When the Hollywood Strain Premiere Party initially launched in the summer of last year, it was the place to be when it came to weed in Los Angeles. For an event that had no public advertising and for which the address and method for entering were a secret, attendance was regularly packed. Smokers looking for the best top-shelf weed mingled with industry insiders, all talking about the latest hot strain drops.
Doja Exclusive founder Ryan Bartholomew is no stranger to creating events and buzz. His brand has been at the bleeding edge of strain trends in California for years now. As far as hype in the industry goes, Doja is one of the biggest names out there. Originating from Sacramento, the brand is now based in Hollywood, California, aka the center of the weed world.
In a sense, both the pop-up model and selling directly to consumers harken back to an earlier time when excitement around legalization made the Prop 215 medical marijuana era in California a constantly buzzing scene of seshes and pop-up events. For Bartholomew, this approach to sales and marketing is just one part of a larger plan for Doja Exclusive to circumvent traditional retail as much as possible.
For the most part, Bartholomew said, the dispensary is a fading concept that is becoming increasingly impractical for marketing weed. He says that few people these days are excited to go shop at a dispensary. Most importantly, getting fresh product on the shelves has become a huge challenge. The supply chain to the dispensary shelves can be slow and, after testing and distribution, the product often arrives less than fresh. If it doesn’t sell out immediately it languishes for months. For Doja the situation was unacceptable.
“The shit was old inventory and I’m thinking this isn’t good for what I do. I’d rather just let people know where I have the latest drops and then let them come out and get it directly from fresh batches that I’ve recently QC-ed and feel comfortable about,” he said.
It led Bartholomew to conceive the idea of a direct-to-consumer sales event, which manifested as the Hollywood Strain Premiere Party. The idea was simple: “Let’s do something where consumers can come grab new flavors and meet me in person. The weed will be good every time. We make sure of that,” Bartholomew said.
The event also allows Bartholomew to build hype around the new strains that Doja is bringing to market.
“I wanted to do something a little different since we had constant new phenos that we were rolling out with JBeezy [of Seed Junky Genetics] at the time. We also had the project in motion with Duke of Erb and some new strains dropping with Fiya Farmer,” he said.
Part of the early buzz of the event was that you could try new genetics that weren’t yet widely available, hence the “Strain Premiere.” It became the only place in the world to get the freshest and latest in Cali genetics.
“We had new genetics that no one else had,” Bartholomew said. “We were one of the few brands to put out new staples last year, so it was dope to be able to have a curated menu of flavors that were new and unique.”
Doja premiered strains such as Permanent Marker and Push Pop, and has released multiple phenotypes of Giraffe Puzzy so that fans can see the process of isolating a new strain. Doja has also dropped exclusive clones and seeds at the event, as well as street inspired merch that quickly sells out.
In 2021 Bartholomew held several industry-only mixers in cities such as Las Vegas and Miami, which were well attended by his many industry acquaintances. Last year he wanted to expand on the concept, but this time to create a space that was partly for the industry and partly for the consumer.
“I felt like I needed to focus more on connecting with the people that actually buy the product, not just other people in the industry. One of the ways that I knew I could get people out was to have these Hollywood events where I invite my industry friends like Wizard Trees, Sourwavez, Don Merfos and Gerb, Fiya Farmer. But at the same time, everyone else can come too,” he said.
“So now smokers can talk to Wizard Trees and be like, ‘Yo, I really fuck with what you’re doing.’ That was always the idea behind it. That’s why from the very first one, I invited all those people.”
For Bartholomew, the success of the event shows that it’s time to start thinking about what comes next.
“We can always keep a consistent amount of people in there but we’re not looking to keep a consistent amount of people. We’re just looking to touch and go. We want something hot, new, fresh all the time,” he said.
Doja Exclusive has done direct-to-consumer pop-ups all over the U.S. and Europe, and he says that Hollywood is one of his smallest, crowd-wise. But it has gotten the most buzz, including regular press coverage.
“Does it help sales? Yes, it does boost sales all over the board. There are people in New York that are buying the product because they’re like, ‘Damn, those guys are having the Thursdays in Hollywood,’” Bartholomew said.
