Interview With Heather Anello – Founder & Owner of Canna Corner

Heather Anello at Canna Corner - Becket

SO, LET’S START WITH THE BASICS. WHEN WAS CANNA CORNER FOUNDED AND LAUNCHED, BY WHOM, ETC.?

So I got this idea when they legalized marijuana in 2016, being already an entrepreneur of the restaurant industry and the liquor industry. There’s a parity, they’re very similar. So against the neighborhood’s better judgment and people telling me I was crazy and needed millions and millions of dollars to launch this, I put the application in in 2016 and was able to receive a provisional license by 2020.

 

YOU MENTIONED BEFORE THE INTERVIEW THAT THERE’S AN INTERESTING ORIGIN STORY. IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT THAT?

It certainly wasn’t easy. Getting through the application process without a professional with experience was extremely challenging at times. Being a new industry, there weren’t a lot of people in Massachusetts who had any experience with the legal cannabis industry at all. Whether it was an attorney or it was a bookkeeper or an accountant, I wouldn’t say “negativity” but [there was] a lot of pushback on the process and who knows who to ask to get to the right answer. I didn’t like the Mass CIP portal they used for the process. I thought it was very lengthy and was very confusing and there was a lack of description when it came to a positive impact plan. And by the time we provided all our diversity plans and positive impact plans and our operating procedures, the law was slightly changing. So, that really created a back and forth between the Cannabis Control Commission and Spencer House, saying, “We would like you to eliminate these words or add these words.” And they were very helpful in that aspect. I feel as if the Commission as a whole was really trying their best in a new industry to unravel what will look like a mess coming from an applicant.

 

So that was maybe twelve exchanges between myself and them using the assistance of my attorney who I adore but also was never… had no experience and hadn’t even read the regulations yet so I really had to do the job of an attorney and a bookkeeper and do the research in order to get through each phase of the license process. And there’s five phases to the license process. It starts out as Complete Application, which means that the CCC received your application. And then there is Under Review, then you get your Provisional License, then you get your Final License and then you get your Commencement License. And each one of these transactions requires a back and forth of paperwork, correct wording, standard operating procedures,. You have to follow and implement your diversity plans. So if you’ve never been in that field before and you have no idea what these things are, the portal made it very difficult to know exactly what they were looking for there. But we got through it and once you get through it the first time, the licensure process got much easier from there on out because I was familiar with the dialogue going back and forth. 

 

AND WHAT IS SPENCER HOUSE?

The Spencer House LLC is a license holding company. And what we do is we acquire the licensure and then we develop and operate them. 

 

Heather Anello of Canna Corner at homeIS THERE ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND BEFORE 2016?

No, just kind of a small-town entrepreneur. I’ve been a caterer for 23 years in Berkshire County and just retired from that three years ago. And I’ve owned a restaurant for the entire 23 years now here at the Route 8 Pub and I’ve had this since 2011. I think the key to how I got where I am right now is being flexible and adaptable. Because, you go into this industry or the restaurant industry or the liquor industry with this big plan of what you’re going to carry and what meals you’re going to serve and how much you’re going to charge but really, at the end of the day, it’s the consumer who dictates where my company is going. And if you’re smart about it and you’re not holding onto some idea of what your restaurant or your dispensary is going to look like, you can really thrive by taking the consumer’s needs and wants into consideration and adapting. Because, you know, a lot of restaurants and liquor stores and probably eventually dispensaries will fail because they’re not accommodating the consumer, they’re accommodating their perception of what the consumer wants. So that’s been a challenge throughout the years. 

 

And I grew up right here in Berkshire County on the higher end of poor but certainly not even middle class. We really didn’t have a penny to our names when we were kids, and with both parents working two jobs [we had] very little supervision. We kind of had to fend for ourselves. Right out of the gate, we had to be creative and adaptable and work together with a family of five, an integrated family with divorce and remarriage. I kind of just took those same principles there and applied them to my business, because, again, you have big aspirations of something working out great and then, if you give up, it usually has a negative outcome. But if you stick it out and your ability to adapt is still there, then you can continue to move forward. And that to me is what success is, is moving forward. And it’s sustainability, that’s a huge one. We grew up in such a shaky environment. We really didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. Most of the time, in a startup business, you don’t really know where your next direction is going to come from and you have to be adaptable and find new ways to be creative with your consumer. And I think we are a really good example of that.

 

When we opened this dispensary and the idea started coming together, I reached out to a very small network of friends and family, starting out with my stepmother, actually. [She] had given me a loan and she didn’t want the money back. So I said, “Why don’t you make an investment in the company?” And I started getting the idea that I was going to need a lot more financial help than I was prepared to give up.  My whole entire life savings went into this dispensary, and it certainly worked out, but it was a very scary time. It was. Six years without a paycheck. Nothing. I mean, I was scraping by with twenty dollars at a time. And that certainly shook my faith in what I was doing, and the criticism that came from friends, family, consumers, outside of that, with “You’re crazy. Don’t put your whole entire savings in jeopardy. You’re never going to make it through the license process. You can’t have a liquor store right next to a dispensary.” I was told everything. And as I did my research, I just went based on fact. And that ended up being quite an achievement at this point. 

