A cannabis dispensary that feels like home, enter The Boston Garden.
The warm retail storefront officially opened doors in Athol, Massachusetts, in 2021. Its founding team had been working on the concept for a couple of years prior to its retail launch. Actor Jonathan Tucker founded the company. Tucker brings an investor’s mindset to the cannabis space while boasting a successful career as an actor, well-known for roles that span the last three decades including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Virgin Suicides, Justified, Kingdom, Westworld, and more. Tucker hails from Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston, and has deep ties to the city’s culture. Originally the CEO and now chairman of The Boston Garden, it’s Tucker who brought on Sasha Kadey, an 8-year industry vet who has had a hand in many major cannabis and ancillary cannabis brands, who is now a partner and the Creative Director of Boston Garden. (By the way, shameless plug – The duo met at Hall of Flowers).
“I love Massachusetts, I love America, I love small farms, farmers, and agriculture, and I wanted to make some money. I thought this was a win-win-win,” says Tucker. Cannabis is far from a get-rich-quick scheme, Tucker says, and four years later he is solely focused on building a business that lasts the test of time. “We built a real business here,” he says. “Similar to any start-up, we’ve been opportunistic without sacrificing our principles of honor, fairness, truth, courage, and kindness. Our guarantee to those principles separated us very quickly early on, in cannabis in general,” says Tucker.
The actor and chairman shows respect for pioneers working in the cannabis industry. He says opening up The Boston Garden has been “the single biggest challenge of my career.” Tucker came to Hall of Flowers to expand his knowledge in the industry, where he met Kadey in 2019. “I appreciate trade conventions, they’re extremely valuable,” he says. “Hall of Flowers is where I was able to really start to select some of the team that became The Boston Garden.”
The Boston Garden’s Creative Director Kadey boasts vast experience in legacy to legal markets. He currently also serves as CMO of Final Bell and 14th Round, whose unique end-to-end manufacturing model is being utilized by many of the world’s top cannabis brands including Alien Labs & Connected, Jungle Boys, 710 Labs, Sherbinskis, and Select; Kadey is credited with founding and developing a brand called Higher Standards, a concept shop-meets-headshop in the esteemed Chelsea Market in New York City. Kadey also helped Berner of Cookies fame launch his Vibes rolling paper brand, and was the former CMO of Greenlane, which held the coveted Keith Herring license for smoking accessories. At Greenlane, he also launched the Marley Natural accessory line and vapor.com, and provided invaluable guidance on brand development and go to market strategy for brands like Pax Labs, Storz & Bickel, G Pen, DaVinci, and MJ Arsenal to name a few.
I spoke with Jonathan Tucker and Sasha Kadey on what sets New England cannabis apart, The Boston Garden’s New England native brand called Lobster Pot, and what consumers can expect from the imminent opening of their new storefront in a historic building in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
On entering cannabis to save a historic farm:
Jonathan originally was attracted to the cannabis industry in an effort to save a historic farm in Massachusetts, in a town called Framingham. The functioning dairy farm is a cherished piece of the community, equipped with an ice cream parlor and host to countless community events and memory-making weekends for local families.
“I’m in the entertainment business,” says Tucker. “I’ve been in the entertainment business for 30 years now. That’s where I make my living, the true passion of my life, other than my family. I learned early on that you have to be financially conservative to be creatively reckless. I’ve invested in a lot of different spaces, some more successful than others. Everything from venture capital to technology, I’ve found ways to (in some cases) smartly deploy capital. Thankfully, I’ve gotten back more than I invested. I initially never wanted to invest in cannabis, primarily because I look at the investment opportunities for how they allow me to sleep at night. I wasn’t interested in going up against the unlimited resources of the federal government.”
“I noticed a shift, and that coincided with a friend bringing me an opportunity to help fund cultivation, manufacturing, and production licenses that were connected with a dairy farm in metro-west Boston, just outside where I was born and reared. Despite the fact that I haven’t lived there in 20 years, it’s one of the most meaningful parts of my pie chart. I have a lot of relationships there. I know the area, I know the map, I know the territory. It was this moment, a nexus where I was looking to take a big swing on an investment, to be determined, and I had put aside some capital where I know liquidity would be king. I did as much due diligence as I could from the West Coast. Everything was checking out, so I jumped on a plane and put my feet on the soil, and met the farmer and his friends there in Framingham.”
“We were conservative with our estimates, we never over-promised and under-delivered, and we’re nice to people. Closing the loop, all of those sorts of things paid dividends for us, it allowed us to attract folks like Sasha Kadey, it allowed us to entice Lisa ‘LD’ Sergi Trager, who came from MedMen and Pax, and it ultimately allowed us to get the sort of investors who didn’t just invest their finances, but also their time, guidance, and credibility – including our new CEO Michael MacNeill.”
