Tokyo Starfish’s brand story began almost twenty years ago. During a snowboarding event in Japan, Jason McCalister, 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 McCalister 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 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.”