As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Bend has a surplus of dispensaries. When marijuana became legal in Oregon, the novelty of just being able to walk into a store and come out with cannabis was cool enough to keep many dispensaries going—even the hollow Tin Man ones, basically empty on the inside with crappy customer service and a poor selection base.
But now after a few years, the cream has had a chance to rise and Tokyo Starfish continues to prove why it’s consistently one of the most popular dispensaries in Bend. Even as tastes change and customers keep searching for whatever is the new-new, Tokyo realizes the delicate balance it needs to tread to keep people coming back.
When looking at what’s important for a dispensary to offer in 2020, Director of Marketing Jason Shurtz explains the Tokyo philosophy. “Providing consistent, friendly and welcoming customer service,” says Shurtz. “Also providing a product selection that isn’t directly catered to people with a lot of previous cannabis experience. Make things easy and comfortable for customers; coming into a dispensary for your first time can be a daunting experience for some and you don’t want anyone to have a bad experience for their first time.”
Thanks for being gentle with us, Tokyo. It’s always nice for pot shopping to feel fun instead of like a chore, and the Starfish always keeps it light and green.
Tokyo Starfish’s brand story began almost twenty years ago. During a snowboarding event in Japan, Jason McAlister, Kale Gray, Keith Legum, and Gary Bracelin bonded while exploring the kaleidoscopic city of Tokyo. They were especially captivated by the view from their hotel, which looked out on a cross-section of five roads crawling with cars and neon lights. If they squinted, the vista looked like a gargantuan, psychedelic starfish.
After the trip, the four remained good friends. And they never forgot that view. Fast forward to 2013: Legum and Bracelin were attending a school fundraiser when Bracelin suggested they start a retail cannabis business. Legum proposed they recruit McAlister and Gray. Then, as if sent by the cannabis and snowboarding gods, a location presented itself. “It was a turn-of-the-century cottage that had become a dog grooming place and antique shop,” said Gray. “We completely opened up the space and remodeled from the ground up.”
The Bend, Oregon shop became a strange and alluring phenomenon, like the city in which the group met. Both locals and tourists took notice of the new retail establishment with its bizarre name and echinoderm logo.
Roles to play
Each of the four founders plays a specific role: Legum, who always has been fascinated by architecture and design, was charged with building out the space. Gray handles marketing and branding. McCalister, in charge of operations, is the details dude, while Bracelin oversees buying and distribution.
DID YOU KNOW… ABOVE TOKYO STARFISH IS A TWO-BEDROOM, ONE-BATH, CANNABIS-FRIENDLY BUD ’N’ BREAKFAST APARTMENT[THE ONLY ONE IN CENTRAL OREGON] THAT CAN BE RENTED.
During construction, Legum’s driving concepts were “homey,” “friendly,” and “bucolic.” Those three words still define the experience. “From the second a customer walks in the door until they leave, customer service and the shopping experience are number one,” said Gray. In addition, he noted, the owners insist the shop reflect their love for the outdoors, action sports, and hanging out together. The quaint, snow-cabin-esque aesthetic Legum created exudes coziness and warmth. Flourishes like extracts displayed on skateboards, neatly folded apparel and coffee table books stacked in custom-made wood racks, vintage SnoPlanks snowboards here and there, and a mountain bike station on the porch gave Tokyo Starfish a singular vibe.
“He [Legum] did a great job of taking all of our insane ideas and spitting them out into one cohesive-looking place,” Gray said with a chuckle.
The dispensary’s signature attributes aren’t confined to the first floor. Located above the shop is a two-bedroom apartment the partners had intended to turn into an office. Instead, at Gray’s suggestion, they created Bend’s only bud ’n’ breakfast. The spot has been a big hit, he said, and rentals add extra revenue.
“It was an opportunity to expand the experience of the shop,” noted Gray. “People who stay there love it. Many want to move in permanently.”
Although Bend hosts a smattering of professionally run and well-stocked dispensaries, with more on the way, Tokyo Starfish has become not only a local favorite but also a must-visit tourist spot. Many local guidebooks encourage tourists to stop in. Located near mountain biking trails, fishing pools, and snowboarding peaks, the shop has become a sort of ground zero for the action sports crowd to stock up before a day playing outdoors.
As for products, Tokyo Starfish places priority on growing its own flower with an emphasis on potent CBD strains. After all, a day on the slopes or cruising the rugged, snaking trails can leave active folks with aches and pains. In addition to stocking flower from most of the local farms, Tokyo Starfish also offers what Gray called “connoisseur CBD strains” exclusive to its in-house grower, TG Industries. Extra-potent flower like Blue Shark, Harlequin, and Harle-Tsu fly off the shelves, he said.
