t help, but there’s a funny story about it. I brought it with me to college and it’s sort of a wedge shape that folds up, so all the girls would think I was into some kinky stuff because it looked something like Adam and Eve over-ordered and then thought, “We need to come up with a way to repurpose this pillow.” I mean, it looked exactly like one of these multidirectional sexual-type pillow type things that just happened to moonlight as an acid reflux inhibitor.

So I tried all this stuff and I still was on this medicine, but that meal was one of the first meals I can remember that I did not have acid reflux. I mean, it got pretty bad, it got to the point where I was just desensitized, and I’m being graphic because I’m not ashamed and a lot of people are ashamed to talk about this, so if this resonates with somebody, great, you know, because a lot of people don’t like to talk about what goes on in the bathroom.

A lot of people don’t like to talk about throwing up in their mouths after every meal, you know, it’s not pleasant, it’s not socially acceptable, and I’m trying to break down the barrier and reach someone to let them know that there are alternatives. Anyway, after that meal I didn’t have acid reflux and I was in such a rush getting back to work that I didn’t remember to take my medicine so I had one of those “ah-ha” moments. I was like,

“Wow, maybe it really is this thing!” because on the bottle it says improves digestion and blah blah blah. I was like “holy cow!” so the next day I went to Whole Foods to buy one and see if it worked again, and what do you know. I did this for 5 or 6 days and it was crazy. It doesn’t even seem real anymore, because when you have this problem or really any problem and you’ve been trying so many things, especially expensive things, thousands of dollars on ENTs, hundreds of dollars even with the co-pay with this medicine, and then you’re like what? This weird drink that also tastes good solves it? That’s amazing.

And after those 5 or 6 days I just got rid of all my medicine. I haven’t taken any ever since. I’ve had acid reflux maybe 2 times, 3 times a year if I’m traveling or if I’m not on my normal routine. But now it’s been almost 8 years, which seems insane. The thing was though after the second week I realized very quickly that I would much rather spend $150/month on this thing that’s way better for me and tastes really good than a pill that has all these horrible side effects.

But at the same time, especially where I was in my life, that was a high expense, so I started getting into the world of how to make it yourself. And that’s when I really discovered the joy of ownership, what we were talking about before with participating in this stuff.

DigiLetter: Gotcha. So you can now eat pretty much anything, and as long as you have your kombucha you’ll be fine?

Dave: Along with some other things, also liquid related. You know, everybody’s different, so some people do really well with warm liquidy-type foods and some people do really well with raw salads. And you also have to take into account the seasons, the time of day, what kind of mood you’re in, food-combining, and all of this sounds really complicated, but if you just grasp some fundamental concepts it’s actually really simple. With what I do now, I have the freedom to eat the junky fries and know how to mitigate risks before I eat them and know how to mitigate risks after I eat them.

DigiLetter: That’s fantastic.

“For me success is the ability to realize that we all have self-limiting beliefs and to rise above them.”

Dave: Oh, it’s amazing. I mean, it’s the closest thing to a magic bullet. These kinds of things you usually try to solve with medicine and you end up incurring some additional cost. Say you want to go to sleep, I’ll hit you over the head with a frying pan, but you’re going to wake up needing something for your headache.

But in this case it’s more like a magic bullet, the chief ingredient being participation, learning about these things, because you become much more aware and present when you’re actively participating in your own solution. And you even get to save a whole lot of money. You’ll find it interesting that the things that are really expensive to buy are usually the cheapest to prepare yourself. It’s the craziest thing. For instance, we live in LA so to get a freshly prepared juice is like 10 bucks, man, it’s 10 bucks! It’s way more than buying the Coca-cola.

DigiLetter: The Mocha Bola?

Dave: The Mocha Bola! And you can juice your own vegetables for 2 bucks, and to get it down to 2 bucks you go to a farmer’s market which is even fresher, you’re supporting the farmers, it’s often organic and coming straight from the farm… Of course it is a trade-off of your time but it’s certainly time well spent, and there are tricks to the trade that reduce your time as well.

