PODCAST Talent Without Limits: Breaking barriers with the Founder of Red Belly Honey, Rbel Bee Sweets, and Kitchen Toke, Joline Rivera

For the past 20 years, MitchelLake has worked with game changers, innovators, and leaders who have been on extraordinary journeys from diverse and sometimes challenging backgrounds. These are their stories that focus on ignoring convention to create their own pathways as improbable as those may have seemed to the rest of the world. Join hosts, Managing Partner Jon Tanner; Partner Michael Datta; and Advisor Patrick Blute as we explore Talent Without Limits.

Michael Datta Pat, good evening over there in New York. Mate, how are you?

Patrick Blute And good morning there in sunny Gold Coast. How you doing, mate?

Michael Datta Fantastic. Pat, today’s guest is someone who has been breaking barriers since her childhood. She has defied the odds of her background becoming financially independent by the time she was 18, becoming the first person in her Mexican American family turned a BA in graphic design, and then a master’s degree in advertising design, both while working full-time. She’s cut her teeth as a designer of one of the world’s largest publishing houses before realizing that she could really and only fulfill her true dreams by feeding into an entrepreneurial spirit. Once she left the comfort of her corporate world — Pat, you’re going to love this, mate. Once she left the comfort of a corporate world, she sought after more independent creative directors and transporters in the food industry. You know how much you and I love our food. She started creating publications for the Meredith Publishing Group, Food Network, Coles, US Foods, and so much more. I’d like to introduce you to our upcoming guest, Joline Rivera. Joline, welcome to Talent Without Limits.

Joline Rivera Hi, thank you so much for having me. It’s nice to meet you, Patrick. And nice to see you, Michael.

Patrick Blute Awesome. Wonderful. Thank you. Joline, wonderful to meet you. And congratulations on really noticing the unconventional throughout your career. So, talk to us a little bit about how you took this love of design, graphic into this culinary world, and even now how you’re really reimagining our relationship with a very special ingredient.

Joline Rivera Yeah, it’s funny, it’s interesting. I just had a conversation with my older brother this past weekend about the conventional workspace. He chose the conventional workspace and I admire him for that. And at the same time, while I was doing it myself, I’m always challenging myself. And somebody asked me the other day, “Why are you in this? Why are you doing what you’re doing?” And I said, “I think it’s because of the challenge. I want to see if I can.” And I feel like it’s just sort of been my history to, from the time I was 17 to now, I’ve always put myself in a position to see if I can.

Patrick Blute And Joline, what’s that spark that allows you to know, this is the challenge I want to take on? Because I’m sure there’s so much in the world who are like, “I’m going to conquer, take it over.” And how do you know where to go next.

Joline Rivera In this case, in this instance, I had spent 20 years being a graphic designer, creative director or directing food shoots being involved in the food industry, reporting on food trends, really just going from graphic design, to publishing, to food, and then chefs and chefs’ world, and then understanding food and food tastes, and then the trends that were happening. And it’s funny because it’s something that when you’re in it and you’re are tracking it, or you’re involved with somebody, or you’re talking to somebody, they say something to you that maybe you’re like, “Oh wait, I want to know more about that,” or “I can do that.” And then once you learn how you can do that, then inside I’m like, “Well, what else can I do next? And can I push myself to go one step further? Or is there a need for it?” In this case, you know, there was a need. So, it became very apparent to me that if I didn’t do it, somebody else probably would. And then I would kick myself for saying, “Why didn’t you do it?”

Michael Datta Yeah, I love that. Pat, Dr. Jen Welter kindly introduced me to Joline and said how you guys have to meet because Jen also loves connecting passionate, driven people together and when you can start sharing those stories the ideas that can come out of that are amazing. What Joline is doing now is actually helping us all live healthier lives.

Patrick Blute Absolutely. And so, we’d love to know, Kitchen Toke, what’s the journey? What brought us here? What was that initial moment? Because I love this story, photography, design, you’re working with the most esteemed dishes in the world, how did you know this is going to become a company?

