I'm a sucker for stories about people living or travelling in some exotic locale, and at the same time find themselves on a journey of self-discovery - one that causes a life-altering shift in perspective and career path. So I had to talk to Alan Gertner myself when I first read about his decision to quit a successful, high-paying job with Google to start a cannabis company - a choice he made while working on a contract in Ghana, West Africa.
"I had set my goals on external factors. That's what I did in my twenties. I didn't really know any better. Those external factors were money and prestige and the appearances of importance," said Gertner in a recent interview. "And when I reflected on what I wanted out of my thirties it was a lot more internal goals. It was more a feeling of fulfillment...It was also a desire to work more on things I loved and have more control over my own work."
So he decided to combine three abiding passions - coffee, clothing and cannabis - into one business: Tokyo Smoke. The first phase of the business in a Toronto-based showroom/cafe that has a coffee bar, clothing, and cannabis paraphernalia.
"One of early insights was that the head shop has not evolved, ever," he said. "For the most part, they're still the same, let's say, 'suboptimal' retail experience. We wanted to provide a beautiful place for people to buy cannabis paraphernalia and learn about cannabis culture."
Gertner has plans to eventually open similar showrooms in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Listen to our full conversation below, which includes the story about Gertner's life-changing conversation on the way to a Voodoo ceremony in rural Ghana. I begin our chat by asking him about what inspired his life-altering career change.
Photos of Tokyo Smoke by Josh Lyon :