Cannabis enthusiasts treat marijuana much like wine or coffee connoisseurs treat their passions. They savior certain strains, pick out a plant’s unique flavors and notes and discuss their admiration of the product with others. Now, Illinois cannabis customers have a new venue where they can enjoy marijuana, wine, beer, and specialty baked goods under one roof. The concept brings together connoisseurs and casual users, providing an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the state.
This new hybrid cannabis business in Illinois seems like a slam-dunk idea. However, bringing the concept to fruition took hard work, dedication, and the tenacity of majority owner Charles Mayfield and minority owner Ameya Pawar. What do these cannabis entrepreneurs hope to bring to the Wheeling area? They hope to create an experience that changes how cannabis users buy and consume marijuana. They hope to make buying cannabis feel like more of a high-end boutique undertaking than a taboo trip to secure weed from the far end of town.
An Idea Ripe for the Picking
The community of Wheeling, Illinois, welcomes this one-of-a-kind new business. The brainchild of Charles Mayfield and Ameya Pawar is situated on “restaurant row” on a lot once occupied by the sports bar Twin Peaks. It is the first business in Illinois to combine marijuana and alcohol sales under one roof. However, that’s not all you can expect from this unique venture. The hybrid business also shares a roof with West Town Bakery. The bakery offers baked goods and special treats that promise to dazzle the eyes and tastebuds. It is the ultimate one-stop shop to satisfy cravings.
The cannabis sales area is separate from the café and bar, and guests must show proof of age to enter the dispensary. However, children accompanied by parents or guardians are allowed in the café section, giving this business an inviting, family-friendly feel you don’t get from other marijuana dispensaries. Majority owner Charles Mayfield says one patron commented that the atmosphere was so comfortable that “I could bring my grandmother here.”
That’s the point. Comfort and a unique experience that gives patrons the feeling they belong. This business is not a “run in and get out quick before being seen” type of dispensary experience. Everything from the staff to the decor to the food and alcohol offerings makes you feel at home. It isn’t a cannabis concept. It is a lifestyle concept. It is a vibrant location that promises to offer a little something for everyone. Interested parties can even rent out space in the venue for birthday parties, anniversaries, and other celebrations. Owners hope the venue can host educational and community-focused events.
A Concept Years in the Making
The opening of this unique marijuana business is exciting, but it didn’t pop up overnight. In August 2013, Illinois became the 20th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. In the initial batch of licensing of medical cannabis companies, wealthy, white males dominated the industry. The pattern continued when Illinois legalized recreational marijuana years later. For minorities interested in getting a foothold in the budding cannabis industry, the going was tough. Many individuals complain that the deck is stacked against them. Gaining a cannabis license seemed impossible until the state moved to increase diversity in the industry.
To accomplish increased diversity, Illinois instituted a social equity program to encourage minority participation in the cannabis industry. The program simplified the license application process, cutting down the hundreds of pages of required paperwork in favor of an easier-to-navigate online application. Despite the changes, diversity in the Illinois cannabis industry is still lacking. The fight for social equality in the marijuana industry rages on, leaving many minority entrepreneurs frustrated and left out of the state’s booming cannabis business. Only six social equity dispensaries opened their doors in the state, including three in downtown Chicago.
Charles Mayfield, an Air Force veteran and African American, and Ameya Pawar, an Indian American who is a senior fellow at the Economic Security Project, represent the change Illinois needs to embrace. Their hybrid cannabis business is taking the cannabis industry in new and exciting directions, pushing the envelope of what is possible. Creating new and inclusive concepts helps keep the industry fresh and helps expose cannabis to a wide range of potential customers. However, Pawar still believes the key to helping other business leaders and minorities succeed in the marijuana space is passing the federal SAFE Banking Act and re-scheduling cannabis. Currently, the federal government includes cannabis on the Schedule I controlled substance list.
The Future of the Hybrid Cannabis Business Model
This first-of-its-kind business isn’t where the hybrid cannabis business model ends. It is where it begins. Eventually, the owners want to add a cannabis consumption area. Beyond the services the venue provides to customers interested in food, alcohol, and cannabis, owners also hope to create employment and wealth-building opportunities for people in the area. The dispensary also wants to work with a diverse network of cultivators. By doing so, they hope to expand their inventory and offer customers unique products like flower, gummies, topicals, and more.
Down the line, the owners and their social equity partners also hope to open two more cannabis locations in West Town and Evanston, potentially in the upcoming months. The goal is to create a chain of venues that become a part of the community and people’s lives. The hope is to become the favorite local hangout, a place to meet friends and share with family.
The state’s first combination cannabis and alcohol lounge brings more to the table than atmosphere and convenience. It provides inspiration and opportunities for others. It serves as a beacon for what the industry can become, a place of comfort and inclusion. In short, it aims to provide a sense of community to all who step inside its doors.
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