Joline Rivera I was working with the most esteemed dishes, the most esteemed chefs, the most esteemed brands at the time. I was traveling all over the world, shooting chefs and talking about relevant food, who’s doing relevant stuff on their menus at restaurants. And I happened to be in Puerto Rico shooting Jose Enrique, and he was up for James Beard Award that year. And we were having a nice conversation and he enlightened me a little bit and he dabbles in cooking with cannabis. And my ears perked up. And I had been paying attention to the cannabis space here anyway, just because it’s a thing, you know, and people were starting to cook with it. But I didn’t really see really well-known chefs doing it. And then I really just started to pay attention. And then at the same time, my best friend and my co-designer who’s helping me run my agency, her dad got cancer. And he was losing a cancer battle and tried all kinds of medication and painkillers.

And over the five years, I watched her watch him and not be able to do anything about it. And that’s agonizing. You want to help people. I mean, I wanted to help, but I didn’t really know that I could. And so, I reached out to some chef friends of mine here in Chicago and said, “Hey, can you guys help me produce something that could sit on his tongue, that he can melt on his tongue,” because he had lung cancer that spread to his lymph nodes. His neck was swollen three times the normal size of a human man’s neck. And I knew he couldn’t swallow and eat well, so we produced some high THC chocolates. And I was so nervous about how am I now going to get them from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri, because it’s illegal to cross state lines with THC products. And there are no cannabis laws available in St. Louis at the time, not even medicinal.

So, while I could get it here medicinally, I couldn’t get it there. So, I illegally, put it in my car, drove all the way to St. Louis and delivered the cannabis chocolates to his door. And he was very receptive. And I was really nervous as a very big Irish Catholic family, and I was super nervous, like, is he going to be receptive to this? And his daughter was with me. He has six daughters, most of them were there, his wife was with us. And he said, “Give me those,” and he ate three chocolates in a row. And it was about 45 minutes later, and you could just tell all of his face expression changed. The pain lifted from his face. He was laughing, he popped open a beer, he started playing with those grandkids, he wanted to go for a walk. His family were welled up in tears. They were saying Joline, “We haven’t seen him like this.” He was hungry. He went to the fridge, he started looking for food. And for a cancer patient who’s this sick, I remember not being able to speak and going, “Oh my god, this actually works.”

And not only did it help his pain, it increases appetite, which is cannabis is well-known for that. And I left there that day, and it was about two or three weeks later, I was back down in St. Louis and attending his funeral. So, if that gives you any idea of how sick he was when I saw him. His sister came up to me at the funeral and put her hand on my forearm and she said, “Joline, thank you for giving my brother one good day before he died.” And that, I cried for weeks over that thinking if I could do it for him, what can I do for other people? Why don’t we all know this? Why don’t we all have access to it? What if there was a way you could have cannabis without ever being high and it was just about being healthy? And you could just manage pain through food and not pharmaceuticals?

Because I have family members who have had drug addictions or pharmaceutical addictions and I’m very aware of that. And I was thinking, is there a way to then educate, inform, teach, whatever word you want to put to it, how do I then bring this idea to the masses? And I did what I did best. I started calling my chef friends and said would you cook with cannabis? Would you develop recipes? And then we hired an editorial team and I really just put together a magazine, which I’d been doing for 20 years. And so, I then formulated Kitchen Toke Media, and Kitchen Toke Media is the first and only culinary cannabis media company dedicated to informing people on culinary cannabis for health and wellness.

Patrick Blute Wow. I mean, first, I had goosebumps. I mean, Joline, what’s really resonating in the way you tell your story and the origin of the company is, this is your superpower — it’s design. What I love is I’m hearing a lot of these design elements and textures and thinking through the end experience of you’re not just preparing a recipe, you’re thinking about the moment that the person will actually taste it or enjoy it or that experience.

Joline Rivera I love being creative. And if I can do that in any format, it can be in any format, it’s my creativity. I think that is my superpower.

Patrick Blute So, do you find yourself in the kitchen just trying new things, cooking things up? Where’s the recipe inspiration coming?