He also said business growth has exceeded expectations. Between retail, wholesale, and grow, the company now employs thirty-five people. Gray is particularly proud of that. “Being able to create jobs for people is pretty awesome,” he said.
The shop sees nearly 400 customers a day; more during tourist season. While flower composes 50 percent of sales, cartridge and edibles sales are growing rapidly. That makes perfect sense to Gray: Both items are on-the-go-friendly. “Pre-rolls are picking up steam, too,” he said.
A ‘secret weapon’
Tokyo Starfish’s secret weapon may be its brand ambassadors and buzzy event sponsorships. Professional snowboarding star and friend to the owners Max Warbington tops the list. Tokyo Starfish sponsors Warbington’s sold-out Quarterpipe Campout weekend, which takes place May 20-21 annually. Warbington’s signature showdown brings together some of the top riders and ancillary characters for a non-stop weekend of riding, partying, and catching up with old friends, all of which is filmed by cinematic master John Stark. Tokyo Rose also participates in the Dirksen Derby 10, river surfing with ambassador Jorma Nagel, and Mount Bachelor hiking excursions with a who’s who of the action sports world.
“We all come from the action sports world, and most of our employees do too,” Gray said. “Warbington is a local pro snowboarder who is a big advocate of ours, as we are of his. He’s one of the best because he goes out and makes things happen for himself. It’s really cool to have an advocate who brings things to the table that we can help with.”
More likely than not, the cannabis lover in your life already has their favorite dispensary—and dispensary products—well in hand. Putting a container of edibles or flower under the tree this year will be sure to make them smile, but if you’re looking for something besides product to wrap up and give this year, here are a few ideas available at local dispensaries.
A Night at the “First and Only Bud and Breakfast in Bend,” courtesy Tokyo Starfish. Average cost: $160/night (seasonal variance)
Have friends or family who want to come to Bend and experience all the wonders of legal cannabis? Book them a night at the Bud and Breakfast, located above Tokyo Starfish, which is a two-bedroom plus loft that is cannabis friendly. Guests even get a gift card to Tokyo Starfish with their stay. Bookings available at: vrbo.com/1135822
“Bong Appetit Cookbook,” available at Dr. Jolly’s. $30
Sure, you might already know how to slap some ganja butter into a boxed mix of brownies—but for those looking for a more elevated experience, this book delivers. Featuring 65 sweet and savory dishes, and cocktails, that can be made with cannabis.
“A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis: Using Marijuana to Feel Better, Look Better, Sleep Better–and Get High Like a Lady” book, available at Dr. Jolly’s. $16.95
Have a hesitant or new cannabis user in your life? Let this book help them explore the ins and outs of using weed for pain relief and more.
Both of these books are available at Dr. Jolly’s online store at Dutchie.com, where you can even get your goods delivered to your door.
ReStash Jar from Oregrown. Medium size $25.
Love the buds, but not the smell? Give the gift of a stash jar adorned with a super-cool logo and choose the colors your gift recipient loves most.
Look for the “square tumbler” at Oregrown’s store.
Pot culture has come a long way since the days of pseudo-Rastafarian head shops, Cypress Hill’s puerile glamorization of weed in the ’90s (see also “Hits from the Bong”), and the High Times monthly centerfold. Credit the mainstreaming of marijuana and the massive influx of cash that legalization has brought to dispensaries in almost a dozen U.S. states. Now, many are pouring their profits into legit product research, high-end retail designs, and “green glove service” for a more discerning clientele. These 10 marijuana dispensaries across the United States, in particular, offer unique customer experiences to match their one-of-a-kind, designer storefronts.
The High Expedition
Two hours north of Anchorage, in the tiny mountain town of Talkeetna, Alaska (population: 876) lies The High Expedition. It’s no doubt the most remote dispensary on this list. The rustic, log-cabin storefront feels more like an old-timey general store with only a “Cannabis Purveyors” sign on the outside to hint at the building’s true nature. The building is steeped in history as it served as the home of famed mountain climber Ray Genet who perished on Everest in 1979. Today, a modest museum inside the store commemorates his life and and the mountaineering achievements of others. It’s difficult to imagine a more appropriately “Alaskan” dispensary.
Las Vegas, Nevada
It was only a matter of time before Vegas erected the largest, most over-the-top dispensary in the country. Situated a mile off The Strip, Planet 13 is a sprawling, 40,000-square-foot behemoth that’s equal parts dispensary and entertainment complex. Customers will find a dizzying array of cannabis-related wares from tinctures and topicals to edibles and extracts with 42 cash registers waiting near the exit. However, the mega-dispensary is also big on creating a multi-sensory experience to make this a destination unto itself. Massive LED-lit lotus flowers mark the entrance while motion-activated, colored flooring, otherworldly orb lighting, and a huge 3-D projection wall make the inside feel more like a contemporary art museum. In spring 2019, Planet 13 announced an expansion to include a cafe, a pizza restaurant, and a 115-foot glass wall to showcase the making of their products in the attached production facility.
