Grower Stories #17: Joline Rivera
Cooking With Cannabis for Health and Wellness, With Kitchen Toke
Tia (AskGrowers) : How did you guys start the business? When was it?
Joline Rivera (Kitchen Toke) : After 20 years producing food magazines, cookbooks and reporting on the food industry, I learned that the father of my co-designer, Nellie Williams, had lung cancer.
I’ve worked with Nellie for nearly a decade and consider her to be something of a little sister. Her family lives in the small town of Washington, Missouri (just outside St. Louis), which at the time did not have access to medical marijuana. Her dad, Fred, spent several years enduring one grueling treatment after another, with no real results. In 2016, I put a call out for edibles to my cannabis-using friends in Chicago—chocolate edibles, specifically. The lymph nodes in Fred’s neck were severely swollen, making it painful to swallow. I knew chocolate would melt on his tongue.
Fred downed three chocolates in about 20 minutes. I warned him to slow down but was relieved and excited to see this very sick man finally experience some relief—relief that came from a plant rather than opiates. It was life-changing for everyone in the room; his wife and six daughters were so grateful to see their husband and father finally—after all these terrible months—eat a full meal and get some real sleep. That day was the last time I saw Fred. He died in June 2016.
My experience with Fred was the catalyst for Kitchen Toke, a quarterly magazine devoted to the culinary, health and wellness benefits of cannabis. Aside from watching my parents smoke pot when I was very young (and trying it myself in high school), I knew nothing of cannabis. And as I looked for entry-level information on the subject, I realized there wasn’t much available. It occurred to me that there was a white space to be filled for people who don’t want to smoke cannabis but might be willing to try it in food—for nutrition, health and wellness. Kitchen Toke was born.
Tia : What was the first cannabis article that went live on your website?
Joline : Our first article was called: "How to Manage Pain with Cannabis: Insights from a Michelin Star Chef " about Chef Iliana Regan cooking cannabis infused dishes for her mother, Sandie, who suffers from glaucoma, and she’s in remission from amyloidosis, a disease that causes abnormal proteins to build up in her blood. Like cancer, it’s treated with chemotherapy. This is a great question and looking back, there’s nothing I’d change about the way we launched. This article is still very relevant now, and it’s been 3 years. We are still promoting self care and the care of loved ones. I just did a Facebook giveaway of our Kitchen Toke Honey on my personal page…it’s hard to travel to see loved ones, and we still want to take care of them. The pandemic has people thinking of only the things that matter. If we can help our friends, help others, it’s a win win.
Tia : How big is your team right now?
Joline : Our team is the exact same size as it was when we launched. I started Kitchen Toke with my friends, who are more like family to me. They’re loyal, creatively driven, care as much as I do, and in it for all the right reasons. There will be a day when I tell the story of how Kitchen Toke was built. When people read it, they will not only love it, they’ll be in awe of it. My team is amazing, and I wouldn’t be here without them.
Tia : What do you think is the biggest issue in the cannabis industry right now?
Joline : Legalization and social equity. I think they go hand in hand. Too many people were punished simply because of the color of their skin by the war on drugs, and because of that, our entry into the industry is harder. The legal landscape or the lack of it, makes it even more difficult, especially the banking issues around legalization. It’s ridiculous. We can’t advertise anyplace the way a normal business can. We can’t use social media the way other businesses can. We can’t get bank loans or any help during this pandemic the way other businesses can…all because we’re in the cannabis space. It isn’t right. There’s a lot of money and jobs to be made and created…they make it damn near impossible for our industry.
Tia : What was the hottest topic on your website ever?
Joline : I was WGN Radio's FoodTime with Dean Richards, and during that interview, our website got hit so hard it crashed the site for a few minutes. It was great! He had so many people calling in to either ask questions or tell us how much they didn’t like Dean Richards talking about cannabis for health and wellness.
Tia : How do you measure success? How would you define it?
Joline : Right now, I define it by getting the message through and getting feedback from people who tell us thank you and then tell us how we’ve helped them. We just launched Kitchen Toke Honey, and we have reviews from people telling us how much pain they’ve spent their lives in to have it relieved by our honey. I know our honey is one of the best food or edible products out there, I know it works, but I’m always amazed at HOW it works for people. I can’t tell you how much I cry when people send us their emails or testimonials on what Kitchen Toke Honey does for them. It makes me SO happy. The second part of that success will come when we’re making enough money to pay my team more and scale with some new additions. Kitchen Toke is truly a place for creativity.
Tia : If you could smoke with anyone in the world, who would it be? :)
Joline : Well, that’s a good question. I don’t smoke, which is why I created Kitchen Toke in the first place. We’re all about really good food infused with cannabis. I’m not just talking about brownies or gummies, I’m talking about full thanksgiving dinners to lobster rolls to cocktails and popsicles. But to answer your question, if I were to smoke with anyone in the world it would be Tina Fey and Amy Poehler together. They seem like they’d be good sports, super creative, down to earth, no BS, and I’m positive I’d be laughing. We could all use a good laugh right now.
Tia : What other brands/journals do you appreciate and follow?
Joline : I love Food & Wine, their team is really nice, and we have mutual respect and appreciation for one another. I’m still the creative director for Sweet Paul Magazine, and a longtime favorite of mine is Esquire… I’m also a subscriber to Vogue and Fast Company.
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