Located in the heart of USC Village, SunLife Organics’ lotus logo entices passers-by with its wide-open doors and brightly lit interior filled with pop music, people and the whir of blenders at work. The store contains wooden, rustic-themed décor, complete with hanging plants and energy crystals that elicit a quintessential Southern California vibe, and boasts a menu of plant-based juices, protein shakes, acai bowls, smoothies and coffee.
Despite the shop’s “be here now” beachy atmosphere, its drinks lack refreshing flavors and its overpriced bowls are disappointingly low in quality compared to local competitors Amazebowls and Nekter, which both offer cheaper, healthier options. Compared to organic competitors in Southern California such as Blue Bowls in Orange County, SunLife’s products — which range from $8 to $16 for bowls with specialty ingredients — are ridiculously overpriced for a college student’s budget, even with its organic, locally sourced branding.
The shop’s customer service also needs improvement: Workers appear disorganized and uninterested, as a customer walks up to the glass barrier to inquire about her order, which was seemingly skipped over as others before her received their items. The cashier engaged in a long conversation with earlier customers, holding up the line, only to grant the rest of the waiting guests a snappy, 30-second interaction during which they merely recited orders. The wait time was around five to 12 minutes, depending on the time of day and the level of activity in the store.
SunLife’s Brazilian-style and Trojan bowls are nothing out of the ordinary and arguably too simple to be priced at $10.95 and $14.95, respectively. The Brazilian consists of the most basic ingredients of an acai bowl: acai, banana, blueberry, almond milk and apple juice, topped with an overly generous half-cup scoop of regular granola to add dimension to a half-filled bowl.
Bananas and strawberries, coated with coconut and a dash of hemp seeds, are added on top of the granola – ingredients that are not Brazilian style (except the acai and banana), but rather basic. The acai blend should be rebranded as its own smoothie; underneath the impenetrable layer of granola is a goopy, dark purple, semi-solid liquid.
The Trojan bowl, with coconut meat, coconut butter and mango in its blend, is redeemable with its more solid mixture, but the light sprinkle of goji berries and bee pollen are a half-hearted effort to make the bowl taste unique. Instead, the berries are an overwhelmingly sweet addition to the fruit blend and plentiful layer of granola.
The Goldie bowl, which references Goldilocks and her love for oatmeal, does not do the fairytale justice. The base is made of a pre-made, packaged oatmeal mix, evident from a worker visibly cutting open a packet while preparing the bowl, and is simply topped with blueberries, bananas and strawberries. The bowl does not even fill up to the top of the container and the amount of fruit given is easily finished before the oatmeal, leaving patrons with an uneven oatmeal-to-topping ratio toward the end of the bowl.
The protein shakes, all priced at $8.95, consist of basic ingredients like vegan protein, non-dairy milk and banana for loose shakes that are both protein-packed and pricey. The juices are decently priced compared to the L.A. juicery scene, and Sunlife’s customizable options allow for flexibility in choosing juice add-ons and bases.
SunLife Organics is receiving ill-deserved hype because of its strategic location, and its expensive menu falls out of the price range for most students living on a budget; ultimately, it is not worthy of a weekly spending splurge. Despite the owner’s healthful mission, SunLife Organics at USC Village compromises on the business’ commitment to quality and its marketed natural, healthy products can be easily replicated at home at a more affordable and sustainable price.