Ronnie Shugar and Donda Mullis, owners of Raw Sugar, have integrated themselves into a community that feels like home.
It's taken 30 years, starting a company, a cross-country move and one fateful email, but two Longboat Key residents are living their dream and keeping the philanthropic spirit of the area thriving into younger generations.
Recent Longboaters Ronnie Shugar and Donda Mullis, now the owners of Sarasota-based care and beauty brand Raw Sugar, met and dated in their 20s. As savvy, scrappy and upwardly mobile businesspeople, they had their eyes on the prize — and back then, the prize was not each other.
“That only lasted a few years, because she was involved in her business, I was involved in mine,” Shugar said. “And as young people do, we separated.”
More than 20 years flew by as they both moved on up in their respective business worlds until, thanks to an accidental LinkedIn email to Shugar from Mullis’ sister, the pair met again.
“We met by happenstance, really, and the connection was there again,” Shugar said.
The second time around, they seemed to be a better match. He was working in production and marketing, while she had been successful in her creative business endeavors.
“We wanted to meld both of those worlds together,” Shugar said. “How can we develop a program that was really true to our hearts, which was natural, clean products that stood out on a shelf and that had a lot larger meaning outside of a product.”
And so Raw Sugar was born, a brand with recognizable white bottles, bamboo tops and philanthropy at its core — and yes, it is indeed a play on Shugar’s name. On the back of the bottles are “sugar notes,” sweet little reminders to love yourself and take care of yourself and all the good, bad and ugly parts.
“I come from a very highly dysfunctional family background with a lot of stuff going on, things that kind of robbed self-esteem and confidence and loving yourself, like body positivity things,” Mullis said.
Shugar and Mullis, now both 56, bought a home on Longboat Key in 2015 and moved here full-time in 2017. Raw Sugar began in 2014 in Los Angeles, but moved with the couple when they put down roots on the opposite coast.
“Donda and I, being part of the Longboat-Sarasota community, it's important for us ... we want to be a part of the community and be forefront in really being part of the city activism in terms of showcasing there are people in need in our community,” Shugar said.
For Mullis, it was like coming home, a childhood vacationer returning to the paradise of her youth. The youngest of five girls, Mullis remembers piling into the family SUV to road-trip down from New Jersey back in the day, and during her and Shugar’s brief initial romance, she introduced him to the place, too.
“I've been coming to Longboat Key since I was 2 years old,” Mullis said. “It’s been our family's little personal dream haven.”
They’ve been heavily involved in philanthropy since the early days of Raw Sugar, matching the giving ethos of the community they now call home. Since the company’s start in 2014, Shugar and Mullis have donated millions of dollars in products with more to come. Since the pandemic, they’ve donated over $3 million in sanitizer and soap.
“If you're going to have the privilege of having this space, in which you have millions of eyes walking through retail space every day, do something with it,” Shugar said.
Their philanthropy started hyperlocally on the Key. In late 2019, the couple donated bars of soap and other care products to Temple Beth Israel for donation to Turning Points, and followed that up in early 2020 with a donation to Longboat Island Chapel that was passed along to women’s charities at Mullis’ request.
Shugar had become a member of TBI upon moving down to the Key, and they found out about the chapel’s philanthropy through their neighbor and chapel member, Lesley Rife.
“It was just getting to know our neighbors and getting to know the places around you, and then just kind of going from there,” Shugar said.
Most recently, they’ve taken their philanthropy off the island with a donation of 72,000 containers of hand soap to All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota.
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