SOUTH LOOP — The family behind one of the city’s first Black-owned cannabis dispensaries has taken their talentes further south.
The Grasshopper Club opened their second location Thursday at 58 E. Roosevelt Road, next door to Trader Joe’s. The dispensary took over a former Subway sandwich shop.
Matthew Brewer, brother Chuck Brewer and their mother Dianne Brewer are behind the dispensary, which has a flagship store in Logan Square, 2551 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Ald. Lamont Robinson (4th), a former schoolmate of Matthew Brewer, joined the grand opening to welcome the family-run business to the neighborhood.
Despite having already broken into the predominately white cannabis industry, Matthew Brewer said it was challenging to make the South Loop dispensary a reality.
Neighbors weren’t keen on a dispensary opening in the area, citing safety and traffic concerns. Some attended a public meeting convened by Robinson’s predecessor, Sophia King, last fall, balking at the Harvard University alum’s plan and circulating a petition demanding city officials stop the Grasshopper Club from moving into the empty South Loop storefront.
With time and compromise, Matthew Brewer was able to persuade the naysayers into giving him a chance, and some even apologized for giving him a hard time, he said.
Grasshopper Club hosted a soft opening last week during Lollapalooza, which gave the new business a bump in customers. But it was many of those initially skeptical neighbors who came by to offer their support and congratulations.
“We’ve been in business now [in Logan Square] for six months, so we have a sense of what works and what doesn’t,” Matthew Brewer said.
“We’ve engaged with numerous organizations, buildings, officials to get through this process, and then we put together a dream team of staff who are from the community, who are experts at service, experts at the plant. I think it’s going to be really special for the neighborhood. There aren’t many neighborhoods left in the city that don’t have a dispensary. South Loop is such a remarkable neighborhood, and the fact that we can be the first in that neighborhood, I think it’s going to be game changing.”
It took the family $650,000 and 18 months to repurpose the restaurant.
The store’s look is nearly identical to the Logan Square flagship store, just with a smaller footprint, Brewer said. Art from South Side native and artist Nikko Washington greets visitors as they walk in.
Also, similar to the Logan Square location, every employee is a retail and/or hospitality veteran, with a few possessing cannabis industry experience as well, co-owner Chuck Brewer said.
That means creating jobs and economic opportunities for folks who were shut out of the industry due to incarceration or discrimination, Chuck Brewer said.
“This is a spot where, six months ago, some of these managers came in as entry-level bud tenders, so six months later to get a significant boost in salary and change your life is a pretty decent,” Chuck Brewer said.
Seeing the industry go from the black market to the mainstream has been fascinating to watch, he added.
“Once upon a time, I used to stand on blocks and just look over my shoulder looking for the police, they come, you got to run toss the work, all that. But to be able to do this legally is great. There’s a culture that existed before legalization, and we represent that,” Chuck Brewer said.
The law Gov. JB Pritzker signed to legalize weed in 2019 came with broad promises of making it easier for Black and Brown people, whose communities have been disproportionately targeted in drug criminalization, to get a piece of the lucrative industry.
Retail weed sales in Illinois this year surpassed $924 million as of July, according to state figures.
Instead, the rollout for state licenses has been riddled with hurdles, including regulatory red tape and litigation. Still now, the industry remains almost entirely white.
The Brewers have not been spared those difficulties despite adding a second dispensary to their name, they said.
“I think it’s the hardest thing that any of us have ever done,” Matthew Brewer said. “Part of it is just the intricacy of cannabis operations in general, and especially in a highly-regulated state like Illinois. It’s not a criticism, really. I think it’s a better business environment because of the regulations. But, getting [dispensaries] up and running is harder because of them. So, the level of complexity on the real estate side, security side, operation side, the product side, the people side of things…there’s a million ways for things to go wrong at every turn.”
The family does have expansion plans but are keeping them close to the chest for now, Chuck Brewer said.
“It’s not a cheap process. We got a lot smarter the second time around from the first time around, so that helped a lot,” Matt Brewer said.
The Grasshopper Club is open 10a.m.-9p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays; and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays.
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