oon & Oink Craft Grower exterior | Igor Studenkov

A minority-owned company looking to open a cannabis craft grower in Austin got pushback and some support during a March 17 community meeting organized by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) at West Austin Development Center, 4920 W. Madison St.

Candence Team is a minority-owned company with two West Side natives among the ownership team – record producer Carl Terrell Mitchell, who raps as Twista, and concert promoter Rawle Stewart. The company has two craft grower licenses, and they are looking to open one dispensary on the West Side and one dispensary on the South Side, because they believe that this is where the businesses would do the most good. For the West Side location, they are looking to buy the former Moo & Oink grocery store, 4848 W. Madison St., which has been vacant since 2011.

Throughout the March 17 meeting, co-owners in attendance, as well as event promoter Juan Teague, who is helping them with community outreach, said they were looking to create jobs and improve safety near the often-troubled intersection of Madison Street and Cicero Avenue. But the majority of attendees who spoke argued that a grocery store or a school would be a much better way to accomplish the goals the team called for and expressed concern about an increase in crime. Ervin, whose ward includes the Moo & Oink site and the surrounding blocks, said that, based on the feedback from the meeting, he wouldn’t support Cadence’s application unless they’re able to win the community over.

Craft growers are similar to cultivation centers, in that they can grow cannabis, but not sell it. Craft growers sell it to either other dispensaries or their own dispensaries at a different location. Teague compared it to “all of y’all who’ve been growing weed in your house,” except on a slightly larger scale. 

In 2016, Thom Alcazar, a businessman with experience in warehousing and supply chain management, expressed interest in using the vacant store for Eats Groceries — a warehouse-like store where customers would order food through touch screens and have it delivered to them.  The proposal didn’t ultimately get very far.  In 2020, Purely Meat Co., a  meat wholesaler, got the zoning approvals that would allow it to move into the building from its current location in West Humboldt Park, 4345 W. Division St., but it didn’t follow through. The company since made plans to move to west suburban Forest Park

Cadence co-owner Richard Park told the Austin Weekly News that they are “under contract” to buy the building from Purely Meat – but that they won’t finalize the deal until they have community buy-in.

Moo & Oink Craft Grower Exterior | Studenkov

Ervin said that he was particularly interested in hearing the opinions of the neighbors of the 4700-4900 blocks of Madison Street and Washington Boulevard. He said he would only support the project if “60 to 70%” of the community supports it.

According to the meeting presentation, Cadence plans to rehab the existing building and build an addition at the east end. Teague said they will be working with their construction contractor to provide job opportunities for African Americans, including non-union workers. 

Park said they would not only hire from the community but work with organizations to train people for jobs in the industry. They also plan to negotiate a binding community benefit agreement with the neighbors.  He and other co-owners described the craft grower as a way to bring the kind of prosperity more well-off neighborhoods are already benefitting from to Austin.

“We saw this opportunity to come back to the neighborhood and do some good,” Stewart said. “We’re here to listen, because this is a good opportunity to do some good in the neighborhood.”

“As an artist from the West Side, this is a no-brainer,” said Mitchell. “I’ve seen other organizations do similar things, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Park said that, once their application and permits are approved, he expects the renovations of the old grocery store  to take between 9 and 14 months. 

Teague pitched it as a better alternative to a cannabis business owned by people “who don’t look like us” and wouldn’t care about what the community needs. She also pitched “improved lighting” the security cameras all cannabis businesses are required to put in as a way to improve safety.

“I know for a fact I don’t go to the gas station [at 4804 W. Madison St.] – I’m scared,” she said. 

But most of the attendees were skeptical. Victoria Prewitt, a parishioner at Mt. Carmel Holiness Church, 4800 W. Washington Blvd., was one of several attendees who argued that a cannabis business wouldn’t be the best way to help the community.

“Austin is a food desert,” she said. “So if you really want to help the community, bring a grocery store.”

Prewitt said that a technical school to teach local residents trades would be a good use as well. 

Ervin responded that there have been three separate proposals to open a grocery store on the site, but none of them got anywhere. He also pointed to the fact that the city is looking to bring a grocery store to the former West Garfield Park Aldi location, 3835 W. Madison St. 

Matina Riley, a member of the Westside Health Authority’s Good Neighbor Campaign, argued that what the community needs more are resources for youth and people coming out of prison. 

“We don’t need [a craft grower] right now in the community,” she said. 

The proposal did have a few supporters. Germell Thavis argued that a successful business like a craft grower could help revitalize the once-thriving Madison Street corridor.

“How many businesses have left the community?” he said. “Give these people an opportunity to bring [a business] that will make a difference.”

Lisa Parker, who said she lives on Washington Boulevard, north of the Moo & Oink building, said that too many people let their concerns about marijuana blind them to the project’s merits.  

“I think it’s a great idea. I hope that the community will get a bit more of an understanding.”

After the meeting, Park said that, if they don’t get approval, they would consider locations in the 24th Ward, which includes most of North Lawndale and a small, mostly industrial section of southeast Austin; and the 25th Ward, which includes most of Pilsen. But he said that he hopes that Cadence can win the neighbors over.

“What neighborhood needs us more than [Austin]?” he asked.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...