THIS NEXT PROFILE UNDERSCORES A LOT ABOUT OUR AMAZING COUNTRY, FROM THE WAY WE REINVENT OURSELVES AND GET CREATIVE ON THE ENTREPRENEURIAL FRONT, TO THE LIFESTYLE TRENDS WE JUST MAY BE ON THE VERGE OF SETTING IN A GLOBAL WAY …
Startup and sophisticated lifestyle brand Tokyo Smoke combines two of Alan Gertner’s greatest passions: coffee and cannabis. It might seem unusual to bring them together into one business, but keep in mind they both share the distinction of being considered psychoactive drugs. Of course, only one of them can be purchased legally.
But in Canada, at least, that’s all about to change, with the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana on Canada Day 2018. For the Gertner family, the end of prohibition has been a long time coming, and the righting of a longtime wrong: Alan’s father Lorne was at one time the first and only legal medical marijuana grower in Canada.
As for Alan, the entrepreneurial gene runs in the family: his grandfather Sam immigrated to Canada from Poland and started the women’s apparel company Mister Leonard. After working at Google for over six years and living in the likes of Bangkok, Singapore and California, Alan not only developed a sophisticated palette and sense of style thanks to his travels, but also an itch to return home and forge a new path forward. A work trip to Ghana allowed him to exist in a world beyond his own and see the opportunities outside of his admittedly sweet Google job.
“We’re a small business, which is more work than I could have ever imagined,” the 33-year-old says, now three years into Tokyo Smoke. “It’s all-consuming in a way that I nd a day job isn’t. When I was at Google, I’d dream about doing other things. Now all I have is nightmares about this thing. I consider that an improvement.”
At its core, Tokyo Smoke is an online store specializing in clothing, coffee and coffee accessories, but also smoking paraphernalia and medical marijuana. Tokyo Smoke’s expanding empire also consists of three third-wave coffee shops in Gertner’s native Toronto, with locations across Canada and Seattle set to open their doors in the near future.
“Living in all these fast-paced, thoughtful, amazing places in Asia and America over the years, the one thing that stitched all of them together was coffee,” Gertner observes. “It fuels New York and San Francisco.”
If Tokyo Smoke can attract avid coffee drinkers with quality beans and exclusive membership perks, as well as perhaps help start the conversation about normalizing the use of cannabis with legalization on the way, all the better, Gertner says.
“One of the most exciting things about coffee to us is to take something that’s so ingrained and normal in society and put it next to something like cannabis, that we know people consume but is perceived as being less normal.”
As marijuana legalization becomes a reality, so too will people discover that the image of the smoker as a stoner stereotype isn’t actually the case. Gertner says nearly a quarter of Canadians already smoke marijuana either regularly or semi-regularly — comparable to the number of Canadians who drink wine — which means people from all walks of life will be consumers once it becomes legal. A 2016 Deloitte report suggests legal weed could be a $22 billion industry, which is nothing to scoff at.
Tokyo Smoke hopes to ll a growing need for those who want their smoking experience to be a little more refined, whether that means having stylish, scent-free cases, crystal gemstone pipes or high-tech vaporizers.
“If that many Canadians are consuming cannabis, then there should be many brands and businesses offering different experiences,” Gertner says. “We wanted to recognize that there are Canadian cannabis consumers who would appreciate the design-driven elements of our business and the environment we’re trying to build.”
As a startup in a relatively untapped market, Tokyo Smoke has had the opportunity to experiment with unique product ideas. Gertner compares the potential future of the marijuana business to the developments made in coffee over the last three decades.
“It hasn’t been that long that everyone drinks coffee all the time,” he says. “The changes that have happened in coffee are incredible. Everyone went from drinking Folgers coffee and diner coffee to a world with boutique coffee shops, lattes and all types of drinks. Drinks are now being individually tailored to people’s preferences, and a new story is being told with every new coffee experience too.”
In the not-too distant future, Canadians who wish to partake will be able to opt-in to the cannabis experience they want, whether that means something simple and Tim Hortons-like, or something higher quality.
There’s really no template for doing this, and that’s what Gertner says makes Canada great.
“I think our willingness to be innovative is something to be proud of. We’re taking a risk as a country being one of the first at something. I’m proud of us as Canadians for doing that,” he says.
Gertner says that his father’s efforts to legalize have been comparable to “pushing a boulder up- hill for 20 years,” but with the finish line in sight, he believes Canada is showing a certain maturity and leadership with how the country has proceeded with this sensitive transition. Once it hap-pens, though, the sky’s the limit.
“Canada is an incredible place, but we don’t necessarily lead the world in a lot of things. We truly have the opportunity now to lead the world in an industry. That’s unbelievable. And not only an industry, but a social movement. It’s transformative. We can help people. We’ll be the rst developed G20 country to legalize cannabis. I’m proud to be Canadian and I hope we have the opportunity to change the world,” says Gertner.
For more on Alan and Tokyo Smoke, visit tokyosmoke.com.