ONCE IN A WHILE, YOU GET SHOWN THE LIGHT: GRATEFUL DEAD-INSPIRED CRAFT CANNABIS STORE SCARLET FIRE OPENS IN TORONTO
The unexpected, one-of-a-kind store celebrates Dead Head founder David Ellison’s passion for cannabis, music, magic, and psychedelia.
Former Toronto securities lawyer, David Ellison, tuned in, turned on, and dropped out of the rat race to open a Grateful Dead-inspired cannabis store Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co. (scarletfirecanabis.ca), that Marijuana Venture Magazine calls “a dispensary experience unlike any other”. The offbeat and funky cannabis retail store reflects the founder’s love for the iconic American counterculture band. Dead Heads and those looking to experience the band’s magic can revel in mesmerizing decor and wax cosmic with the highly knowledgeable team of cannabis experts. While listening to the Grateful Dead and other jam bands the Dead inspired.
The store was designed by SevenPoint Interiors (www.sevenpointinteriors.com), an acclaimed design and manufacturing firm specializing in cannabis retail. The team transformed what had been a soulless check-cashing store into a colorful, sophisticated tribute to the iconic band’s aesthetic to transport customers to an altered state of consciousness. Outside the front window, people first see a series of portholes cut through scarlet-stained panels backdropped by a circular screen of moving psychedelic images—dubbed “The Rabbit Hole.” This creates a somewhat hallucinatory optical illusion to curious passersby that often stop and curiously stare at the unique psychedelic visual trying to figure out what it is. Once inside the store, customers realize what they saw was not an illusion, but very real and entirely different from what they thought they saw from outside.
“At Scarlet Fire, we wanted to create a customer engagement so different from what they are used to,” says Ellison. “We start our customers on a journey and educate them. We’ve created a place where cannabis, music, magic, and psychedelia merge.”
Warren Bobrow: Please tell me about yourself. Why the Grateful Dead? What was your favorite show? When are you bringing your concept to the USA for all of the USA-based deadheads?
David Ellison: First and foremost, I’m a father to three amazing kids (Abby 15, Aliya 13, and Josh 10). I’ve been privileged to hold a number of titles in my life, but Dad is the one I’m most proud of. I used to be a corporate securities lawyer before I decided to drop out of the rat race, open Scarlet Fire, and follow my bliss. I think I got trapped doing something that wasn’t me. After 20 years of practicing law, I got tired of making rich people richer. I’m 48 and I want to enjoy the rest of my life and do something to better people’s lives. Our mission statement at Scarlet Fire embodies that: To improve the quality of people’s lives with cannabis. We do that every single day.
Why the Grateful Dead? That’s an easy answer to feel, but an almost impossible one to explain with words. It’s food for your soul and I if had to explain, it just couldn’t be understood. The Grateful Dead is part of my identity, part of who I am. Something happened to me the day I saw my first show at the age of 17, and the Grateful Dead became just as much part of my identity as my name.
I never had intentions of bringing the brand to the US. It’s possible, I guess. Although, I can’t see bringing the brand to the US until at least the time that the US federal government gets its head out of its ass when it comes to cannabis.
I don’t have a favorite show. There are so many great shows from so many different periods of the band’s history, I just don’t know how to “rank” them or claim one as a favorite. If I started to go through the shows I most listen to, I think I’d go about 5 times over my allowed word allotment here. I don’t have a favorite per se, there is a show that is the most memorable or meaningful to me. In 2002, I saw Bob Weir and Ratdog open for B.B. King at the Pistoia Blues Festival in Pistoia, Italy. I managed to get my hands on a backstage pass, and how that happened is a story all to itself. I went backstage after Ratdog finished and just as B.B King came on stage. I saw Bob Weir, and I mustered up enough courage to walk up and say hello. He was so nice and friendly, and I was so nervous. We chatted about the blues and Willie Dixon for a bit and then stood beside each other and watched B.B. King from behind the stage. I’m standing there thinking to myself somebody needs to pinch me, so I know this is real. That’s something I’ll never forget. Once I bumped into Billy Kreutzman wandering the streets before a show looking or the venue. I showed him where the venue was and helped him out of a jam, I guess. That was pretty memorable too.
WB: Tell me about your company? What are your six-month and twelve-month goals? Indoor or outdoor grown for you?