“It’s been a wild run, we did end up saving the farm, but not in the way that we thought. That’s certainly an important part of our story,” says Tucker. The company has not yet activated a cultivation license at the farm, but saved it anyways. The cultivation may come someday down the road, the team says. “It didn’t make sense to activate the cultivation license at that time, so we refocused on the retail side,” says Kadey, “and then The Boston Garden was born.”
On moving from the unlicensed to the licensed market:
“We’ve been very sensitive to the fact that this is an industry that’s been operational and successful in the illicit market for 100 years,” says Tucker. “We wanted to make sure we were honoring the folks who were disproportionally affected by failed drug policies. We have a wonderful partnership with a mother-daughter team, an extraordinary entrepreneur named Ivelise Rivera who is our partner in the business who also happens to be a social equity empowerment applicant, and her daughter Renata Caines who have been instrumental in the creation and success of our company so far. Their work with and decades-long commitment to the community offers a guide to understanding New England cannabis culture.”
“At this juncture, being a retail-first company has been fruitful for us, as we’ve watched the commoditization of the market play out,” says Tucker. “We’ve allowed other people to deal with the headaches of production and falling bulk prices, and we’ve still been able to take an extraordinary market share and margins, to create a real sustainable business that will continue to become more profitable. In this recent chapter of the industry, surviving has been winning.”
On The Boston Garden’s design and retail experience:
When it comes to the interior design of the space, Kadey says The Boston Garden gravitates towards “clean but warm spaces that feel hospitable and welcoming, to take away any intimidation factor.”
“You’ve kinda got the odds stacked against you in creating a warm retail experience in cannabis,” says Kadey, “because of regulations that require you to have the product under glass. It tends to feel like a snobby retail environment, like a jewelry store where I can’t touch anything. And then a lot of other dispensaries may feel like you’re in a pharmacy or a bank, waiting in line like a sheep, corralled by ropes, waiting for your turn to speak to a budtender. I wanted to move away from that feeling, to create an environment that feels like you’ve received warm hospitality, and you’re welcome there. Our goal is for people to feel at home and to remove the intimidation factor so they can really engage with the budtender and have a meaningful conversation while also encouraging self-browsing while you wait. We still offer order-ahead options via our website or mobile site, you can pop in and have an express transaction because not everyone wants to engage on that level but whether people are hanging out or ordering ahead, they still appreciate the warm environment.”
“We wanted to pull in certain materials, and the vibe of the design sort of harkens to certain Massachusetts landmarks,’ in a subtle way, we included classic elements of New England culture,” says Kadey. “But mixed with a clean, modern aesthetic.”
On New England Cannabis Culture:
Tucker says that this year marks a coming-out party for his work in the cannabis industry thus far. “I’ve just been so focused on building the business, and now that we’re on firm ground and have hit so many milestones four years later, it feels right,” Tucker says. “Sam Adams is a great example of how we try to build our company. The Boston Brewing Company, craft breweries, I see as a good language to look at what New England cannabis culture is and could be. If you’re a Bostonian, we look at Boston as the great Athens of America, the Beacon of Democracy, the City on the Hill, the Cradle of the Revolution. New Englanders think we are the hub of all culture, research, and sports championship, and rightly so, we have a sense of pride about us. We feel it’s earned.”
“We like local, we want to be buying, supporting, and producing locally,” says Tucker. “We demand the sort of quality that stands up to national attention. That local pride combined with quality is what New Englanders demand. Even though we are 3000 miles from California cannabis, we know good quality cannabis when we smell it, touch it, smoke it, and vape it. We demand it. We want to make sure there is quality on the shelf, above all else.”
“New England culture is all about rooting for the home team,” says Kadey. “If a New Englander has the option to support a native brand over an interloper, they will choose the native plant all day. The one major caveat is, the native brand has to be as good or better than an outside competitor. If you offer that, but your brand is native New England and positioned in a way to be recognized as a native New England brand, then you will win that customer all day, and you will win their hearts and minds as well. They will become evangelists.”
On the most popular and most innovative products on shelves in Massachusetts:
“I really like a micro grower called Bailey’s Buds,” says Kadey. “They’re growing some of the best flower in the state, in my opinion. They have some great phenos. One is called Liberty Haze, which I think is a good example of what native New Englanders want to consume, it shows the brand understands the local cannabis culture. There’s another larger, but by California standards, still relatively small cultivator and retailer called Lazy River that I really like.”
