The emergence of the holiday season usually means an array of parties, an abundance of shopping, and a lot of seasonal foods and drinks. And when it comes to food, some venture out and try new recipes. However, many people stick to their parents’ and grandparents’ tried-and-true culinary dishes.
While the consistency of grandma’s sweet potato pie and deeply brewed sweet tea never misses, former NBA star Al Harrington is putting quite the unique spin on some of his favorites from his grandma that he believes will not disappoint.
Harrington enjoyed a long and successful career in the NBA, spending 18 seasons with seven teams. During his time, he averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. As he approached the final years of his basketball career, Harrington entered an industry many may not have thought of for him. However, inspiration from a loved one sparked his entrepreneurial pursuits.
Harrington had a close relationship with his grandmother Viola. She had long suffered from glaucoma, which impacted her vision. Seeing his grandma’s struggle, Harrington suggested that she try cannabis to aid with her condition.
And if you know anything about Black grandmothers, that was a task.
After Viola’s initial reluctance to try cannabis, Harrington left her alone but soon found her crying. Wondering what was wrong, his grandma was reading her Bible in tears exclaiming this was the first time she had been able to read and see so clearly, thanks to his suggestion.
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When this moment happened, he knew the power of the plant and worked to design a product that would not just be a source for “getting high” but a revolutionary company with social responsibility goals.
Fast forward to today, and Harrington’s company, Viola Brands, is expanding its footprint by adding edibles to its list of products.
Appropriately named and inspired after his grandma, Viola Brands has a mission to “increase minority participation and ownership in the cannabis industry while positively impacting and reinvesting into communities most affected by the war on drugs.”
Although Harrington and his team’s mission is clear, there were obstacles they faced early on.
Harrington had an attorney that wasn’t leading him or the team toward the path to success.
“Our attorney that we first used — pretty much all the advice that he was giving us to do was all the wrong things. Like, thank God that we could read the regs and different things like that and decide on stuff on our own. And, we actually paid for him to learn about the cannabis space,” Harrington explained.
He has also been able to leverage the company’s success to change the mindset around cannabis and how that negatively impacts the Black community.
“I actually was able to talk to David Stern about it. He asked me what I was doing, and I said, ‘I’m in cannabis.’ I sent them some stuff, and we started having more and more conversations to the point where I was like, ‘Would you mind if I interview you and just kind of talk about why sports feel the way that they feel about cannabis and drugs in general,'” Harrington said.
He added, “I honestly feel like that conversation I had with him really sparked what we see today where you see pretty much [across] all major sports now, especially domestically in the United States.”
Even though Harrington faced hardships along the way, he did not let any of that stop him.
Now with Puff Cannabis as its official partner, Viola Brands will introduce edibles in locations across Michigan such as Madison Heights, Hamtramck, and Utica on Dec. 8.
Staying on theme with the inspiration from his grandmother, the edibles Harrington’s company will offer have flavors directly influenced by some of his fondest memories with his grandmother and her food.
“We’re calling it Grandma’s Kitchen. We’re focused on all products or flavors that my grandmother really loved or that she made. She loved coffee in the morning. So, we have a coffee [flavor] and different things like that,” Harrington described.
The flavors customers can find at the initial launch are Big Apple Dreamin, inspired by his grandmother’s apple pie, and Paradise Island, which is based on his fond memories of visiting the islands with Viola.
As a part of the launch, Viola Brands will do an in-store activation on Dec. 16, taking over Puff’s Madison Heights store with a live DJ.
The brand has an additional plan to launch in the Arizona, California, and Colorado markets early in Q1.