Many dispensaries like to advertise “love” as a special ingredient of their operation, but in the case of San Francisco’s Poncho Brotherz, it might actually be true.
Located in the historic Mission District, this small but colorful space is, as the proprietors see it, equal parts business, temple and family living room. Walk in on any given day and you’re likely to find some combination of the Tapia brothers – Isaiah (23), Isaac (25) and Elijah (21) – behind the counter.
Before you notice them, however, your eyes will likely be absorbed by Isaiah’s artwork.
From vibrant murals depicting the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl to shelves of Wenge African hardwood he carved himself, Isaiah has a story for seemingly every image and pattern contained within Poncho Brotherz.
“The inside has the theme of you standing in the waters of Mother Earth,” he said. “And our aesthetics extend to outside of the store, too.”
Indeed, passersby strolling down Cesar Chavez Street will be hard-pressed to miss the mural adorning the dispensary’s exterior. The Tapia brothers have even secured permission from the city to turn a dormant patch of land in front of their shop into a garden – meant to offer a window into what’s been grown on their family property up in Humboldt.
Outside the store, that means a small plot of medicinal herbs like rosemary and white sage. Inside Poncho Brotherz, however, it’s an invitation to get reasonably-priced eighths of cultivars the Tapias attest were sourced from their roots in Colombia and Oaxaca.
“By having access to family members from Oaxaca and some cousins from Colombia, we’ve been gifted Colombia Gold from Medellín, up in the hills, and Oaxacan Gold from up in the highlands and different mountain ranges,” said Isaac, the crew’s chief cultivator. “It’s pretty cool. We’re following our own model, basically, which is to provide real people with real medicine. We love this plant. I smoke it, he smokes it, we all smoke it together. We’re a living brand.”
It’s all part of a plan that’s come together in record time. The key figure? The Tapia’s fourth “brother” and business partner, Edward Brown.
In the span of under a year – a stunningly fast timeline for a process that’s often glacially slow – Brown went from meeting the Tapias to opening the doors on Poncho Brotherz. One key was Brown being offered the chance to take over an already in-progress equity dispensary effort with a location locked down.
The other was meeting the titular Poncho Brotherz, who earned their nickname while protesting at Standing Rock in 2016 when other protestors began to identify them by the heirloom ponchos they regularly wore. Fittingly, the Tapias are also seemingly tailor-made for the Cannabis industry.
While Isaiah handles the artwork – which extends to the packaging on their eighth bags as well – Isaac serves as head grower and Elijah holds down chef duties on the edibles front. With Brown’s expertise on regulation rounding out the quartet, they believe what they’ve accomplished can soon be replicated – which is why they’re now looking to expand to another location within San Francisco.
“We’re just all super confident people,” Brown noted. “It goes back to our upbringing.”
By way of example, he shared that all four members of the Poncho Brotherz crew once spontaneously decided to drive to Sacramento to make an in-person appeal for their state license to be approved.
“We got tired of waiting,” he said, “so one day, we jumped in the car and we drove up to the state capitol. We walked in there and were not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. We told them our story and why we needed to open.”
Before they’d been on the road home for 10 minutes, an email confirming their state license had arrived.
“This whole journey,” Brown added, “we just keep looking back and going, ‘Damn, we did that. We did that.’”
The reward is having a home for what Poncho Brotherz calls shaman-grown Cannabis.
Incorporating elements of spiritualism, regenerative growing, genuine cultivars and a love for the plant that stretches back generations, Isaac explained that his cultivation practices honor their family’s Spanish, Mexican and Indigenous lineages, while also providing customers with a chance to try strains they won’t find anywhere else.
“You don’t just get a landrace cultivar out of thin air,” he said. “You have to go and travel and obtain access to certain tribes – there’s a lot of stuff that goes into finding these landrace cultivars. We know we have the real shit because people are offering us big money for them, but you’ll only ever find them at Poncho Brotherz.”
From QR codes on their eighth packaging that links to curated playlists for each strain they sell to the “La Vida Divina” block party they recently threw to thank the local community for embracing their business, Poncho Brotherz is ready to continue on its mission of being, in the Tapias’ assessment, San Francisco’s first-and-only, true farm-to-retail dispensary.
“This isn’t about money,” Isaac explained. “This is our art. This is our music and we’re our own record label. We’re not obligated to the market. We get to bring you what we think that you would want. Period.”