DE: I think we created something special with Scarlet Fire. It’s more like a living, breathing, and evolving life form than a company. It’s not something that can be duplicated or cookie-cut like a chain store or a franchise. Every person who works here brings something different and unique that enhances the store and the vibe we create. Add a person or take one away, and the Scarlet Fire organism changes organically. We have some of the best and smartest people in the industry working here. They are cannabis sommeliers, not budtenders. You can’t go to university and get a degree in weed, but if you could they’d all have earned a Ph.D. We pay our staff more than what is standard in the industry, and they also have an opportunity to share in the profits.
It’s really important to us that our customers get a really good product and pay a fair price. I’d say our prices are 10-15% cheaper than most stores. A lot of it is based on mutual respect. We are humbled by the respect our customers show us by shopping at Scarlet Fire and coming back, and we return that respect by making sure our customers get the most for their hard-earned money. We work hard and spend countless hours curating our menu. Nothing comes through our door unless we can stand behind it. If we make a mistake and bring in something that we don’t like, I’d rather destroy the product under controlled conditions than see a customer walk out of the store with it.
As far as what the 6 months, 12 months, or future beyond holds, I don’t know. We have our own branded cannabis coming in October sometime, starting with a 10-pack of pre-rolls. We wanted to do something with old-school cultivars that you might find in the Dead lot. We are crossing an Oaxacan landrace sativa, indigenous to Mexico and Central America with Mazar Kush, having roots in the Hindu Kush mountain range between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m pretty excited about it. We have some other pretty cool shit up our sleeve, but we are keeping tight-lipped about it for the moment. Otherwise, it’s tough to predict how the retail market in Ontario is going to evolve. So, I guess the answer is…I don’t know what I’m going for, but I’m gonna go for it for sure.
WB: What kind of cannabis consumer is your favorite?
DE: First, I love all my customers. They are all such beautiful people from all walks of life. The diversity is amazing and it’s a real cross-section of humanity. Meeting all of these wonderful people allowed me to look at the world through a second lens. Not many people are lucky enough to get a second chance at living, and for that, I am eternally grateful to my customers.
I guess my favorite customers are those that want to listen and learn from us just as passionately as we want to talk about weed and educate them. I love it when a customer walks in and says something like the weed I suggested for them the last time was amazing, they loved it and was exactly what they wanted. Then they ask, what else do I have? It’s the customer that doesn’t want anything twice no matter how good it is that keeps us on our toes. Cannabis is a never-ending journey, and I love being a guide to their journey.
WB: Tell me about your food memories. What is your favorite meal? Made by whom? Where?
DE: Growing up, my favorite meal that my mom made was a vegetarian lasagna. I love it just as much to this day and she always makes it for me for special occasions. I also love BBQ and low n’ slow wood-fueled cooking. At one time, I owned five different BBQs. I have paired this down to two BBQs, but I always want to add to the collection. I make pretty mean BBQ if I do say so myself. A lot of my friends are pushing me to try entering a BBQ competition. Maybe next year.
WB: What is your passion?
DE: My first passion is my kids, for sure. Aside from my kids, my real passion is music. When I first saw the Grateful Dead and heard Jerry Garcia, I was like…. I wanna play music just like that! My grandfather bought me an acoustic guitar for my birthday, and away I went. If I could do anything in this life, I would be a musician. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I lacked the necessary natural ability to pursue music professionally. That’s a nice way of saying, I’m not very good. While I am a fledgling musician at best, I like to think of myself as a professional listener of music. I love the way talented musicians can convey feeling and emotion and imagery through what they play. Maybe that’s why I love Garcia so much. The man could tell a story of a thousand words with just one note. He could also bring you to tears with the same note. Maybe you need to be born with a tortured soul to play like that.
Warren Bobrow has been a dishwasher, the owner of the first company to make fresh pasta in South Carolina , a television engineer and he even worked at Danceteria in NYC, then a trained chef which led to a twenty year career in private banking. A cannabis, wine and travel aficionado, Warren is a former rum judge and craft spirits national brand ambassador. He works full time in the cannabis business as an alchemist/journalist. Cocktailwhisperer.com Drinkklaus.com Instagram: warrenbobrow http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Bobrow