This story was updated from the original to remove an incorrect reference to a burb co-owner.
Less than a week after Port Coquitlam committee gave a green light to rezoning applications for four pot shops, one of them, Burb, launched a luxury apparel line at its flagship storefront on the corner of Mary Hill Bypass and Broadway Street.
In time for 4/20 celebrations, the Burb outlet saw a steady influx of customers who were treated to mocktails, a DJ and a handful of Instagram influencers.
Inside, the sepia-themed, bohemian vibe felt more like a trendy café than a retail outlet. Customers were first greeted by racks of t-shirts and $220 cross-body bags, adding an extravagant touch to what co-owner and CEO John Kaye describes as the new “canni-carry” culture.
Once passed the apparel side of the store, the racks of clothing give way to glass-topped cases displaying pipes in the shape of hermit crabs and flying saucers, handmade ceramic bongs from California, and cedar, wizard-sized pipes from New York City.
Scores of ‘Budtenders’ mingled through the crowd, manning the “front line of cannabis service.”
“First and foremost, we want to build a brand based on B.C. bud lifestyle,” Kaye told The Tri-City News. “We’re trying to sell cannabis culture — a culture shop bringing the industry to another level.”
Kaye, a Terry Fox graduate, spent two and a half years working as an investment banker for a merger and acquisitions firm in Vancouver.
“I learned a lot about finance and acquisition,” he said. “But we’ve always been smoking weed.”
Two years ago, Kaye moved into the cannabis business when he started Northern Vine Labs, a federally accredited testing lab for controlled substances. After selling the eight-scientist operation to Emerald Health Therapeutics, Kaye linked up with Riverside secondary graduate Steve Dowsley.
As soon-to-be licenced retailers, Burb is looking to replace the unreliable grey market with clean cannabis, free of pesticides, heavy metals and mould.
The company has already garnered $3 million in investment from major players like Grant Froese, the former CEO of Loblaws who now leads Harvest One Cannabis, and Chuck Rifici, known as the “Godfather of Canadian weed,” who contributed $750,000 to their venture, said Kaye.
On the consumer side, Kaye says launching storefronts in Port Coquitlam was about more than coming back to the owners’ roots.
“Port Coquitlam is the last municipality where you don’t have to cross a tunnel or bridge,” he said. “There’s a flight to the burbs — there’s an opportunity.”
Kaye links Burb’s rise to that of the micro-brewing culture exploding across the Tri-Cities. Where a lot of municipalities have slowed or blocked pot shops, Port Coquitlam council wants to lead the way, said Kaye.
And as more people “come out of the closet with their consumption,” Burb is looking to establish itself as a boutique institution that will put Port Coquitlam on the map.
“We have a long-term outlook,” said Kaye. “We’re creating a heartbeat to the city, creating a scene.”
Before that can happen, the budding entrepreneurs still have some regulatory hoops to jump through. But once government approval has gone through, Burb’s owners say they will be ready to transition from apparel to cannabis.
To that end, Burb’s flagship Broadway store is outfitted with a large warehouse in the back to store cannabis strains, which will sell at $9 to $16 a gram. And its smaller outlet at PoCo Place is set to open in the summer as an “express store.”
Burb has a 65-page master plan for security, said co-owner Dowsley. “We will have all the infrastructure and staff in place long before we get our approvals,” he told The Tri-City News. “We will be ready.”
In the meantime, the dozens of custom-made sampling containers — shaped to smell but not touch — sit empty, labels such as ‘Elation,’ ‘Shishkaberry,’ and ‘Time Warp A3’ offering a glimpse of what’s ahead.
— With files from Janis Cleugh