Situated on a quiet residential part of Adelaide St., Toronto, Tokyo Smoke isn’t exactly the store that you discover on your own. This former loading dock turned coffee shop is the kind of store that your well-traveled, cultured friend would recommend. And there’s a reason why you’re going to want to make a pit stop here.
The store is by no means your run of the mill coffee shop. Actually, calling it a coffee shop doesn’t seem quite right as it’s more of a café/general store that concentrates on coffee, clothes and cannabis. I later learned from their marketing manager, Josh Lyon, that they’re more of a lifestyle brand that brings sophistication and design to coffee, clothing, and cannabis, the three verticals that are essential to today’s creative class.
Legalized cannabis has been some sort of a hot topic in North America for the past couple of years. In the United States it became recreationally legal in four states. Now, the conversation is also getting bigger in Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expresses a desire to legalize cannabis. While there may be some people that associate cannabis as something trashy, there is no denying that it’s become main-stream. Tokyo Smoke is developing their brand to elevate the whole cannabis experience by educating their customers and introducing them to “quality” cannabis and cannabis related products. Think of it as a third wave coffee community for cannabis.
When I first stumbled upon Tokyo Smoke, I couldn’t help but think that it was a brand originating in New York or perhaps Tokyo, either way a major metropolis outside of Canada as the brand seemed to have a foreign aesthetic to it. It all made sense to me later when Lyon explained to me the interesting story behind their brand. Tokyo Smoke is the project of a father and son duo, Alan Gertner and his father Lorne Gertner. Originally from Toronto, Alan worked at a consultant firm in New York straight out of school, which led to 6 plus years working for the major search engine Google. He worked 3 years in California followed by 3 years in Singapore. “He had obviously done very well for someone his age, but he realized he wasn’t happy. He was consumed with winning at work, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to happiness in life” Lyon says. Alan then went off teaching and skiing in the back hills of Japan, realizing how he wanted to spend his life: working with the things that he loves, coffee, clothing, and cannabis. Alan then returned to Toronto and, talked to Lorne, who has a background in fashion and cannabis, and together they decided to take the next challenge: Tokyo Smoke.
As you can tell from the name of their brand, you can see influences of Japan. When Alan returned to Toronto, he brought back the Japanese spirit of “shokunin” with him. If you directly translate the word “shokunin” it means craftsman, but there is a deeper meaning to the word then just that, “shokunin” is someone that will forever be in the pursuit of perfection. “Japanese creators are like, ‘I’m going to dedicate my life to perfecting this kettle’, and that’s what we want to do with Tokyo Smoke” Lyon says.
Add a well-traveled former googler, his fashion savvy father, and employees with diverse backgrounds like actor, director, priest, and teacher, and you are bound to get a brand that is like no other. This year they’re planning on opening up stores around the L.A. area, in Seattle, and a second store in Toronto. “The eventual plan is to open a coffee shop in any market that we sell cannabis.” They are keen with the idea of using “underused and underutilized space” like their store in Toronto and hope to use these spaces for their future stores as well. While the design of each Tokyo Smoke store may vary, customers will be guaranteed to experience the same brand experience at each store.
All pictures credits: Tokyo Smoke