Root'd In The 510 - A discussion about Oakland’s first canna-dispensary entertainment lounge
We were thrilled to get a chance to chat with Rickey McCullough and
Daniel Chung, the co-founders of Root’d In the 510 about what their experiences have been creating Oakland’s first cannabis dispensary featuring an on-site consumption lounge. The brand’s purpose is right in the name, they want to provide roots and pathways to help change perspectives, minds, relationships, communities, states…one connection at a time. Root’d exists to provide safe access to and easy consumption of high-quality cannabis.
Part of what we love so much about this brand is the fact that it was rooted in friendship and tenaciousness. Rickey and Daniel met at their former employer Harborside Health Center when they were both starting as sales associates. They started growing and learning together, and after the first couple of years were promoted into different departments and paths. Both continued their careers in cannabis working in a variety of positions and sectors. Their hard work and drive to continue elevating and expanding their career in the space led to new opportunities. When Rickey left in 2016 there were talks of equity programs in Oakland, and in 2016/2017 he started founding and creating his LLC and starting to work on launching his first company in 2018 rooted in delivery distribution and manufacturing. It was at this point that he found out about an equity lottery process where you can win funding for your dispensary license. Rickey applied to the three-phase process in 2018 where he was in the running with over 600 other applicants. 60 of the 600 were selected to go to City Hall. Rickey was selected as one of the final 4 selected to open their own dispensary.
One of the first people to get the good news was Daniel who was the head purchaser and buyer for Blüm at the time. “I told him I won the license, and at that time I remember going into his office at Blüm and he was like ‘What!’ He was pretty surprised and shocked.” Without really having to talk they knew because of their instant connection, trust, and history that they were going to partner in this joint venture.
2019 was all about finding capital and funding for the project. Rickey and Daniel traveled across the country looking for the ideal partners. “We wanted the right capital partners that would understand the importance of the equity program, and allow us to be able to run operations without too many challenges.” They ended up finding really great people in San Diego who provided the resources needed to get the property on telegraph in 2019. From there design was started, collaborations with a range of contractors, and everything building up towards getting permits in 2020.
What stood out to Rickey in the process of finding capital partners was really the value of the space. “Since we had this license that was valuable, and it was the first time that Oakland released another set of licenses in the recreational market, there were a lot of people interested in getting into the Oakland market. There was a lot of curiosity and demand.” This made it easier to get seats in the room to find funding. The challenge was finding partners who were willing to give Rickey and Daniel the autonomy and freedom to create the business based on their own expertise and vision. “The challenging part was finding the right people that understood the equity program, and really wanted to let an equity partner like myself and DC who have been in this space for over 10 years, a decade of experience, come in and run and operate the store. That wasn’t the case, most of the capital partners who had the money they wanted to run the show. Even though they may not have had experience in operating a dispensary, they wanted to control everything. That was one of the things that myself and Daniel wanted to control because that is our pedigree, that is what we know well is the culture of the cannabis community and dispensary retail specifically. We wanted to run our show the way we wanted to run our show.” This led to the two interviewing at least 10 potential candidates where only 1 was a fit. “It was really challenging, but it was fun. Me and Daniel are the type of people even though we knew the interview probably wasn’t going to work out, we would take that interview anyway because it was a prospect of us learning something.
“You never know what comes out of these meetings, but at the end of the day what comes out of every meeting is a learning experience, and that is what me and Daniel are always out for is a chance to learn and grow from each experience.”
Daniel attributes a lot of the success to their past experiences at Harborside Health Center.
“Harborside was a really medical-focused business, we got a lot of cancer patients and soldiers with PTSD and missing limbs, and people under chemo. So that kind of background for us was important. We were looking for people who shared that and didn’t treat people like cows to the slaughterhouse. You know how they just want to mark people up 4x the price range and it is not very cool like that anymore now that all the corporations are involved. We kept it real, we kept it Oakland 100% all the way and people really seem to appreciate that. We are a small family business so when people come in (they see that), even our managers, we all worked with each other at harborside for 10+ years. We all worked as budtenders and receptionists and learned from the ground up. Fast forward 15 years later, we are all grown-ups now and we have an opportunity to do it the way we wanted to. Long story short: lot’s of sharks tried to take advantage or were very dismissive of our experience and who we are. Also, because Rick is Black and I am Asian, you don’t really see black and Asian Owners in this industry. It is all middle-aged white dudes or a bunch of Chads or whatever, so it’s different for us. Even to this day, people come and they will be like you guys are the owners? Kind of questioning it like, where is the rich white dude behind all this and we are like nah dude check it out this is us!”