Joline Rivera It’s usually in tasting other people’s food. I am not a cook. Surprisingly, I never cook. I actually hate to cook. But I love learning about food, food combinations, and mostly, I love about learning about functional food, which brings me to where I am today. So, I learned back then, in combination with this cannabis story, I was also going through an insulin resistance battle. I was training for a triathlon. I had been to four different doctors, all of them accuse me of lying about what I was eating, how much I was exercising. I was running, swimming, biking all in the same day preparing for this triathlon and I was putting on loads of body weight. I’m only 5’5″, and when I start gaining weight, you can really see it, and I felt sick. And the harder I trained, the worse I felt. And I was like, “Shouldn’t it be the opposite?”

Joline Rivera And so, I finally found a doctor who is a functional medicine specialist and he said, “I can help you.” He drew my blood. He’s like, “Joline, you have insulin resistance. You’re well on your way to type two diabetes,” like many people in my large Hispanic family. He said, “I’m not going to write you an OTC. I’m not even going to give you a pharmaceutical position. I’m going to help you, though. I’m going to give you a food list.” So, he wrote me a food prescription. That was a day I learned that food is medicine. And then when I wanted functional food, I start paying attention to that even more thinking about cannabis. Cannabis is a functional food. It’s just a plant. Why are we smoking it? Eat it.

Michael Datta That’s it. You know, Pat, this is a perfect segue into really hearing about how Joline then came to launch Red Belly Honey. Like seriously, what an amazing brand from her creativity, her design, but then more importantly, the actual product. Joline, can you share that with us, please?

Joline Rivera Yeah. So, Red Belly Honey. In doing and learning about culinary cannabis, learning about all of the cannabis products or learning about whatever is extracted from the plant, I learned how to infuse food, and it’s usually an oil-based food. Anything that comes from the plant is oil based. So, I should just tell that to all your listeners who don’t know. So, any CBD products or cannabinoid compounds, it’s all oil-based. It’s like rosemary oil or olive oil. It’s oil. And oil and water don’t mix, so there really is no such thing as a natural infused food. It’s usually people adding this oil to food and mixing it up and the packaging it, and serving it in some way.

Joline Rivera So, in learning all of the how-tos, I guess, you could say, with Kitchen Toke and learning about the plants and the cultivation and how we’re extracting all the cannabinoids, I learned about a process. There’s a team in Israel that I partnered with, Bee-Fuse Technology, who learned that if you offer the bees a full spectrum whole plant oil, they will eat it and they will digest the oil for you and express the cannabinoids into the honeycomb cell for us. So, therefore, creating the first nature infused food product on the planet, single ingredient and water soluble. So, that is Red Belly Honey. Red Belly Honey is the only honey in the world infused with CBD by bees. I always say we know there’s CBD in our honey but we didn’t put it there, the bees did. And so, that is the epitome of how do we be healthy over high? How do we have a functional food in our everyday food? How do we have a pantry staple that will live forever and never expires? Honey never expires and it’s an amazing, amazing functional food. You know this. I don’t have to tell the people of Australia how amazing honey is.

Patrick Blute Now I just want to completely merge you with a bee conservationist and see like is this maybe the best kept secret to actually helping the bee population thrive?

Joline Rivera Yeah, yeah.

Patrick Blute This is amazing.

Joline Rivera Yeah, it is. Actually, a month after we launched there were news reports that there was a study being done at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska, I’m sure I butchered that, Life Sciences College in Poland. They were studying a group of 5,000 bees and they understand, the medical report now has come out. It’s been two years to get it published, but it is now a published medical report. And it says that bees who have access to hemp terpenes, specifically, are able to fight the poisons from pesticides and live as long as bees never exposed. So, we are actually helping bees live 45 to 60 days longer.

Patrick Blute Whoa. For some reason, that is such an important piece of conservation. So, I love that you’re fusing this really creativity across the board. You’re just seeing challenges and tackling them.