Tokyo Starfish is the antidote to Planet 13’s “bigger is better” mega-dispensary ethos. The Oregon-based shop promises a boutique, small-town experience where the […] budtenders legitimately care about their clientele — enough to remember their individual preferences and tastes. What truly sets it apart, however, is that it’s likely the only dispensary in the country that operates as a “Bud and Breakfast.” Just upstairs from the retail space is a two-bedroom apartment for rent. Naturally, it’s 420-friendly.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco boasts more high-end dispensaries per capita than almost any city in America, so competition is fierce. What sets Harvest apart from its Bay Area counterparts is a design and experience that feel more like an organic grocer than a high-priced head shop. Most of the products including edibles, concentrates, topicals, and, of course, flower, are sourced from local, organic growers and producers. Plus, unlike most high-end pot shops, the products here are openly displayed throughout the store for customers to readily inspect, smell, and handle.
Denver and Seattle
The multi-state Diego Pellicer chain has long been recognized for the beauty of its storefronts — an upscale aesthetic that’s equal parts apothecary and old-school haberdashery. This emphasis on style befits the brand’s namesake, a 19th-century hemp entrepreneur. But, these shops aren’t all sizzle and no steak. They promise some of the highest-potency strains in the country with THC levels that routinely test higher than 30% (that’s very, very strong). The best part? The prices are surprisingly reasonable.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
It’s already getting harder and harder for marijuana dispensaries to distinguish themselves from the competition. Beyond flashy designs, dirt-cheap prices, and knowledgeable staff, outlets like Theory Wellness are looking to “seed to sale” (think “farm to table” for weed) business models to attract eco-conscious, small-business-friendly customers. The rural, Berkshires-based Great Barrington location receives all of its product from a sister shop in nearby Bridgewater where the company’s entire inventory is grown, harvested, and packaged.
Om of Medicine
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Where most dispensaries lean on glossy, futuristic, Apple-inspired designs, Om of Medicine looks to keep the pot-shopping experience quirky, bold, and fun. The Ann Arbor-based shop is a blend of modern yoga studio and art gallery. The lounge area encourages customers to linger with comfortable orb chairs, a guitar for guest use, and even monthly comedy shows.
San Francisco, California
Barbary Coast Dispensary finds its way onto every list of “best marijuana dispensaries in the U.S.” and with good reason. Here, the sophisticated high-design defines the experience. It’s not the only dispensary in California to offer a customer lounge, but its lounge sets the bar for what a modern-day smoke shop experience should be. With Tiffany-inspired chandeliers, gentlemanly leather seating, and rich wood throughout, the atmosphere is equal parts speakeasy and old-school barbershop.
Dockside Cannabis SODO
Seattle’s Dockside Cannabis SODO has all the hallmarks of a modern-day pot shop including a nice, open floor plan with a bright, designer decor. But, what sets it apart is the legit cannabis museum inside. One corner of the shop is dedicated to the science and history of all things cannabis. The collection was born largely of Ohio activist Don Wirtshafter’s hoard of related memorabilia including old-school medicine bottles. The entire collection covers more than one hundred years of pre-prohibition cannabis history dating as far back as 1830. Terpene scent jars and a “feel table” round out the shop’s unique multi-sensory experience.
New England Treatment Access
While NETA’s name has all the sex appeal of a walk-in clinic, their Brookline location is stunning. Situated in a historic bank building with soaring ceilings, tall arch windows, and a beautifully restored dome ceiling, it’s no doubt the most dramatic setting of any dispensary on this list. But what sets it apart is the incredible menu. All of its vaporizer products are dosage- and strain-specific, and the list of high-end edibles includes Belgian chocolate. What’s more, the staff is among the best-trained in the state to make the best recommendations for customers’ specific needs.
Salem, Oregon – December 23, 2020 (Newsfile Corp.) (Investorideas.com Newswire) Tokyo Starfish, the on-the-go oriented dispensary brand founded by alums of the action sports worlds, has opened its fourth store in Salem, Oregon. With three established stores in Bend and a number of ‘Best Of Central Oregon” accolades to back up its reputation, the move is sure to shake up the already competitive cannabis market in Salem.
