Few people can say they’ve had Rosh Hashanah dinner with Drake. But to end up there because he liked your coconuts? That’s a very select group, and definitely a story worth hearing.
Mike Zig has a lot of stories, almost all of which sound like they might have been snatched from an un-aired season of How to Make It in America—only this time, the protagonists are hustling raw coconuts instead of raw denim.
When we met The Coconut Cartel honcho on a recent afternoon at the Complex offices in midtown Manhattan, he casually mentioned that he’d just finished throwing a birthday party in Miami for Trick Daddy. He then launched into a tale about hanging out with the OVO crew in Toronto, before explaining why he got black-balled from the Soho House (it involves Prince Harry…seriously). Somehow, the way Zig tells it, all this feels less like name-dropping, and more like a college buddy recounting how crazy last night was over a hangover cerveza—or coconut water, as the case may be.
Mike Zig might be the Dame Dash of coconuts.
For Zig and his business partners—sister Danielle Zighelboim and friend Christian Quinonez Sol—the last year and a half might seem like one endless bender, until you realize they ended up super-hydrated and, by the sounds of it, significantly richer. Their product is simple: Raw, ready-to-crack El Salvadoran coconuts, emblazoned with their own Coconut Cartel moniker or the logos of A-list clients like The Standard Hotel, Lacoste, and The Ritz-Carlton. Essentially, they’ve manufactured textbook exercise in branding, turning an unadulterated product into a must-have accessory of party-goers from South Beach to Coachella. Zig calls it a “halo product”—the first gambit in a movement that could expand into electronic music, clothing, spirits…even soy sauce.
The Instagram feed alone looks like a reality-TV series waiting to happen. Zig might be the Dame Dash of coconuts—or he could be one party away from losing his buzz to the next cool-kid trend. Either way, he’s not stressing it too much: “We’re just having fun with it, trying to blur the lines between rap, food, and fashion,” he says, flashing a mischievous, perfectly manicured smile. “It’s all I give a shit about—and weed.”
Here, in Zig’s own words, is the unlikely story of The Coconut Cartel—from house parties with Justin Bieber, to plans for domination in the white-hot coconut water market.
On spending Rosh Hashanah with Drake
It was September last year, and I was at Soho House in the morning just chilling. Drake came up to me and got the coconuts. I ended up having Rosh Hashanah dinner with him that night and he blew it out. He rented a place in Miami and at midnight I get a call and he’s like, “Yo, bring some coconuts, we’re having dinner.”
The dinner was not Jewish at all. I am culturally Jewish and I lived in Israel, but I’ve never been religious. His whole crew’s kind of Jewish, all his cousins and stuff, but it was more like Hennessy and smoking. But it was a trip. Now I kind of got used to hanging with him, but I was a little star-struck then. Like, I’m fuckin’ hanging out with Drake randomly, through the coconuts!?
He killed my supply that day. He was like ,“You gotta get me everything you have.” His whole crew likes them—we send it to Toronto all the time, and to his house in L.A. They crush them. They don’t see them every day, so it’s like a novelty.
On the “Drake effect”
People go nuts around him. But he’s a really nice guy; he’s super chill and kind of guarded. He helped us out tremendously. We got, like, 2,000 followers on Instagram from one picture. It’s the Drake effect. Every time we’re around him it’s nuts—Toronto’s like a shitshow. Everywhere he goes, there’s a motorcade. It’s like Obama.
All Drake does is promote his homies. It’s like a gang—he knows his people. He knows his power. His right-hand man used to be a server at Sotto Sotto [in Toronto]; he literally picks people from places he likes and brings [them into the team]. It’s something he did with us. He liked the coconut, he sees the potential in it, and he never asked for anything in return. He’s a fuckin’ mensch.
On other artists who support the Cartel
We get most of the OVO crew. When they come through Miami, they hit us up—it’s on [Drake’s] rider when he comes to town. There are coconuts everywhere backstage.