Joline Rivera Yeah. It’s so exciting. You know, I met with a butterfly organization. It’s called butterfly.org for anyone who wants to look it up. But they are the only invertebrate museum research center, education center in the United States. They are having a huge fundraiser in Denver, September 30. I’ll be there. My friends at Viking Cruise Lines donated an 8-day crews to auction off. They’re raising $55 million for an 80,000 square foot facility. And it will be all about saving bees. They use bees to save elephants in Nigeria. And they’re also helping to save the extinct monarch butterfly. So, we’re working with them and we’re hoping that they can continue the studies and research on the bees and also on cannabis and just how incredible cannabis is to invertebrate species.

Patrick Blute Excellent.

Michael Datta It is excellent, isn’t it? For our listeners, Pat and Joline, if they could see our faces right now. 

Patrick Blute Just a jaw drop.

Michael Datta It makes so much sense why athletes would want to use your product. 

Joline Rivera Yes, that is interesting, and I’m glad you brought that up, because when we launched, CBD, food, cannabinoids, and all this information is very confusing. I mean, I’ve been in the industry now for six years, I’m confused. And I was thinking, if I just keep it simple and try to explain to people this is the functional food and here’s the information, etc., we’ll figure out who our product market fit is. And they are now coming to us, which is really amazing. So, in this last three months, Lululemon reached out to us, we partnered with them, we do events with them every week, every Wednesday evening, as you know. And we also were approached by the National Flag Football Championship Organization, we will be the only CBD sponsor booth product at the National Football League (NFL) championships in Florida in January. And then just in two weeks from yesterday. I’ll be in Malibu. We are the sole CBD sponsor for the Super League Malibu Triathlon happening in California.

Michael Datta That’s great. Do you recommend pre-race? Like do you say 2 to 3 days out of the race and then post-race?

Joline Rivera Well, I recommend cannabinoids anytime. You knew I would say that. I’ll be honest, I eat our honey, of course, all day, every day. I have it in my smoothies. I have it in my tea at nights. I take a few of those little travel packs with me on a run. So, I run about four or five miles a day, three or four days a week. I do a snap pack right before I leave, it’s a nice burst of energy. If I’m feeling sore or stiff, or I’m lacking energy, I have it during the run. But I live in a state, I’m in Chicago, I’m in a state where it’s completely legal. So, I can actually grow my own cannabis here. I’m not a smoker, I do not like to be high. So, I’m going to break that stigma right now. I hate being high. So, I don’t like being drunk either. So, kind of the same thing to me. But I grow the plants because I clip off the leaves, like the well-known five-leaf green leaves, and I throw them into my smoothie because they’re loaded with terpenes. And I think if the terpenes can help protect the human nervous system and they can help protect the bees oxidate their system, it’s loaded with antioxidants, it can help me. 

Michael Datta Phenomenal.

Joline Rivera  I think I just surprised you, Michael, by the look on your face.

Michael Datta  Yeah. And I thought I knew you, right? Oh my gosh. It’s just next level. You know, Pat, we asked Joline about a superpower. I mean, oh my gosh, she’s just superhuman, right? She’s flying around with a cape saving us immortals, right? I love it. I absolutely love it. 

Patrick Blute Joline, question for you. Because what’s phenomenal is all of these lessons, you’ve learned the ones you want to take with you, like food as medicine, like the power of design thinking and applying it to big problems. What would you say is one of the most crucial lessons or experiences you’ve had that has really shaped you and how you’ve really built this confidence to just tackle and achieve all these incredible opportunities?

Joline Rivera Honestly, I think the one that resonates or that always comes back to me, and I think if I could say to anybody out there, no matter where you are in your life, no matter what you’re doing, no matter what trouble you have, just know that you’re not the only one. Somewhere around the age of 13, I went to a counselor and talked to him about what was going on in my family and my upbringing. And they put me in a group of other kids like me to have counseling and have group counseling and to talk about what’s happening around us in our homes. And I remember spending the entire first session just crying my eyes out and the counselor asked me what I was doing. And I said, “I’m so relieved, because I just learned that I’m not the only one.”