As for why his Hollywood event gets so much buzz, Bartholomew said that it’s all about the legacy and reputation of California weed.
“I think there’s just a fascination with Cali weed,” Bartholomew said. “We’re from the most influential place for cannabis. It’s like if you’re a fashion designer and you’re from Milan or a sommelier from Bordeaux.”
This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.
In the early 2000s, that golden age of Proposition 215 cannabis in California, Mario “Mr. Sherbinski” Guzman was a regular supplier for San Francisco’s legendary Vapor Room. Back then, nobody had heard the name Sherbinski and the notion of a cannabis brand was still an abstraction. Today, nearly two decades later, his company Sherbinskis is on the short list of still-relevant adult-use brands with uninterrupted roots in California’s self-regulated 215 market.
But before Sherbinski’s cannabis was getting name-dropped in rap hits and sold through fancy department stores, Afgoo cold water hash washed from Sherbinski bud by the man himself was a menu staple at the Vapor Room, and a crucial part of my daily routine. For years, the best part of waking up was smoking a bowl of chocolate-black bubble hash with a cup of tar-black coffee on a rickety fire escape overlooking the intersection of Oak and Fillmore streets.
I’m thinking about this memory as I catch myself staring dreamily out the storefront window of a greasy spoon breakfast joint in East Oakland, clutching a white ceramic cup of hot black coffee at a rickety two-top table by the door. I’m waiting for Sherbinski — he’s a few minutes late, I’m a few minutes early — and draining my third cup of coffee, the caffeine from the first two cups already waltzing wildly with the cannabinoids from my morning dab. I’m eagerly eavesdropping on a couple arguing a few tables down when Sherbinski blows through the swinging doors like a Wild West sheriff, radiating the casual swagger of a resident DJ at that nightclub you aren’t cool enough to even stand in line for.
Despite a powerful too cool for school aura, Sherbinski also exudes a sincere humility that falls just short of self-deprecation when he speaks about the success of his work, particularly the way his Gelato phenotypes have become a touchstone and status symbol for rappers and other tastemakers with a taste for top shelf sh*t.
To hear him tell it, Gelato is just one of those special strains that inspires fanatical devotion in some people, and through a convergence of geography, personal connections and work ethic, some of those people are top-selling music artists and fashion influencers.
“It just took a lot of work and white-glove service when it came to providing our products,” Sherbinski told me. “I never had to give a lot of product away, I was just in the right place.
“In the bay, a lot of musicians come through here and we’d get the call when they were in the studio and we’d be there,” he said. “It was always really natural and organic. When artists are in the studio and naturally enjoying the product they’re smoking, it’s gonna organically end up in the songs.”
Although he’s entering a new stage of his career, he said he has come to truly appreciate the experience of watching the Gelato strain grow into a household name.
“For me, it was the songs. You hear one on the radio and one song becomes five and then ten becomes twenty and now it’s pretty common to hear it — just a few weeks ago, Travis Scott and Future came out with a song talking about Gelato in there,” he said. “It’s nice to feel like Gelato is cemented into our culture and I embrace it.”
Coming across as humble is uncommon enough for any successful businessperson, but particularly unusual given the dizzying heights of tangible success Sherbinski has reached in an industry where even the illusion of achievement is often enough to elicit flashy self-celebration. But through our whole conversation, he seems to regard his career as a beautiful blur of serendipity, largely propelled by his desire to promote access and education in the early days of San Francisco’s golden age of cannabis.
“I stuck my neck out way before people were doing it and said, ‘Hey, I’m a grower,’” he said. “[But] when you have people come to you and say, ‘Your product helped me with my ailment — these flowers are my favorite, they help with my PTSD — how can you not be humbled by that?”
With Prop 215 as we knew it all but a hazy memory now, Sherbinski sits at the nexus of a hectic whirlwind familiar to anyone who’s spent any time around entrepreneurs. The persistent beeping and buzzing of his cell phone provides a steady backdrop to our conversation, and he is undoubtedly “in demand,” but his personal energy is almost meditative, like he’s floating above it all, soaking it in and easing gently into what’s shaping into a lucrative second act.