 

SO, YOU TOUCHED ON THIS, BUT HOW HAS THE BECKET COMMUNITY’S RECEPTION BEEN TO THE DISPENSARY, AND HAS THAT CHANGED?

The community welcomed me. We had a few naysayers, but they did naysay in private. They took me aside and were concerned about heroin needles and loiterers and traffic. One person even said I didn’t move to Becket to have a drug dealer live around the corner. And, being a member of this community for 42 years and participating in everything, I would say that my original reaction was that my feelings were hurt. That people didn’t trust me and they didn’t trust the industry or know enough about the industry. To make those comments was very very farfetched for me. But I grinned and I bore it. And other than those few naysayers that pulled me aside in private, thank God, everybody was very supportive. And the town hall, going through the special permit process, they were extraordinarily excited to have the opportunity to make the tax income and to do it with someone who’s already been operating a business in this town for 20 years, who has never had a mark on her record with her liquor store or her restaurant, just complete and safe consuming of not only alcohol but food and all of the other things that we do here at the Route 8 Pub, live entertainment…

 

They seemed really really supportive and, again, I had to, I don’t want to say “hold their hand” but they had never given a special permit for marijuana. They didn’t know the lead times for the communication between them and the CCC. And oftentimes the biggest concern was why is it taking so long and wondering if I’m stalling or if they should give out another permit, or what to do. And I just kept reassuring them that the process is not up to me, that when I deliver the information to the CCC and they send it back to me it could be up to a month each time. So, the process, again, it took four solid years. And they never lost faith and I don’t think that they ever wavered. It was pretty smooth going. 

The Canna Corner crew

HOW HAS CANNA CORNER CHANGED AND GROWN SINCE 2016.

Well, we’re happy to say we have our first dispensary open and live, and it’s been open for a year and a half now. The industry has changed quite a bit since the first time that we actually made a sale or transaction. It’s mellowed a lot with the rules and regulations and how the process goes for hiring folks and how long it takes to get them their background check. Things have really speeded along. It used to be quite a long and delayed process. But now they have a rhythm and things seem to be going a lot smoother.

 

FUTURE PROSPECTS?

Yes, we have our second dispensary coming live in early 2023 in the town of North Adams, at the North Adams American Legion. We’ve partnered up with them in order to provide them with more stability, as the Legions are somewhat of a dying breed, around here in the Berkshires at least anyway, even in Massachusetts as a whole. Without having any kind of a base around here, they’re struggling to keep their head above water. And so we got that idea… I was the caterer for the Dalton Legion for seven years. Became very friendly with a lot of Legion members, part of the Legion riders, we just approached them and said, “What would it take for you to lease your banquet hall to us?” And, what we’re going to do in North Adams is we’re going to split the banquet hall into two,. It’s currently under contract but we have not started renovations just yet as they’re waiting for their banquet bookings to die down in January 1 of 2023. So the front part of the banquet hall is going to be a medium-size dispensary to accommodate the city of North Adams, and the back half is going to be renovated into a consumption lounge. And the name of that will be Forks and Friends. And the name of the dispensary will be Canna Corner North Adams.

 

PERSONALLY, I THINK THAT’S GREAT. CONSUMPTION SPACES ARE SOMETHING I’M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT.

Yes, it’s a really exciting time in Massachusetts, and Canna Corner aspires to be the first consumption lounge this side of the Mississippi. I think there’s only consumption lounges in California and Nevada right now. The other thing that’s in process is we are completely demolished at our 3,000 square-foot Emery Mill in Chester for cultivation and manufacturing. So that was a big feat, that was a big challenge, that was the biggest challenge that we had, especially with the application process. There’s a big difference between that application and the one for retail. So that was… I learned so much this year I thought my head was going to explode. I’ve learned all about cultivation, commercial development, HVAC systems, fertigation systems, drainage, and that was really fun and exciting and I definitely embraced that experience and have a lot of positive feedback about it. And we had the best team through Mark Cooperstein, M12, Urban Grow and Joe Bellargeron to help us design a state-of-the-art, Tier 1 facility right in Chester. And my gut instinct on that was right and my investors are very happy, because I wanted to go with a small cultivation. I thought the overhead… the same as I did with my dispensary is let’s start small and then grow so we can get a real grip on what we’re doing.

 

And now in the cultivation sector of this industry, they’re saying that the larger cultivations are failing, and they can’t move product. But the smaller boutique style… you know, it’s a lot like craft beer. People want to see different products coming in. You always have the people who always want Kush, and they want a specific kind, like Grape Diamonds. But most of the time, if you have something very similar, they’re willing to try it. And then, it’s a limited-time offer, so they can say, “Yeah, I got that one hybrid that one time and it’s not even available anymore. You remember that?” And they talk about it. So, people who are really into the industry like to circle around the higher THC, indicas and sativas and I think that comes out of the smaller cultivations.

 

THAT’S GREAT. SO, SOON WE’LL BE SEEING CANNA CORNER PRODUCTS ON THE MENU?

Correct. You’ll be seeing what we call Grow Chester. So, you’ll be seeing Grow Chester products in our dispensaries and probably a few in other dispensaries as well but as a Tier 1 they’ll probably be very hard to get unless you come to Canna Corner.

 

Follow Canna Corner on Instagram @canna.corner.becket & Facebook @cannacorner

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