Eric Gaston is the co-founder and CEO of Evergreen Market, a Cannabis retailer with five locations that are rooted in respect for Cannabis culture. A former attorney who chose a new career in Cannabis, Gaston breaks the mold when it comes to owning a dispensary. As a Renton Chamber of Commerce Board Member who openly celebrates his love for the plant, Gaston leads his team and community by representing the Cannabis industry with a positive, Stoner Owner style. We sat down at the Renton flagship location to hear how working with the Cannabis culture has led to success for Evergreen Market.
How did Cannabis come into your life?
The first time I smoked I was in fifth grade at an ACDC concert. I smoked a little in junior high, but I don’t remember getting high as a kid. We were so young, it was more of a rebel thing. By high school I had cleaned up my act and was more into studying and school. I smoked a little in college and law school. I then practiced law for almost 20 years and was at a place in my career where I wasn’t happy. I was a litigator, hired to go into battle every day, and I started to not like who I was. The turning point was coming home and my daughter – who was in kindergarten at the time – had drawn a picture of my family and it showed her next to my wife and her older sister and brother, but I wasn’t in the picture. When I asked where I was, she said, “You’re over here on your phone.” It was like, all right, I need to change.
What inspired you to start a dispensary?
Around that time Washington had this lottery [for retail licenses] and a colleague told me about it and said, “Why don’t we try to get a Cannabis license?” I recruited a couple friends, we applied for licenses – and I got drawn in Renton and Arnie Nelson (cofounder alongside Jeff Anderson) got one in Auburn. That was a real turning point for me.
How does it feel to participate in the Cannabis industry after coming from your law background?
I want to give back to this industry every day because of what it has given me. I feel like it gave me my life back. I run into people now and they tell me I’m a different person, I look and act differently. I started smoking and what was remarkable to me is that it’s almost impossible to be a dick when you smoke Cannabis. It’s such a catalyst for connection and mindfulness, and being aware of how you are presenting in the world around you. That’s what I’m excited about now. Creating that opportunity for other people, a narrative around using Cannabis not just to get super roached, but to really elevate yourself to where you can connect. I guarantee you I am a better father and a better husband because of Cannabis. But I’m not sure that narrative has been shared loudly enough or often enough, and that’s what we’re about.
What are the differences to being in the Cannabis industry compared to other ways you’ve made a living?
Mainly the people. Cannabis, I’m learning, is all about community and the Cannabis culture. As a group of people that share a passion, the Cannabis culture has been maligned for a long time and that builds deep ties – a culture and a sense of having each other. That’s been really amazing to be a part of and witness.
How does your role on the Board of Renton Chamber of Commerce help to normalize Cannabis businesses and culture?
First, we really want to be a part of the communities that we’re in. We wanted to be the leader in the space to demonstrate that we can be a productive member of the business community, and joining the Board was ramping that up a little bit. It’s important work to be sitting at the table with other business leaders and demonstrating that as a pot shop owner, I’m just like them.
What are some of the values that you seek to impart onto employees?
We have some outward facing core values that drive how we operate as a company, and how we present for our customers: Educate, Celebrate, Elevate. Those three things drive everything that we do, that’s kind of our true north. For our employee-facing core values, they are: Community, Respect, Integrity and Passion. Everyone is told that those are the things that we will hire and fire for.
“I guarantee you I am a better father and a better husband because of Cannabis. I’m not sure that narrative has been shared loudly enough or often enough, and that’s what we’re about.”
Tell me something your parents taught you that still resonates today when it comes to running your business.
I think my mom taught me a lot of tough love about hard work and not settling, and I think my dad taught me a lot about kindness. He was probably the kindest, gentlest man I’ve ever known. He passed just about two years ago. Of the two, I think the latter is probably more important. I’m always trying to tell my kids to be kind.
If Evergreen Market were a reality show, what would it be called?
This industry is so nuts. Our store is a combination of people who are passionate about Cannabis – but there are gaps, like our CFO who has never drank or smoked. There’s this interplay. Maybe Oil and Water? But probably THC – The Human Connection, because that sounds better and is a core value.
How did your passion for Cannabis lead to creating the Evergreen Cup?
I’m super passionate about Cannabis and wine, and the wine industry has always had blind tastings and events where you celebrate the grower and the end product. When I looked at some of the past Cannabis Cups, it seemed to me it was more about who took out the biggest ad or is bigger on social media, and less about who grows the fire. So we designed this to be all double-blind. I’m really fascinated by Cannabis and that there are so many different strains and genetics. And really the most important part of it for me was celebrating the farmer and grower.
When you need to get away from the grind, where is your happy place?
The kitchen. I love to cook. For me there’s nothing better than being able to make really good food for people that you love. That connection is similar to growing good weed. You’re giving somebody something that they will put in their body and hopefully enjoy. We even published a Cannabis cookbook! Jeff told me the other day that my last name, Gaston, means host. I love to open my home up and share both those experiences.