A Little Dab Will Do You
If you’re wondering about that headline reference, you’re too young to remember a TV jingle for a men’s hair styling product “Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya.” But there’s a lot to be said for the contemporary meaning of “dab,” as the brand-new Venice/Marina border-based retail store, Highway Cannabis Company opened its doors on January 28th featuring a hospitality-focused retail experience and dedicated Dab Bar!
This is DEFINITELY not your father’s weed dispensary (sorry, another old TV ad reference). Rather than a sterile setting with products in vitrines and gallon jars, or tiny neon-lit spaces with nose-ringed, tattooed stoners behind the counter and raucous music blaring, imagine the ambiance of a Restoration Hardware or Williams-Sonoma store.
This is, in a word, an elevated cannabis experience (yes, the pun is intentional).
The first thing you’ll notice entering Highway Cannabis Company is a warm, inviting and beautifully-designed open space that flows organically from one section to the next. Set back from busy Washington Boulevard with its own parking lot, you’ll find light wood, a muted color scheme, open shelving, an attractive floor plan with separate areas featuring different categories of products: edibles, drinkables, pre-rolls, flower, vape, and that unique Dab Bar.
CEO and founder Chris Colón wants you to feel comfortable. “A lot of dispensaries feel stuffy and weird. What we try to do is normalize the customer’s experience with this open shop concept. There’s different types of cannabis shoppers, experienced shoppers who know exactly what they want, come in, grab something and leave. Then there are those who want to be educated, who don’t have vast cannabis experience, who can sit down at the Blossom Bar, educate themselves, inquire about the product, and stay there for an hour to ask a lot of questions and receive expert advice.”
The backdoor entrance on Beach Ave. welcomes you into a calm sitting area with soft lighting, beige leather couches, and mellow wall art. Coming through the front door from Washington Blvd., you can’t miss the Blossom Bar, with its elegant wall display and sitting bar/counter, where well-trained budtenders invite you to sniff safely from patent-pending atomizers.
Retail is a competitive space, says Matt Fosburg, Vice President of Retail at Highway. “People are always seeking out ways to differentiate themselves. I come from a retail background where we try to weave hospitality into the experience. That’s what we’re trying to do here, create a place where the customer can be educated, get a greater sensory experience, see a broader display, and even be offered a glass of water to drink.”
These days, it’s not really possible to safely smell the flower, Fosburg says. “we wondered how can people not just see but smell the bud. Because typically what you have in dispensaries is a plastic puck with a few holes in it, stuck in the top of a jar, and you have to put your nose against it. By the end of the day, you have no idea how many people’s noses have been there, or when it was cleaned last.
“We looked to the perfume world for inspiration to create something that’s unique for cannabis. What we saw were atomizers, which we adapted for cannabis, with a rubber bulb mechanism that pushes air and scent out to you.” There’s even an atomizer with some coffee beans in it to “clear the palate” between sniffings.
The atomizers resemble little baby bongs, with a round belly and long neck. Fosburg continues, “You can keep them at a distance and test the differences in the scent—this one’s skunky, this is more citrusy—that expresses the terpene profile, which is what gives cannabis its unique aroma.”
A factor that makes Highway Cannabis Co. unique is the company’s intention to help pave a path for employees who want to make a career in cannabis. Fosburg says, “Our goal here is to elevate that employee; for example, if someone works at an Apple store after they leave everyone wants to hire them. We wanted to create a spot where if people move on from Highway, they’re recognized as among the most educated employees in the cannabis space.”
And about the Dab Bar, Fosburg likens the glass-enclosed space with its mellow lighting, tucked away in its own little corner, to a Speakeasy. The product itself requires specially controlled humidity and temperatures, which keeps the room as pleasantly cool as the lighting keeps it calm. But why a Dab Bar?
Fosburg explains: “Concentrates are the highest THC potency product in the cannabis world, and dabs attracts a very specific user because of the potency. The dabber is a unique customer. Looking at the overall landscape, we thought they were underserved within the cannabis community.
“As part of the revenue mix, concentrates is very small. But in building Highway from scratch, we thought about dab consumers being among the biggest advocates for cannabis, and we want them under our umbrella, not just so they can tout Highway, but so they have a destination to go to. We definitely wanted that speakeasy feel.”
With CEO Chris Colón’s experience, it’s no surprise that he wanted to create an in-house brand for Highway. “One of the things I want to do is provide the best quality products, for the lowest price for our guests,” he told me.
“We’ve developed 96 of our own SKUs for Highway branded flower, vapes, concentrates, and pre-rolls. What I’m most excited about is our edibles line. We’ve been developing these over the past 24 months, and since we own the supply chain on the manufacturing side, we pass savings on to the customer. Our prices are typically lower by $10-15 depending on the SKU category.”
And what else? A standard eighth of an ounce of flower is 3.5 grams. At Highway, brand-name products feature a 4-gram eighth — the world’s largest eighth, and value for your dollar.
No, you can’t consume on-site at Highway; so far in SoCal that privilege only exists in a small number of licensed consumption lounges. But Highway will soon be launching The Open where indulging will be allowed for private events. Highway plans to transform the adjacent storefront into a community center for local artist exhibitions, and as a space for use by non-profits and other gatherings.
“We see this venue as a match made in heaven with the surrounding creative community,” says Colon. “And we really look forward to creating music, art and other activations within this space as a way of giving back.”
Highway Cannabis Company is located at 13452 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292. Find them online at https://highwaycannabis.com/about/
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.
By Sarah A. Spitz