It’s not all directly from Drake, but because he went through us, we’ve been hit up by all these other musicians. Big Sean is always asking for them. For his New Year’s party, Diddy had coconuts at his house. We just did Trick Daddy’s birthday a couple week’s ago. Diplo’s all about us too—that kind of came through Drake.
I grew up in Latin America where electronic music is a little bit more prevalent, so we got Kygo and Thomas Jack. They’re gaining a lot of traction doing tropical house, which goes with our brand. We’re going on tour with them and we’ll have a good strategic alliance going on. I am trying to get in the music game more than the food game because music has just much more reach. I’m trying to get Drake to drop the Cartel in a fuckin’ rap song!
On building a brand around coconuts
The coconut is our halo product—that’s what gave us a name. It’s what people recognize us for. It’s always going to be around, but it’s an on-premise product. It’s good for hotels and spas, and other places where it’s served directly to the client.
We’re coming in with a bottle line right now: super low-processed, like Harmless Harvest, which is the big one right now in the low-processed world. We have a different breed of coconut, so the taste is different. I like what they do, but I think my branding is better and my coconut tastes better. I want to be the Pepsi to their Coke in that arena. We’re not gonna go the traditional route, like Whole Foods. I’d rather be at Nordstrom or Atrium, stuff like, that to make a slash with the cool kids first, then let it trickle out and let our distributors do their magic.
On the coconut-water competition
The shelf space of coconut water has, like, tripled in the last year. [Eds note: The coconut-water market accounted for $400 million in sales last year.] It’s a bunch of me-toos. If you look at the coconut-water display at the supermarket, it looks like a watercolor—it looks like a bunch of kids drew palm trees and monkeys. I want to be [the] KITH [of the category]—that sleek, black-and-white coconut water [that stands out]. I don’t want to get into a war with Vita Coco, because they’re so big that I’m not gonna win. What I can do is get the right people behind me, and I have a strategy of circling where I want to be by going all the cool places around it.
There are so many companies out there, and they’re all the same thing. They’re just co-packing in Thailand, Philippines…they don’t ever see the farms. I’m just going to do it the other way. I’m gonna do fashion and have the retailers come to us. Dean and Deluca came to us because we went to all the little markets around them—strangle ’em out.
On bringing coconut water to the booze world
We’re the coconut water of alcohol. Everyone else went the healthy, give-your-kids-a-coconut route. Ours is a lifestyle brand. We mix well with alcohol, we look good on the table. It’s not a juice-box brand.
[Other brands] use concentrate, they process it and pasteurize it—it’s basically a soup they serve you cold. Ours is straight-up coconut water; our breed of coconut is super-rare and the taste of it just goes better with alcohol. That’s the way we started at Soho House—the most popular drink is a $36 coconut with a shot of rum in it.
A lot of liquors brands love us. I can’t work with some of them because they’re too corporate and I’m always in sweatpants. There are a lot of cool ones that want to work with us, though, and there’s a lot of stuff coming down the pipeline, like ready-to-go drinks. We’re focusing on the sexy aspect of the liquor game.
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On looking up to Makonnen
Makonnen [is inspirational]—he’s kind of weird, but he goes with that whole fashion-rap thing. We’re that ‘where did they come from?’ [brand]. Two years ago, I didn’t know anything about coconuts. I was like, “They grow on trees?” We’re self-taught and winging it. Kind of like this kid—taught himself music, Drake got a hold of it, and he blew up. Hopefully, it works the same way with us—the Drake Effect!
On getting banned from Soho House
I stay in a lot of hotels. I love The Ace. The Standard gives me a lot of inspiration. Soho used to until they banned me. Prince Harry was there, and they had the anti-paparazzi thing going on, but [they still] got pictures of him drinking coconuts. It got on TMZ and all those blogger websites. I reposted a picture of it; I get a call like 30 second after that, saying I’m a shameless self-promoter and I’m no longer welcome on their property. They still sell my coconuts though.
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On meeting celebrities at Soho House
It was great for business to be there because a lot of celebrities come through. I was kicking it with Miley Cyrus drinking coconuts. Bieber’s come over to my house a few times, which is weird. My house sort of became a secret spot—like a private place where they can party and do whatever they want and no one’s going to know about it.