Other brands that The Boston Garden customers tend to gravitate towards include Root & Bloom, Smyth, and Harbor House. Strains and phenos that tend to represent the best of New England? Kadey points to Larry OG (aka Larry Bird, grown by Ocean Breeze), Blue Slushie (grown by Lazy River), Moose & Lobsta, and the aforementioned Liberty Haze (grown by Bailey’s Buds).
On their original cannabis brand Lobster Pot:
“We have a brand of our own called Lobster Pot,” says Kadey. “It’s very New England oriented in a cheeky way, our small buds are called Lil’ Pinchers, pre-rolls are called Lobster Rolls. I would be remiss not to call out Bud’s Goods, they’re an incredible retailer in the state who has also been super helpful to us on developing Lobster Pot, and sourcing flower for the brand.”
“The funny thing about being from New England and representing New England, is a lot of the cliches are true,” says Tucker. “From Dunkin Donuts to the Patriots, to the accents, to the seafood, we revel in the tribalism. We celebrate some of those cliches.”
“So with Lobster Pot, this was a great example of bringing in a nationally recognized branding mind in Sasha, he understood what we were trying to build, and he embedded himself in New England, in my hometown of Charlestown, and he got to really understand who we are, what we’re proud of, and what we celebrate. And from those conversations, he was able to really guide us in putting together Lobster Pot (among some other things that we haven’t launched yet). Hitting the bullseye we’re trying to hit here, it speaks to everyone in New England. It’s real, it’s totally veracious. My grandparents moved to Massachusetts to die. My dad taught in Boston at the only public university in the city. My aunt taught special needs children in the Boston school system. It’s a real brand with authentic roots in this place. When I share Lobster Rolls and Lobster Pot with my people from California, they love it, too. It holds up. We have our vapes and concentrates in development and they have equally cheeky names on theme with Lobster Pot.”
Lobster Pot is currently only at The Boston Garden dispensaries but it will be expanding to other retailers in the state.
On The Boston Garden’s new storefront in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
“The store in Cambridge is a very famous building,” says Tucker. “It’s been a rug shop for 40 or 50 years. It’s called the Lechmere Rug Co. Everybody knows Lechmere Rugs. In 1976 when my parents bought the townhouse that I grew up in, my dad at 26 years old went to Lechmere Rugs and bought the rugs that I learned to walk on. So here I come back now, 40 years later, and go see Pat Curly, the father-son team, Pat Sr. and Pat Jr., he goes, ‘I remember your father, the professor from UMASS, sure.’ So now we’ve gone back to the place that sold my father the rug I learned to walk on, and we’re going to turn it into one of the most vibrant, authentic cannabis stores in Massachusetts.”
“We want to be that store that holds up for 35 years,” says Tucker. “With unreasonable hospitality. Athol has been open and profitable for over a year and we’ve gotten to build the same sort of attention that people expect when it comes to the best retail experience, the best hotel experience. We want people to have that when they come to the store. I walked over the bridge and went and shopped at the Cambridge Galleria – this is my neighborhood. All my friends and family still live in Boston, and I want them to have an authentic cannabis retail experience.”
“The dispensary itself is in a really famous building that curves around the corner,” adds Kadey. “The building is highly recognizable. Generations of Cambridge and Boston families bought their rugs from this rug shop. Their old advertising slogan was ‘Rugs on Lechmere, we like to joke that now it’s Drugs on ‘Lechemere.’”
On what to look forward to in 2023:
“At our locations currently open in Athol, Massachusetts, we do regular vendor pop-ups,” says Kadey. “At least a couple a week, all the time. You can find those on our website, Instagram, or by signing up for our email list. What we’re probably most excited about right now is the opening of our Cambridge location, which will be in the second quarter of 2023.”
“It is a major, major store. It’s on a main thoroughfare at 200 Monsignor O’Brien Highway. It’s a central location, with classic really traditional Cambridge neighborhoods around it on two sides; and on the other side, a major development called Cambridge Crossing that has new, mixed-use residential buildings, skyscrapers, restaurants, retail, offices, and the newly upgraded Lechmere T-Stop (Boston’s mass transit solution). All of this is a couple of blocks from the dispensary.”
“One of the unique rules in Massachusetts for dispensaries is that you can’t have transparent glass windows for example, that look into the dispensary. This building we are occupying in Cambridge has a lot of big, beautiful glass windows. So we wanted to get creative with how to utilize those windows since you can’t look into the dispensary. What we did was we built walls a few feet back from all the windows, and we’re setting it out as an art gallery. We’ll be doing an art contest in partnership with the Cambridge Arts Council, the city’s official arts and culture arm, to source the art that will be hung on those walls. The contest calls for artists’ submissions that feature the art of the store. Then we’ll do a bunch of art gallery programming around The Boston Garden.”