DigiLetter: Awesome. Moving on, how do you define success?

Dave: For me success is the ability to realize that we all have self-limiting beliefs and to rise above them. At first I didn’t even realize that I could make kombucha myself, like it wasn’t even remotely part of my belief system. But then as I started experimenting it was as if I had this room where I would break down a wall and find a bigger room and say, “Hey cool, let’s go explore that!” That right there was the initial drive to start my company.

I also find success when I get feedback from the people I’m helping, getting email from people who say they’re losing weight, of people whose doctors are scratching their heads because over the span of 3 months their blood work has completely changed and they say, “What are you doing?” and the person says, “Kombucha!” and the doctor says, “What the heck is kombucha?” I guess one of the keys to success was making a platform where I can express myself. Yeah it’s a business, but it’s my business and if I want to do a little silly video or if I want to just tell a joke or just express my ideas well that’s ok.

DigiLetter: Speaking of expressing yourself, do you have a motto?

Dave: “There’s gotta be a way, there’s always a way.”

DigiLetter: Strong motto.

Dave: Thank you. What’s your motto?

DigiLetter: Uh… “You can never go wrong with tacos.”

Dave: What? All I heard was tacos.

DigiLetter: Yup, “tacos” is my motto.

Dave: Tacos!!!

DigiLetter: It gets everybody pretty pumped up. How do you envision your reader?

“So my reader is someone who recognizes that they just want to take that one step.”

Dave: I envision my reader as someone who loves to learn and really also loves to do, like make and try these things. I envision my reader as someone who loves watching food network shows and they really want to make what they see but for whatever reason there’s some obstacle. Whether it’s fear of not knowing how it’s going to turn out, whether it’s the thinking that “well, if I learn a little bit more then I’ll be ready,” you know I want to install in people that they’re ready right now.

They’re ready to become healthier, whether that means looking better aesthetically, weight loss, to have better looking skin and more energy, to live an extra ten years to see their grandchildren grow up… So you know, look, you smoke cigarettes? Great.

DigiLetter: That’s not great!

Dave: Well let me tell you a story. My wife and I woke up late on Saturday. Every day we’re trying to rock the Culver Steps out in LA, these huge steps with an amazing view, and it’s a grueler man. But we’ve been going every single day – it’s like our one thing we get to do together, we sweat, and we’re rewarded by this amazing view. One of the nice things about these steps is that all walks of life are busting their asses on their way to the top.

You have people that are super fit, you have people that are obese, you have kids, the elderly, I mean any type of demographic you can think of are on this thing. It’s a public space that’s amazing, it’s got all these different types of people, and on Saturday we woke up late and were like, “Well it’s already 11, should we just not do this?” You know, we’re so hard on ourselves sometimes. So take that guy who smokes cigarettes, it’s not like he has to throw them all away right now, but learning to make kombucha is such a catalyst.

You don’t have to be the guy who is doing yoga six days a week and is thinking, “Oh my goodness, I had too much of a carb-to-protein ratio in my seaweed salad today.” You know what I’m saying, it’s such an individualized thing. So my reader is someone who recognizes that they just want to take that one step. You know there’s another motto that I try to live by. It’s that you’re either living or you’re dying. If you look at a tree or a plant, and I know this from plants because I’ve killed several of them trying to grow my own wheatgrass and herbs before I got it right, it’s either growing or dying. Very few things stand still.

So the person that’s smoking the cigarettes – or really anyone with any unhealthy habit – if you think that you want to change you can’t be discouraged because it’s just that one extra step. And I’m telling you man I’ve seen it so often that this making kombucha or whatever leads to so many other things in your life. It’s that drip effect. I like to take bad things and flip em.

Say you have the leaky faucet, over time that leaky faucet one drip at a time is going to cause major flood damage in your home. But if you use that analogy as something positive, if every little drip is something good in our lives, that will also lead to a huge massive change at the end of a month, a year, a lifetime.