A Different Breed
Part of what sets Sherbinski apart from most other growers and breeders I’ve spoken to is his laissez faire approach to phenotype selection. Where most breeders are hunting a single white whale, he’s curating a menagerie of sensations and flavors — variations on a shared theme — like the four first-gen Gelato phenos that made the final cut: Acaiberry (Gelato pheno #49), Mochi (#47), Bacio (#41) and Gello.
“The Gelato has gotten so famous, and what I did — which I didn’t see a lot of people do before — I didn’t just pick the best pheno,” he said. “I was like, ‘No, all these phenos are awesome and they all do different things.’ It’s not that different from two models having kids — each kid is probably going to be fire, so how do you pick out of that? That’s kind of how I look at selection.”
That inclusive approach to pheno hunting is still a central thrust of Sherbinski’s latest genetic quest, but these days he has more space to work with and more data to draw on when making selections.
“We pared down our final selections to 100 plants. From there, we pared the selections down to 30. We grew those out and tested them for a full terpene and potency profile. I use science to help me select the right pants,” he said. “I can’t just be like, ‘That’s so frosty and has big nugs and tastes good, I want that,’ and then it’s pulling 16 percent [THC] consistently. Sometimes something isn’t looking that good, but it’s testing 27 percent first round test, or there’s some terpene in there that’s just like, ‘Oh my god.’”
Gelato is about to go global. Through a collaboration with Dinafem, a seed bank based in Barcelona, Spain, Sherbinski is releasing first-generation Gelato seeds to more than 50 countries. While the Sherbinski legacy has deep roots in San Francisco’s Sunset District, he said he’s interested in making moves wherever he sees a smart one. It’s a philosophy that’s spreading his work worldwide, but it’s also led him just a few hours north, to the world-famous Emerald Triangle, where his partners at the Humboldt Seed Organization are based.
Because, in addition to releasing females from the first generation of Gelato phenos, he’s going to be producing new generations using HSO genetics, a process that’s already produced promising results. I haven’t yet tried the next generation of official Gelato crosses, but given the wide scope of the pheno hunt that produced them — roughly 3,000 seeds — and the prestigious lineage of the new genetic material used, I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to taste the new flavors.
“I took a Mandlebrot OG clone that HSO provided and that male went back to all of my original genetics, and I selected about five new phenos from a roughly 3,000-seed pheno hunt,” he said, adding that he’s never used so many precise metrics to select winners.
“I boiled it down to about 40 keepers out of the new generation and tested them all for terpene profile and potency, then took portraits to look at the bag appeal,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve used all those data points to select.”
The HSO collaboration is truly exciting for Sherbinski, who sees it as a way to share his genetics so people can actually grow from them, albeit on a release schedule that allows him the first crack at his own work.
“All the other people who have used Gelato, that’s either a bag seed or cuts I never really used, like the #33 and the #45, which were basically just throwaways for me,” he said. “I’ve never done any projects with anyone — they might have bag seed: It was either stolen or a bag seed.”
In addition to people bootlegging his genetics through stray seeds and stolen cuts, there’s also the time-honored cannabis industry tradition of tacking a trendy prefix or suffix on last year’s strain. Thanks to the popularity of Sherbinski’s Sunset Sherbert and Gelato strains, we’ve seen a whole lot of Orangelato, Tangelato, Sherbtane, SherbWreck or, of course, Sherblato — but they’re all fugazi. Sherbinski didn’t collab on any of them, despite numerous false claims to the contrary.
He said the scammers used to get to him, but over time he’s learned to accept all of the bootleggers and bullsh*tters as the cost one pays to be the boss.
“Instead of getting mad that someone found a bag seed and has a ten-light grow and is selling my shit, I look at it like, ‘Hey man, I’m glad you can get $400 more per pound on your shit.’ It’s not gonna f*cking stop me from making money,” he said. “When you live in fear, that’s how you act like that six-light grow is gonna kill you or take you out the game, and it’s all out of fear, man. I just chose to not live that way.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s completely given up on protecting his intellectual property.
