Destination Dispensary celebrates cannabis retail’s highest design concepts across North America. Each aesthetically elevated store featured has redefined and set a new standard for the cannabis shopping experience in the post-legalization era.
The mission at Burb — one of Canada’s earliest networks of licensed cannabis retail stores — has not wavered In the five years since I first discovered the dispensary chain that has evolved into an all-encompassing lifestyle brand.
Co-founder, creative director and CEO John Kaye shared with me in 2018: “We want to sell products we’re using ourselves and make high-quality apparel that speaks to a new cannabis culture — sans Rasta pot leaf and inspired by our own environment growing up and living in [Vancouver] B.C. Creating a culture one can associate with and [a] lifestyle one can be proud of is our main focus.”
The company has since grown to personify the modern cannabis cultural movement through its three storefronts, line of branded apparel and accessories, plus a podcast hosted by the venerable Paper magazine founder David Hershkovits.
Burb will mark 4/20 this year with two major milestones: the U.S. debut of the brand’s private label flower and a fourth dispensary location in British Columbia. Launching with two famed B.C. strains (Beaver Tail and Butter Tarts), Burb’s inaugural cannabis collection will be available at Cookies, High Times and Main Stage dispensaries in California (look for Burb in more than 100 more stores across the state by May).
The four-story compound — designed with Burb’s signature neutral color palette, raw materials and minimalist aesthetic — in East Vancouver will serve as the new company headquarters with a traditional dispensary footprint and additional dedicated retail and event space, which will also act as an incubator and gallery for local artists and creatives. In unison with its grand opening party, anchored by a group art show curated by local visual performance artist Ester Tothova, Burb will also take its 4/20 celebration international with special events in Las Vegas, Brooklyn and Toronto.
Ahead of festivities for the annual high holiday, I caught up with Kaye to go behind the design of the flagship location in the “burbs” of Vancouver, learn why the dispensary’s “burbtenders” are the key to retail success and how he’s honoring B.C.’s legacy cannabis culture.
Burb, 1502 Broadway St., Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, shopburb.com
“Raising money, opening new stores, bringing Kevin Liles into our family and signing deals to bring the brand to the U.S. have definitely been triumph moments. Building real relationships coast to coast across various industries and sub-sectors of culture is what drives me. I thrive on real human connection. My favorite thing is going to our stores and just being close to our people, inspiring each other and making a difference. It’s rewarding beyond any monetary win.”
“I see a shift from pure-play retail to fully branded ecosystems emerging. Also, the rise of non-cannabis ancillary products to tell a story and market to consumers has been interesting to witness. It’s the first inning still and the industry will evolve as more entrepreneurs come in with unique concepts that combine the plant with some aspect of lifestyle. That’s what this is all about, getting high and doing something!”
“Retail is incredibly challenging. Those that have truly prioritized their staff above and beyond anything else have come out on top. I always say the budtender (or ‘burbtender’ in our case) is the most important position in the company, and everyone should be working for them to make their lives enjoyable and rewarding. I think this is the biggest differentiator. If the company operates with this mindset, then you’ll get loyal people who engage more organically and authentically with customers, and overall, your business will be more successful. Besides that, we have a real love for the plant, and our network of growers in B.C. supplies some of the hottest genetics in Canada. We’re proud to be a dot connector. Community is the most powerful thing in our industry.”
“[Burb] is a portmanteau (a blended word) that we made up by combining the words ‘burn’ and ‘herb.’ We also started out in the suburbs of Vancouver so the meaning really hit home. We caught lightning in a bottle. I think the name is a big part of our success thus far.”
“We wanted the stores to be calming and comfortable with neutral tones and also street and youthful feeling, from the artwork and fixtures to the furniture. Our designer, Jennifer Dunn, took our mood board and created a masterpiece. The highlight of any Burb store is our bud-bar. We have the largest flower selection on display from any retailer [in Canada] I’m aware of. We’re very much a flower-first company: high quality cannabis is always the starting point.”
“Culture is everything to us. We believe that getting high enhances life and we’ve aligned with like-minded people, whether in music, art, fashion, skate or elsewhere, who share that same belief. Having said that, it has to be real and genuine to come across. We’re not trying to grow and expand for the sake of it — it has to really make sense because the brand is always at stake. Every detail matters. I believe that when there’s shared values and common interests, you can create amazing products and experiences. Great partnerships are the highest form of business excellence and the epicenter of cultural moments for brands. At Burb, we’re dedicated to honoring the legacy and designing the future of cannabis.”
“We wanted to build a brand steeped in music, fashion and art — all the things that we are personally passionate about. We felt like there was [a need for] something refined, but still street and real. For us, it all starts with an incredible product and unique genetics, which we view as the price of admission in a sense. What you do after you get high is what interests us the most. We’ve been fortunate to work alongside and support many brilliant creatives and some of the world’s biggest artists and producers. Supporting the arts through the weed business was always the goal.”