And I think when you grow up as a child, and I really have a thing where I want to go back and I want to help other kids who may have grown up in dysfunctional homes like I did, that when you learn to count on yourself, when you learn to trust in yourself, and when you learn that you can do it, I want you to ask yourself, if you can do that, then what else can you do? And then what else can you do after that? Because that’s what happens when you find out you’re not the only one. And there’s really no shame and there’s no embarrassment, because it’s happening to a lot of other people around you. And I think so much of us, we keep so much inside and we don’t talk about and we don’t tell other people, and we feel like we don’t belong, or we don’t fit in, or “I’m strange, because this is happening to me.” But I think one of the most important things that I’ve ever learned is that I’m not the only one.

Michael Datta  I think we need to normalize. Communicating and letting go is normal. You should be enabled to do that. And I think what you just said is fantastic. And you know what? I think if there’s ways that Pat and I can get involved to help out, just shout out to us, and we’ll work out how we can also assist.

Joline Rivera Yeah, I love that. I often talk to Coach Jen Welter, and as you know Coach Jen Welter is an ambassador in Red Belly honey, and I’m really proud of that, because she believes in strong women and I must be strong enough for her to believe in. So, that means the world to me. 

Joline Rivera She actually was in Chicago recently, and I met up with her and I watched her coach some girls, some young girls to play football, and that was so fun and so exciting for me. And we had the conversation and I said, “I can’t wait to give back.” But I also know I need to focus on one thing at a time and what I’m doing now because the more I work on this, the more I’ll have to give later. And I can’t wait to do that, to be honest.

Patrick Blute Incredible. And what’s inspiring you lately? I think there’s so much, there’s a wealth of recipes that I am excited to tackle. But like you have an amazing schedule coming up with really impactful environmentalist, food is health. What’s inspiring you and what keeps you motivated along this incredible journey?

Joline Rivera Well, I’m so glad you asked that because it all comes to a close. We just developed our honey gummies. As a person with insulin resistance who could never really have candy and feel good about it, or I should say, have candy and not feel guilty, and as I think most women would probably tell you, you eat something and there’s this little voice in your head that’s like, “Hmm, you probably should have not eaten that.” So, we just formulated our gummy brand. It’s called Rebel B. They’re the only gummies I think in the world that are sweetened with honey only. And most gummies or any gummies of the world that have honey, they also have sugar, cane sugar, refined sugar, glucose syrup, corn syrup, it’s just junk. And so, our gummies are made with Red Belly Honey, and other functional foods like blood orange, cayenne, passion fruits. We also are coming out with blueberry honey gummies. And tomorrow I will receive here at our office 275,000 passion fruit and blueberry gummies that will hit the streets.

Yeah. Now that you asked me about it, Patrick, I’m actually working on some non-CBD gummies because, as we talked about for kids, I have nieces and nephews, they are in line to be diabetic if they don’t watch it, and I want to be able to offer kids a healthy candy. I actually want candy to be just healthy. I don’t know who said Candy had to be bad for you, but I’m going to change that.

Michael Datta  Isn’t that awesome?

Patrick Blute Amazing.

Michael Datta It’s a shame at the moment we can’t import into Australia Joline’s CBD product, but these gummy bears in the non-CBD format and for kids in Australia around the globe, right? 

Joline Rivera  Yep.

Michael Datta And this is something that Joline and I touched on and talked about in our last catch up and it was just like, oh, wow, more jaw dropping moments, right?

Joline Rivera I mean, honestly, our next gummy that I’m working on now, I’ll give you guys a secret, I’ll let you in on a secret, but it’s going to have Mexican vanilla and saffron in it.

Michael Datta Well, that’s just going to be probably a million pieces.

Joline Rivera And honey.

Michael Datta Right. 

Patrick Blute Why isn’t this a live taste test podcast again?

Michael Datta I’m telling you, when I arrive in the US in about a month, it’s all on. We’re just going to do Red Belly Honey up. We’re going to do a live podcast, Pat, when we catch up with Joline in Chicago, wherever she may be.

Patrick Blute Perfect.