DigiLetter: But you’ll still have massive flood damage in your home.

Dave: Yeah, but it will be very positive flood damage.

DigiLetter: That’s the best kind of flood damage.

Dave: Actually, don’t tell your insurance agent because I don’t know if you’re covered for flood positivity.

DigiLetter: I’ll check my contract. What are your strong points?

Dave: If you ask most people, they would probably say that I’m really enthusiastic about things. I can take something that might not sound so enthusiastic and make it seem like it’s the best thing in the world. Like take this napkin. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, wow, this is just a napkin, I know, but look how it’s folded! How did you get it to fold that way? The color and the pattern, I love it. It even matches this tablecloth. I love this napkin!” That sort of thing is certainly a strength when we’re trying to motivate people to action and start participating in this stuff.

DigiLetter: How about your weak points?

Dave: It’s so funny because keeping a routine is the one of the “secrets” I share with people in how they could incorporate kombucha and all these other cool goodies in their lives while participating. You know like make kombucha every Sunday as a batch – you know, you don’t throw a dirty pair of underwear in the wash every time it’s dirty, you let it all pile up –

DigiLetter: Maybe you don’t…

Dave: Well I don’t even wash it, I just flip it inside out, but yeah, routine is still something that I’m striving for man. It’s hard to manage everything. I recently got married and doing the work/life balance is always something that I want to keep just getting better and better at. The other thing is sleep. I have really hard time falling asleep because –

DigiLetter: I’ve got a frying pan you could use…

Dave: Haha I tried the frying page thing. It scalded me because I forgot to clean the frying pan while I was cooking eggs – I literally had egg on my face.

DigiLetter: Nicely done.

Dave: But yeah, sleep is a hard thing. I love staying up at night, I feel like I’m so creative at night, and I love sleeping in. Certainly if I worked for somebody else, this would be solved in a day, or … or I’d be fired. Coincidentally, those two kind of go hand in hand, because when you have a routine you tend to include things like going to bed and waking up early.

DigiLetter: That is true. Alright, let’s explore something a little more remote. How do you feel about Japanese kombucha?

Dave: You mean the seaweed tea?

DigiLetter: That’s the one.

Dave: You know what, I’ve never had it, so it’s hard for me to say. But I think that in my world, because I’m American and we think that we’re always right, even though they had it first I’m going to request that they change the name or really just change the Japanese language. Because we’re not going anywhere either with things like inches and feet apparently, or Fahrenheit, even though it’s complete nonsense.

DigiLetter: I will talk to the Emperor and see if we can get something worked out.

Dave: Yeah, please, it’s inconvenient for me.

DigiLetter: I sincerely apologize on behalf of all the Japanese people. You can’t see it right now but I’m bowing.

Dave: All I see is a monkey.

“So when you see thousands of other people online saying that they made this and they’re showing pictures and they’re just regular people like you and me from all walks of life, well it’s such an amazing thing.”

DigiLetter: I need to update my Skype picture. Alright, so are there any practices in the kombucha community that you find fault with? Not the Japanese one. The regular one.

Dave: Are we talking about the making kombucha community or the commercial bottle drink community.

DigiLetter: Whichever one you want to talk about.

Dave: Cool, so for the most part the kombucha community is awesome. They’re very supportive. I would say though that there’s a lot of misinformation and that becomes dogmatic. You have these people with the good intention to help, but sometimes they’ll read something on some random blog and they’ll start saying, “Oh no, absolutely you shouldn’t be doing this,” when in reality it’s not only false information but also discouraging. But the overwhelming experience I’ve had with the online community is very supportive.

Fear of the unknown, you know, fear and uncertainty are two of the biggest limitations that hold us back. So when you see thousands of other people online saying that they made this and they’re showing pictures and they’re just regular people like you and me from all walks of life, well it’s such an amazing thing.

“It’s literally like legal drugs.”

DigiLetter: What is your weirdest kombucha story?