“I have a new strain. I don’t want to announce the male yet because I know that people might possibly have it and…” he smiles. “You know how people are. Next thing you know, before I even drop it, they’ll be selling the seeds.”
Clout vs. Commodity
Despite his recent success, Sherbinski is struggling through the growing pains of California’s adult-use market with everyone else. However, his view of the new stage cannabis is entering contrasts sharply with the frustration and pessimism of many long-time industry participants. He’s acutely aware of the challenges presented by the new regulations, but from where he’s sitting, some of the more virulent detractors of those new rules are growers feeling left out.
“What I see? Most of my OG homies who were like ‘naw naw naw’ [about pursuing licensing] and never wanted to go in that direction, they’re feeling it right now. They regret not making bigger moves earlier to be farther along now,” he said, adding that it’s particularly difficult to swallow for guys who stayed underground only to watch smaller or less accomplished cultivators come into a big investment.
“They see everything moving now — see these people that were a fraction of what they were or could have been selling companies for millions of dollars,” he said. “So, how’s that gonna make people feel? They’re like, ‘Little Billy over there had the f*cking Banana Skunk and this other sh*t that no one cared about’ but now he’s the business.”
It’s an uncommon sentiment at a time when running a legal cannabis company can feel like navigating a narrow mountain ridge with steep drops on either side. To your left, there’s braving the legal uncertainty, volatility and danger of the illicit market. To your right, the very real possibility of hemorrhaging all your capital and then some before you ever make a dime — maybe before you even make it to market.
But as cannabis continues its transformation into a commodity, Sherbinski believes basic business skills are going to be rewarded as much (if not more) than more subjective factors that were previously make or break, like product quality and an established reputation within “the culture” — ironically two of the main factors in his own rise to prominence.
“How many dispensaries do you see now that are popping up out of nowhere and nobody knows these guys? But they’re cranking — why? They know how to run a biz. They know how to sell it,” he said. “How much is ‘clout’ gonna matter when cannabis is commoditized? But I do see that people are attracted to the brand — they still need brands.”
But selling high quality cannabis is obviously a big part of Sherbinski’s brand identity and an enduring feature of his business model. A collaboration with ultra-chic cannabis brand Beboe means an exclusive Sherbinskis blend will be gracing the shelves of luxury retailer Barneys, at their Beverly Hills tragicomically hip head shop, The High End — right next to the $1,000 bongs and $2,000 grinders. (Because Barneys Beverly Hills does not have a dispensary license, THC products at their store are delivered later by a licensed cannabis delivery business.)
Sherbinski is no stranger to the intersection of high fashion and streetwear. He already made a splash with his Sherbinskis Air Force One sneaker (which sold out in a couple hours) and cites Virgil Abloh, the artistic director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear line and founder of the Off-White label, as a major inspiration for his approach to branding. With his own club slated to open blocks from the Supreme store and the Barneys collab under his belt, Sherbinski is definitely breaking new ground for the cannabis industry.
And just as Sherbinski is braving the stormy seas of a shifting cannabis landscape, Barneys is navigating the perils of being a luxury retail chain in a down market. In August, the company announced it was downsizing its New York flagship in the face of a $33 million rent bill. Their move into the cannabis sphere is a bold one that could be a game changer, and for Sherbinski, it’s the same. The collaboration makes perfect sense: There were already a couple high end dispensaries calling themselves the “Barneys of bud,” so why not get in the game, and why not team up with weed’s Louis Vuitton?
“It’s nice to be defining something for Beboe — it’s much different than what I’m used to, which is highest potency, strongest terpene profile, which is what I brought to them first, but it wasn’t right for them and the Barneys brand,” he said. “They wanted a blend that had high CBD with a sativa dominant, so I came up with the Beboe Blend by Sherbinski. That’s what I’m moving into, finding genetics for different brands that want effects that cater to their distinct market.”
Leaving a Legacy
Sherbinski feels he’s been privileged with the opportunity to make an impact on cannabis — something he cares about deeply — and now he wants to preserve his contributions.