Being an equity cannabis retail business has been a positive experience for the two but they say that for equity manufacturers the sector can be one with many additional hurdles. Daniel stated that from his experiences people like them more because they are equity and not a huge corporation. “I think Oakland in particular supports this kind of movement. They really support grassroots movements, woman owned, minority owned, LGBT owned, so the community totally vibes with it.” For manufacturers, it is harder when they are competing against mega-companies who have huge budgets for marketing and can price lower than smaller businesses competing in the space. “As an equity retailer if anything it is nicer for us. It shows that we are authentic.”
Rickey has experienced similar positive reactions when dealing with patients visiting the store, “When they look at the build-out they are like this is so beautiful, this is incredible, this is the most beautiful store I have been into. The first thing they think is oh this must be corporate right? They cannot believe that we are the ones behind this right.” When customers learn about the team and the fact that Root’d is an equity-owned business, they get even more excited. “They get so much more excited, they are already excited about how beautiful it is. They are even more enthused and can’t even hold themselves that we are the owners. It just really really brings joy to their hearts. You can see it, it is a genuine thing. They are so happy for us, they are so excited, and that's one of the things. They are like OMG this is 100% my new dispensary I am going to.”
When it comes to equity brands, Root’d in the 510 is all about showcasing diverse brands that you can purchase with a purpose. “We have a beautiful atrium inside of our retail store. One of the things we do, it has about 8 pedestals where you can display products. One of the things we do to highlight a lot of the local equity brands because they don’t get some of the publicity and awareness they need, we decided to put them inside of our atrium. The atrium is where we feature a lot of our deals and a lot of the new products we carry, and also we feature the equity brands. We want people to realize that equity is more than just your charity brand and you’re giving back. You’re actually purchasing with a purpose here to help everyone in this community who has been disenfranchised and marginalized by the war on drugs. We want people to know some of these brands are really good.”
Once the lounge is launched the brand is working toward finding new ways to support and showcase the equity community. “ We will be able to have equity take over days, where we have equity brands basically doing vendor day and allowing people to have food and music back there. The great thing about the lounge is you can do a tasting as well, people can go back there and do actual tasting and sampling of products and people can purchase directly from the retail store or lounge.” We are so happy to hear that there has been a positive supportive vibe and reception for Root’d, and that more people are starting to purchase with intent. In Rickey’s own words,
“More people are now purchasing with a purpose when it comes to their pocketbooks and their money. They want to make sure they are not supporting some big corporate brand that doesn’t care about the people, that doesn’t care about the community or the space. I think everybody now is more aware and wants to preserve the ethos of the cannabis community here in Oakland. We love it, we are in a great space and in a great community.”
About 25-30% of the Root’d in the 510’s menu is represented by equity brands, be it woman-owned, minority-owned, LGBTQ-owned, and beyond. Daniel noted how difficult it can be to find equity manufacturers producing their own products at times. “The thing is there are not too many different types of equity brands and products out there. Most equity brands don’t have the money to set up their own growth and their own labs and stuff, so they are white labeling - which means they are just buying stuff off of other people and putting it into their bags you know. So you really encounter a problem where a lot of the equity brands are just selling the same stuff. Then they don’t really move as much in volume so it gets old.” This can make things really tough for manufacturers in the equity space, which is one of the reasons why an equity retailer Root’d in the 510 takes it upon themselves to feature those brands. They opt to not carry some of the larger manufacturers and publicly traded companies.