Joline Rivera That’d be great. Yeah, but I’m so excited. I mean I’m putting ingredients together, thinking about if I want candy, it’s more about what I want it to taste like, it tastes really good. And our gummies are not like regular CBD gummies. They’re not meant where you have one or two as a dose. My gummies are nano dose. They’re meant for you to eat the entire bag. Because I don’t know anyone who wants to eat candy and have just one or just two. That makes me crack up laughing. I’m like, since when did I have just had one piece of pizza?

Michael Datta See, this is where it’s so different when you meet someone like yourself who’s creating this product from end to end. You’re creating it with yourself in mind, right? Like, well, what do I want to eat? How do I want to eat it? And how do I want my friends and family and kids to eat it? So, you’re producing it to suit those needs, which is perfect, right? 

Joline Rivera I can’t tell you. We looked for a gummy maker for almost two years, and none of them would stop their daily pumping out their sugar production gummies. None of them would just stop and hear us out and hear what we had to say, and then consider tasting our honey. Red Belly Honey, two months after it launched, it was given the Food Pick of the Year by Food [inaudible]. And we were invited to showcase it at what I would say is arguably the most prestigious food event in the United States. And our honey tastes really good. And not to mention it’s glyphosate residue free. It has zero glyphosate residues, pesticides, toxins, metals, zero. It’s cleaner than Manuka.

Patrick Blute Joline, thank you so much for really just — this is just such a beautiful testament to the concept of you’re not alone, because with every product that you’ve built, you then actually not only attract, you find that community that all share the same values as you, and that community then has a way and a tool and a product to teach others about the importance and the opportunities they have to eat healthy, live healthy, and really just improve their quality of life through this incredible next chapter in food. Thank you.

Joline Rivera I just want them to have fun with me. 

Michael Datta And you know what? What a perfect way to end this wonderful podcast. You’ve really made my day and I’m sure you’ve made Patrick’s evening, and I think we will definitely catch up in the US altogether very soon. I think we need to do a live podcast while we’re blending and creating and maybe helping create something new, Joline. What do you think?

Joline Rivera Oh, that would be fun. You never know what we could come up. 

Michael Datta That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Joline Rivera You’ll never know what happened between now and October either. 

Michael Datta Oh, gosh. Well, the way you’re going, oh my gosh, who knows, right?

Patrick Blute A whole new lineup.

Michael Datta Joline Rivera, thank you so much for joining us here on Talent Without Limits.

Joline Rivera Thank you so much. I appreciate your time, both for you, and for making the schedule work. I really do appreciate it.

Michael Datta: Thank you for tuning into Talent Without Limits. Music provided by Audio Coffee via Pixabay. If you liked what you heard, subscribe to our show on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen. For more information on the MitchelLake Group, please visit mitchellake.com. We’ll be back with a brand new episode very soon.

Joline Rivera

Founder of Red Belly Honey, Rbel Bee Sweets, and Kitchen Toke

Joline Rivera has defied the odds of her background becoming financially independent by the time she was 18, becoming the first person in her Mexican American family turned a BA in graphic design, and then a master’s degree in advertising design, both while working full-time. She cut her teeth as a designer at one of the world’s largest publishing houses before realizing true fulfillment would only come by feeding her entrepreneurial spirit. Joline left the comfort of corporate life to become one of the most sought-after independent creative directors and trend-spotters in the food industry, creating content and publications for Meredith Publishing, Food Network, KOHLS, USFoods, and more.

About the host

Michael Datta

Talent Without Limits Co-Host, MitchelLake Growth Partner

Globally experienced entrepreneur, investor, and advisor. Expert in international trade and ventures. Oracle of coffee, wine, sports, and talent insights.

Patrick Blute

Talent Without Limits Co-Host and Producer

Global growth advisor with MitchelLake based in New York. Long-time leader of product and marketing strategies for hyper-growth technology, social good, and sustainability ventures.

Jon Tanner

Founder and CEO

Investor and entrepreneur. Inspired by innovators and individuals who challenge what’s accepted in pursuit of what could be. Constantly curious, lover of great stories, and great storytellers.