“I’m getting older, and in the end, you want to leave a legacy behind and something like what’s happened with Gelato is so special,” he said. “When you’re younger, it’s about being cool and hanging out with artists, but when you get older and you’ve been to the parties and experienced all that, you’re like, ‘What do I want to do now?’”
When he finally got around to asking himself that question, the answer was clear: share Gelato with the bud lovers of tomorrow.“I want to get future generations the original, so when they ask why was it so special they can get a real answer — you’re going to be able to experience exactly why for generations to come,” he said. “I don’t consider myself an expert breeder… I’m not the best, I’m just a regular dude, right place, right time; SF Sunset District, early 2000s, happened to meet the right people and we made magic.”
Mario Guzman is among the few who can effortlessly meld stoner culture and fashion in the brave new world of weed.
As weed continues its invasion into the mainstream and luxury consumerism, the old stoner culture seems to reject the new trends. In the middle of both of these worlds is Mario Guzman, AKA Mr. Sherbinski. Guzman is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area cannabis breeder and the man behind Sherbinskis, a California cannabis brand. Guzman is renowned for being one of the originators of Gelato, one of the most popular weed strains in the U.S.
Sherbinskis is founded on deeply rooted, historic lineage of cannabis plant breeders due to founder Guzman, who has spent two solid decades in the industry. Guzman started his seed-breeding career in Northern California at the age of 20, growing out of a garage in San Francisco’s Sunset District, learning from and selling weed out of his backpack to the first dispensaries in the United States including The Vapor Room, a well-known San Francisco dispensary.
On top of breeding Gelato, thank Guzman for his variants in the Gelato family: Bacio Gelato, Mochi Gelato, Acai Berry Gelato, and Gello Gelato. Other strains the Sherbinskis team cultivates include Pink Panties and Sunset Sherbert. Its line has expanded in offerings to include cartridges called “barrels” of cannabis oil for the Sherbinskis orange Double Barrel vape. Double Barrel is a proprietary vape technology that is said to be the first patented dual cartridge on the market, and it looks quite chic. In addition, Sherbinskis has its prerolls, flower, 510 oil cartridge, and its line of clothing.
Old culture and new consumerism clash not just in weed, but on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. It’s on this iconic block, up the street from Canter’s, a Jewish-style delicatessen, and the Supreme store, one of the most coveted skate and hip-hop apparel brands. Guzman is bringing the old school weed culture to the mainstream; evolving it without sacrificing it; enlisting a new type of stoner using art, hip-hop, fashion, and hemp.
Sherbinskis flagship dispensary plans to open in fall 2019 at 345 N. Fairfax Ave. It’s a “dope get” location, Guzman said. Anticipate orange leather stools, and a massive plant-filled awning that the Sherbinskis logo adorns atop on the storefront.
Guzman is curating everything in the space. The store will sell 21-and-older Sherbinskis cannabis products, alongside merch, and unique early-1900s-vintage Japanese smoking accessories.
Sherbinskis is working in partnership with Post Malone for his Shaboink hemp preroll brand and Birdman’s Stunna hemp prerolls. Plus, 50 Cent just stamped his approval of the forthcoming Bubba Kush pack of Stunna. Sherbinskis recently announced a partnership with the veterans group No Vet Alone to shed light on the role cannabis has played in providing relief to military veterans and first responders.
How does the OG clout transfer to the new age of weed? Guzman lays it out.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Do you consider yourself an OG?
A: I don’t really consider myself an OG because I feel like I haven’t even gotten started yet. What’s funny is, I have been doing this for almost 20 years, involved in the cannabis industry as well as an advocate, but there’s always something new. I’m always turning over stones. I am a very curious human being, I’m always looking for the next challenge. I think that’s what leads me to a lot of these opportunities.
Q: What is your advice when it comes to partnerships in both business, and just cannabis culture relationships in general?
A: I develop relationships with people who aren’t always the easiest people, sometimes they got a little ego, they’re a little weird, they’re a little bipolar, and there are a ton of them out there in this industry and other industries. A lot of CEOs share some of these qualities.