The shop held its soft opening on November 30, and has already begun to win over cannabis consumers in the state capitol with great customer service and a vibe that is all its own. “We want our customers to feel like it’s their best friend on the other side of the counter,” Jason Shurtz, Marketing Director explains. “We definitely bring quality and professionalism, but there’s a laid back and friendly vibe to it. And at the end of the day, we like to say have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
That a brand like Tokyo Starfish would be born in a place like Bend, with its reputation as the outdoor and urban playground of Oregon, should come as no surprise. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains along the Deschutes River, Bend is the unofficial adventure hub for the region. Hence why owners and staff at Tokyo Starfish are just as likely to be up riding at nearby Mount Bachelor or the local skatepark, as they are managing inventory at one of the shops.
Although Salem is located a couple of hours from Bend, Shurtz is confident that the brand will resonate with cannabis consumers in the city. “We really strive to create an environment that makes you feel relaxed and at home from the moment you step through the door. ” When asked why Tokyo Starfish chose Salem as the location for their latest shop, CEO Kale Gray said, “Salem was one city on a short list of new locations for us. When it came down to decision time, we felt that Salem shared the best connection to our current operations in Bend. Whether it’s Bend residents passing through to head to the valley or beach, or Salem residents headed over the pass to soak up some High Desert sun, skiing in winter, or a river float in summer, there’s a constant overlap of people who are looking for the Tokyo Starfish experience right in the heart of our states capitol.”
Inside the TOKYO shops, walls are peppered with mementos and images set to inspire our customers to get outside. Very casual and creative with a touch of humor, their shops capture the adventurous spirit and on-the-go ethos that Tokyo Starfish embodies.
A vertically integrated dispensary, Tokyo Starfish’s in-house products represent a similar philosophy. “We see cannabis as part of many people’s everyday lives – something that’s a source of enjoyment and adventure,” Shurtz says. “Just like us, a lot of our customers are frequently on-the-go, busy living life, so we wanted to create products that fit with that lifestyle.” And because there aren’t many things better than a good pre-roll doobie either at home or out adventuring around, Tokyo has put a lot of emphasis on the pre-roll and joint pack product segment with the release of their Tokyo Starfish branded single pre-roll “DOOBIES” and pre-roll 5-pack “Pocket Rockets”.
In the Tokyo shops, customers can always choose from a wide selection of Oregon’s best flower, edibles, concentrates, shatter, infused drinks, tinctures, and more. They also want to take care of the deal hunters, so always have regular on-going specials, as well as additional vendor deals happening each week. Call or stop by to get specifics! “We’re incredibly excited to join the cannabis community in Salem and hope that folks will come and check us out,” Shurtz says.
Amid the ongoing stress of a global pandemic, summer has arrived. Some days that might mean hitting it hard on the water or trails. Other days, it might mean coping with lingering stress and worry about finances or physical and mental health. At Bend’s cannabis dispensaries, budtenders dole out a lot of emotional support while they help people choose products that meet their current needs.
We checked in with a few local ‘tenders about what they’re recommending for these competing—and sometimes concurrent—priorities of summer 2020.
For getting out on the trails: “I’m loving the new formulas for Magic Number sodas,” said Dana Catt, a budtender at Tokyo Starfish. The sodas offer some hydration as well as a mellow high, and she says she likes to mix them with other juices to make a “cannabis cocktail.”
For summer fun: “The Cherry Vanilla soda and Ginger Beer from Magic Number,” recommended Maggie Fry of Dr. Jolly’s. “The flavor is awesome and the high is super pleasant—less hard than edibles, and perfect for hikes or taking it to the river.” The sodas, made by a local company, come in varying dosages, from 10 milligrams to 25 or even 50.
For pandemic stress: “I smoked a lot during quarantine,” Fry said, with mostly indica flower. “The Dr. Jolly’s Sunday Driver, an indica, is one I like to smoke throughout the day to calm down and mellow out. Happy to have flower there to keep me sane.”
Justin Pohll, Top Shelf Medicine
For summer fun: Whether he’s fishing, working on motorcycles in his garage or taking the dog out for hikes along the Deschutes River, Justin Pohll of Top Shelf Medicine enjoys sativa-dominant hybrids. “You get that uplift and drive to go out and do things,” he said. “Durban Poison is one I really like—a great flavor, great effect that is overall euphoric.”
For pandemic stress: “Hybrids or indicas,” Pohll recommends. “There’s lots of flower being smoked right now—lots of edibles, too. Now that people have time at home, they’re getting creative with their baking and experimenting with other types of cannabis products—trying their own recipes. I also like the Highland Provisions gusher gummies—great flavors. What’s really cool is they’re using an agave tincture as the liquid, so your body is going to feel the effects more quickly.”