“We would rather support a lot of equity companies like Ojo De La Sol, Kingston Royal, Cannaverse, SF Roots, the list of equity brands that I feel like deserve a spot is a lot smaller than there really are available. Most dispensaries because they are corporations they just care about margins, they don’t care about who’s making it or who grew it. They just care about the bottom line. That’s something for me and Rickey, we always ask people, ‘Where are you growing from?’ ‘Who are the farmers’? ‘ Is it sustainable?’ blah blah blah trying to weed out the bad guys.”
Within the next year Root’d in the 510 is focused on finding their flow and rhythm with the retail store. They will be rolling out their house brand in the next couple of months (which we can’t wait to learn more about) which will be important for giving the community a low-price house option. The next big thing is launching the lounge next year which will be huge for the brand and the community. The 7,000 sq ft vape and combustion area will not only be an amazing consumption and performance space but a place of education and community building.
“This is a community center if you think about it. It’s a place where you can consume, but it is also a place where you can get entertained and where people can come together from all walks of life and have a good time. That is what it is all about, bringing people together and letting people know who we are and all the cool things we can provide to the community. This space will also be utilized as an event space for private events, for brands inside and out of the community space. So you can imagine all of the exciting things to come.”
Once the lounge is launched Rickey and Daniel are looking towards expansion throughout CA, but ultimately nationally. We believe they will do just that based on what a power team they are. “As long as it is a natural harmonic flow to how we expand, we are all about it.” Slow, steady, and sustainable is the name of the game with growth for the duo, and we know they will be crushing that roadmap one task at a time.
Part of what has been so powerful about the Root’d dynamic is that Rickey and Daniel never got into this for money, which is truly beautiful, and the focus has been on supporting the community and the plant. Daniel mentioned “One thing that separates us from other clubs is we didn’t really come into this to make money. Even when we worked at Harborside they paid us like $9 an hour when we started, but we are stoners and we love smoking weed and we love cannabis, we love growing it, and stuff like that! If anything, that is a little different from other owners I know. They look at the reports, and the sales, and they look at the employees as a number and customers as a number. Shoot! Me and Rick, and we just love the plant and love cannabis, and we are just very blessed to be able to do what we do. I don’t even feel like I work half the time. I am sitting here doing what I’m doing hanging out with you guys, am I really working? Or am I just chilling, you know what I’m saying? I think about that sometimes”. We couldn’t agree more. These two were so inspiring, fun, and full of good vibes we could have hung out all day!
Rickey and Daniel both feel incredibly inspired by the growth of the Root’d 510 team. “They learn new stuff and you are just like damn that is cool to see them grow and develop. That has been the most fun for me because I remember being like that too. Before I started at Harborside I worked at a Wells Fargo and I was in banking and shit like that. I smoked weed but I didn’t really like, know everything, right? I just remember seeing myself progress and I am seeing the same thing in the kids now. It just takes me back to like 15 years ago you know what I’m saying. We feel like older brothers/father figures in some ways. It is just interesting”
Rickey echoed this in saying, “Just watching the growth of this project I think has been really inspiring as well. Watching from 2018 till now and everything that we were involved in to get to this point. It was a journey! Even getting the doors open now, I was telling DC (Daniel) damn we have only been open for 3 months! It feels like we have been open for 2 years, but you know we have been on this journey for over 3 years before the door was even open. So just to watch the growth of the project, of ourselves as well. There are a lot of things I see within ourselves, a lot of transformation for the good which has been fantastic.” Watching the employees transform from canna-cocoons to baked butterflies has been a beautiful part of the process for both co-founders. “It has been really awesome watching the growth of every aspect of this project and journey.”
For Root’d In the 510 things continue to improve and get better, from the employees, their engagement with the community, to their growth within the community. They plan to continue doing more events and attractions to involve and serve community members.
The two have not had a full moment to look back and reflect on all of the amazing work they have done and what a beautiful brand and movement they have put together. We know when they do get a chance to take a break and reflect they will be in awe of what they were able to create.
We were so motivated and inspired by not only the hard work and massive efforts put forth by these two to create such a beautiful communal space, and they aren’t even close to being done. It is so important that they held true to their beliefs and really put in the effort to make sure they had full ownership over their vision which has allowed them to create a stunning business rooted in equity, community, and humanity.