I get to know people, I really let people in. For the most part, it’s been good for me. I develop a deeper partnership and relationship with the people I work with. In the end, I feel like through all the bullshit in the industry, all the people trying to make a quick buck, the people that recognize the truth behind what I do, I think it helps me find those people as well.
Through the regulations, through all the headaches we are going through in the industry, the cream rises to the top, if you will.
Q: What is your intention, or what is the Sherbinskis’ intention, in cannabis?
A: I’m starting to find people who are here not to just make money, but to truly help people. I believe in intentions. What’s the true intention? My intention has always been to help people. Making money has always been an after-effect of that. I am finding people who have those traits, that want to truly help people and make a difference. That’s what I’m most excited about.
Q: Is that intention and excitement reflected in your projects? What has been the biggest challenge?
A: Now with my dispensary, getting through all these regulations that have been such a crippling thing for people, I am finding getting to a place in the industry where we can regroup from all the licks we’ve taken over the last 10 years.
Q: Why make Gelato hemp preroll packs?
A: When you look at Big Tobacco, you’re talking generations of farmers proving tobacco. Third generation farmers, they’re losing their farms, they’re losing everything that their entire family, three generations worked for. Large companies are lowering and driving down the price of tobacco, so it’s just not profitable for them anymore. We’re able to come in and help and to literally change the face of the farming industry, it’s something I’m really proud of and something that I’ll hopefully tell my grandkids about, that I was part of this American history.
It’s disruptive, that’s the spirit of this, that’s what excites me about being part of this. That’s what America is all about — having the opportunity and the ability to innovate, the ability to use the resources we have, to pull them together.
Q: What has the reaction to the hemp prerolls been so far?
A: You know what I noticed is, when we dropped the product, this is what I found. People who smoke cigarettes liked it because they still got the feeling like they’re smoking and inhaling but they didn’t have the smell, the chemical smell or nicotine, which they’re trying to get off of. A lot of people who smoked them really love the experience for that aspect of it. Also, people who stopped smoking cigs but started smoking the Juul who want to get off the Juul, people are finding this as a nice alternative for not going back to cigs and getting off the Juul.
Keep in mind this is a brand-new product. We’ve released it in small batch, hand-trimmed, dried with hemp. Still, this is more of a scalable product. It’s a brand new product, it’s very disruptive. Because I know that the people who make Juuls aren’t going to like it, and the tobacco industry isn’t going to like it, that’s just a fact. It’s a new product it’s something that is here to stay, it’s not going away.
Again I just really feel like it’s disruptive. People are asking all the questions to me, “What? When? How?” They’re so intrigued because they haven’t seen it before. I think, from the high-end connoisseur level, the reality is a lot of people have heard of Gelato, they just don’t have access to it. We’ve talked to people from around the world who have heard of Gelato strain, but it is nowhere near where they live. To get the strain to those people, giving the opportunity to those people to at least connect with the brand on some level, people are so excited.
People are more excited about it than I was when we brought them to Complex Con, my partner G Putt [G. Singh], I sent him out to Com Con, literally it was the biggest hit. It’s about bringing new and innovative products, dope stuff that no one is doing. Everyone has done a sneaker or piece of art. That has been done, but this hasn’t been done. The cameras were all over this.
Q: So what is the future of the Sherbinskis brand?
A: Pushing the boundaries, pushing the envelope, advocating through every possible tool and way that I can. With Sherbinskis, the whole thing is, we want to help people, we want to do it with style, you want to make money and those three things are aligned with what we’re doing now. Hemp is just another way that it’s going to be a valuable tool for me to push the benefits of cannabis and hemp in general.
The Sherbinskis cannabis storefront is opening in fall 2019 at 345 N. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles. (Lindsey Bartlett/Weedmaps)
July 21, 2019
(updated July 22, 2019)
Published by SDZ News
LOS ANGELES, July 19, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Global superstar Post Malone, founder of hemp and cannabis brand Shaboink, announced today the launch of American grown hemp pre-rolls by Shaboink through a strategic partnership with Icon Farms, and world-renowned cultivator Mario Guzman, Founder of designer cannabis brand Sherbinskis.