Dave: Listen, when you first start, people might think you’re a little crazy because the kombucha culture looks funky and it smells like vinegar. When I first started I was just making it for myself and selling some cultures on craigslist and stuff. I was growing this kombucha in my apartment, and I had one gorilla shelf dedicated to all these glass jars of kombucha with all these cultures growing. At the same time, I was still working for a tea company, so I had lots of tea samples around and scales and gloves to work with this stuff.

At the time, my roommate was a film guy, like an editor and a producer, and he had all these random props like this wheelchair and an embalmed squirrel – the most random things you can picture. So just paint a room, an apartment with all this stuff. Anyway, I was away and my roommate was away and my buddy from Canada was like, “Hey man, I’m coming to LA and I’d love to see you,” and I was like, “Hey man, I’m actually not there right now, but you have a free place to crash so come on over.” I told him where to find the key and he said he was going to be coming with a friend. So my friend knew about kombucha but his friend didn’t.

They came to stay at my place and he said, “Dude, we got to your place and there’s already a wheelchair outside without a dead squirrel in the seat of the wheelchair, we open the door and it smells like this vinegar, like you just cleaned with vinegar and my buddy looks to the right and he sees this scale with all these bags next to it and he asks me, ‘Does your buddy sell drugs?’ and he looks to his left and these things look like dead brains preserved in these petri dishes just stacked one on top of the other, like 20 of these things, and he’s like, ‘Dude, why don’t we just book a hotel for the night?’”

They ended up staying there, but he was so freaked out. I guess anytime I had people over I had to do a lot of explaining. I’ve bathed in kombucha, which I actually don’t find weird anymore, but the first time it was definitely something new. One of the most creative things in the kombucha community is that they’re starting to use these cultures to make clothing. There’s a TED talk on this (http://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_lee_grow_your_own_clothes?language=en) and I think the lady lives in Canada. She’s made a clothing out of the culture and that is really crazy because that’s a real game changer.

From an environmental point of view, to be able to grow this new material yourself to use as clothing, that’s amazing. But right now the obstacle is when it rains a culture absorbs the water, so the clothing becomes very heavy and mushy. It might work if you’re weight-training or something, like it could be a good weight vest. Anyway, that seems to be where the future’s going and it’s fascinating just being a part of it.

DigiLetter: If you could distill your alchemy down to a few key phrases, what would they be?

Dave: It’s literally like legal drugs. It’s legal drugs for your body.

DigiLetter: That needs to go on your bottles: “It’s literally like legal drugs!”

Dave: It really is, man. And when you make it yourself, it’s like freebasing because you get to experience everything. I’m telling you it does something to the psyche.

DigiLetter: Anything else you want to tell your potential readers? It doesn’t have to be kombucha or anything, it could even be like, “Yesterday, I had a good burrito.”

Dave: Ummm… did I have a good burrito yesterday? I did not. The advice I have for anyone is to start their day with a cold shower or any energy pick-me-up. Cold showers and raising your hands… this one’s harder, but once you do it, it works. If you need to do it privately at first it’s ok, but you’re not going to get the real effect until you do it in public. Raise your hands up like you just are crossing the finish line after an Ironman, even if you haven’t done anything yet. Raise them up like you are the king of the world, arms up pumping, we’re number one, holding the trophy. Those two things will immediately give you more energy physically and mentally.

DigiLetter: You know there was another TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en) about doing two minutes of power poses a day to improve your overall mental wellness.

Dave: I actually saw that! I’ve been doing it since before that TED talk but it works. But I feel like some of what she mentioned fell into the gray areas of appropriateness. The Best Buy aisle from experience is certainly on the yay side rather than the nay side.

DigiLetter: Really?

Dave: Yeah, it really is awesome just doing it in public places. It starts evaporating those limiting beliefs we have, which then again goes right back into can I make these healthy liquid concoctions. We should say that at the beginning of every recipe before we start, “Go to Best Buy and run down the aisle like you just won a million dollars.”

DigiLetter: DigiLetterTM is not affiliated with Mocha Bola or Best Buy.

Dave: Mocha Bola!