One of the cardinal rules of small business ownership is not going into the business with friends and family. Although you may have the best of intentions and the highest of hopes, what starts as a seemingly safe, mutually beneficial project, can turn everything from minor annoyances and squabbles over money into horrific nightmares.
“Yeah, everyone thought we were crazy when we decided to go into business together,” says Mercy Tree of Alaska co-owner Bashall Redzepi.
But Redzepi didn’t just go into business with one friend. He jumped into the fire headfirst and now co-owns and operates Mercy Tree with four longtime friends – Colin Koenig, Brian Hewes, Chad Creeger and Larry Herndon.
“I think what makes us special is that we all have a hand in operating the business. It’s not one guy running things. So, we butt heads sometimes, but we have a lot of respect for each other and the expertise each person brings. That’s what makes our dynamic a little bit different,” explains Koenig.
Although friendship initially brought the Mercy Tree crew together, there is a much deeper bond that solidified their desire to cultivate Cannabis. Both Redzepi and Koenig’s mothers had battles with cancer. Sadly, Redzepi lost his mother to stage-four cancer, while Koenig’s mother continues to defy the odds.
“[My mom] didn’t consume Cannabis, but her friends in her support groups did, and I actually started caregiving with Cannabis for some of her friends,” says Koenig. “The medical benefits of Cannabis are undeniable, and you can visually see it helping people. How could you not want to do something with your life that could really help people?” asks Koenig.
It is that desire to produce consistent, top notch Cannabis that drives all facets of Mercy Tree, starting with the building that holds their grow.
Situated in a nondescript 1950s building in Downtown Anchorage’s industrial area, Mercy Tree’s operation breathed new life into a decaying landmark.
“We rehabbed the entire building and electrical. We basically built a building within a building,” explains Redzepi.
And when Redzepi says they built the building, he isn’t exaggerating. Mid-construction, the team ran out of money and had to resort to using spare parts and a lot of elbow grease to finish.
“We had a lot of people to prove wrong, and we weren’t going to give up on opening the grow, no matter what it took. Of course, you can kind of see where our drywalling started,” says Koenig with a laugh.
Naturally, their hands-on approach didn’t stop with the drywall. Koenig hand-waters each of the 800 plants in the operation’s 2,700-square-foot grow space. When asked if he would ever consider automating his feedings, Koenig is succinct.
“Automation tends to make people lazy. We hand-water just because we need to spend time in the garden. If it were automated, we wouldn’t be in there as much. This way, we’re spending at least an hour a day in each room, and we can keep an eye on everything to make sure there are no problems creeping up,” says Koenig.
In addition to their hands-on approach with the plants, Mercy Tree also has a focused eye on sustainability. The building’s electric air conditioners provide consistent heat during the winter and summer, thereby eliminating their need for gas. They also recycle their condensate and are able to reclaim nearly 50% of the water used to feed the plants.
While Redzepi insists Mercy Tree has “unintentionally gone green,” it’s clear that they don’t do anything without intention. That includes selecting the right genetics – and they have the award to prove it. In 2018, their signature strain, Mercy Fruit Haze, took home the award for Best Sativa at the Alaska Cannabis Classic. However, they aren’t resting on their laurels. Mercy Tree currently has 12 available strains, as well as genetics from an additional 12 plants – with plans to keep expanding their menu. Nonetheless, you can be sure that whatever they put out, it will be high quality.
“If we could tell our customers one thing, it’s that we are really passionate about Cannabis and we love what we do. I look forward to coming in here every day to spend time with my ladies, and we’re not doing this to get rich. It’s nice to be able to provide for our families by growing Cannabis, but ultimately, we’re doing this for the love of the plant. And I think that reflects in our product,” says Koenig.