Saskatchewan company that owns Leopold's Tavern hopes to go from beer to bongs

Saskatchewan company that owns Leopold's Tavern hopes to go from beer to bongs

The owners of multiple successful prairie pubs are trying to tap into the cannabis industry.

Leo's Group, which runs seven restaurants in Saskatchewan and Alberta, including Leopold's Tavern and Victoria's Tavern, applied for a cannabis retail licence in Saskatchewan in partnership with York Plains Investments.

The groups, along with 1,501 other applicants, are competing for the 51 available cannabis retailer permits being handed out by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

Jason Drummond is part of both groups and has spent the last two years researching and investing in the cannabis sector.

The group's path to opening a legal cannabis store started last summer, with a 300-page proposal to the government of Manitoba, Drummond said.

In Saskatchewan, a lottery system will determine who gets a licence and who doesn't.

A third party company was hired to identify financial opportunities, community populations, demographics, product needs, capital costs and revenues.

"We did put a lot of resources into the Saskatchewan retail applications. We had a fairly large team working towards the proposal," he said. "We didn't just want to put in an application without understanding the business.

"We want to be prepared to open a store, or a number of stores, and hire staff."

According to Drummond, selling cannabis is not just a transactional business. He said doing it well involves offering customer education, excellent service and a unique experience.

Wishing for a 'Saskatchewan bias'

SLGA has said that some applications will be tossed out based on criteria such as character, finances and operational ability.

It has stated that Saskatchewan-based retailers will not be given preference over out-of-province applicants.

Drummond said his group has been advocating for a made-in-Saskatchewan industry from the beginning and would prefer a "Saskatchewan bias" when selecting successful applicants. 

"I think there's a lot of passionate and capable people in the province who can own and operate stores. So we would love to see a Saskatchewan flavour," Drummond said.

For now, Drummond said Leo's is getting prepared to sell cannabis.

He said the group would likely be ready to open a store about three months after a firm date for recreational marijuana legalization is set.

He said the biggest tasks would be finding locations and hiring staff. The group currently employs about 300 people.

The Saskatchewan government said it will announce successful applicants in the coming weeks.