I know the celebrity code: Just give the phone away. If you don’t have a phone on you, there’s no reason to believe you were the one who took the picture. I learned it from Drake’s body guard actually. He’s like, “Just give me your phone, no problems after that.”
On turning a regular party into a coconut party
The easiest way to do it is, I’ll go into places and I’ll just tell the waitress to give a good-looking table a round of coconuts on us, and then I’ll watch them sell out within the next hour—it’s like a wildfire. I like to do it secretly; people know who I am in Miami, but the outsiders don’t.
I just hired two big black guys as bodyguards—Floyd and Lorenzo. This weekend we sold 30 grand-worth of coconut in cash at an event. When we’re getting mobbed and it’s a cash-only thing, I can’t hold [that much money].
On converting coconuts into dates
At Soho House, every girl in a bikini takes a picture with the coconuts. It’s become a thing if I repost the pictures, other girls will be like, “I took a photo with the coconuts, am I not hot enough?” I’m like, “Sorry, no, you’re not.” [Laughs.] It’s been fun, man. Two years ago, people wouldn’t give me the time of day. Now it’s like, ‘Okay, he proved himself, he’s doing something,’ and it reciprocates with the women. They’ve come out of the woodwork. It’s like, [rapping à la Mike Jones] back then they didn’t want me, now I’m hot hoes all on me. I’ll take it, ’cause it might not last forever.
On social media and models
It’s such a photogenic product. The first thing people do when they get them is take a selfie—social media has been huge for us. I see these other coconut waters sign, like, Alessandra Ambrosio. I’m like, what the fuck added value is she going to bring to you after you pay her $5 million a year? She’s good looking, she’ll post it up on Instagram once in a while, but it looks so forced. Like Zico with Jessica Alba—it look like they’re holding a gun to her face like, ‘Smile, bitch.’ I would never do a paid endorsement, it’s kind of cheesy. I kind of laugh at these companies; they’re all doing the same exact thing. Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima are the face of like seven different coconut waters. They’re Brazilian, they’re hot, but what else do they bring? I’d rather bring in musicians that can entertain people—like the tropical house and coconuts thing makes sense to me. We’re going to kill it at pool parties in Vegas this season.
On the roots of the brand
I was working down in El Salvador at my dad’s factory when my buddy gave me a coconut after a round of golf and popped a hole in it with a key. I thought it was weird and I was curious, so I asked where he got the coconut, and he told me [he got it from ] a farm that his grandfather planted 110 years ago.
Knowing him, he’s super humble, so I was like, I gotta see this farm, it’s probably like a whole province. It took us 20 minutes to fly over it. The thing is gigantic and it’s all coconuts—it looked like Apocalypse Now. I expected to hear “Flight of the Valkyries” when we were landing.
It originally supplied Almond Joy. It’s an island off the coast of El Salvador, and it has coconuts and cacao. When Almond Joy moved out to the Philippines, they stopped using it.
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On getting started hustling coconuts
I used to bring them in my luggage, just like 300 at a time. We started filling up planes, and now we’re filling up refrigerated sea containers. So it just started like a little hustle, from coconut curiosity. I dropped everything, I put all eggs in this basket, and I guess I made a good gamble . A year and half later, we’re still here. We’re in our sophomore year and I feel like we’re just getting bigger. Once I release the next couple skews, I’m gonna fuck up the food world.
I like to be a disruptive company. It’s kind of a saturated market by one company, Vita Coco, They’re so big, but they lost track of where they came from. They’re making lemonades because they ran out of coconuts. They’re just devouring coconuts. I hope I have a fraction of their success.
On the next big move
I don’t want to sell something that I wouldn’t drink. That’s why the next products we’re putting out are things I use every day, where I feel like there are only giant corporations making it. We’re doing soy sauce and ketchup next, because there’s only Kikkoman in soy sauce and Heinz in ketchup. Who’s really giving them a run for their money?
I like to go up against big corporations—I want to be the underdog. It might not work, but…YOLO. Fuck it. I’ll try.