With NBA All-Star hitting a city that is new to recreational cannabis in Chicago, Viola arrived, gathering some of the biggest stars in the city for the events.
The premium brand is founded by former NBA star Al Harrington and named after his grandmother, Viola Harrington, who used cannabis for a variety of ailments in her life including glaucoma and diabetes. Al oversees the cultivation, extraction and production processes. He would go on to launch Harrington Wellness in 2018, a company based on non-psychoactive cannabinoid products, and Butter Baby, that makes cannabis edibles. All three companies are under the Harrington Group umbrella.
Viola also used their weekend space to host a private birthday party. The brand partnered with Jue Lan Club to bring the exclusive cuisine from the New York City home to Chicago for the first time this weekend. The pop-up was held at a private loft in Chicago and branded with Viola gear. On Sunday, the space was transitioned into a Sunday Brunch spot.
Making sure the presence of the brand extended throughout the weekend, Viola hosted AfterDark celebrations at The Underground, one of the few locations in Chicago that are opened late. Vic Mensa performed Friday night while DJ Steph Floss kept the vibes going. Additional guests through the AfterDark series included 2 Chainz, Don C, Freddie Gibbs, G Herbo, Jadakiss, Dave East, and Fabolous.
Outside of All-Star weekend, Viola has recently opened his first flagship retail store in Detroit, Michigan, has partnerships with Kash Doll and Vezzo, and securing Ericka Pittman who has led initiatives at Combs Enterprises and AQUAhydrate as their Chief Marketing Officer.
Both Harrington and Pittman spoke with The SOURCE about Viola’s products and their belief in the brand.
The Source: Many players struggle when leaving the NBA to find a purpose or something to take part in retirement. What let you know that this was the course for you?
Al Harrington: I think that seeing the way it helped my grandmother and then you know, all the people that I could actually help. This was just something that eventually I came to the realization that I was a part of something that was way bigger than anything I probably could ever have done on the basketball court.
Over a two year span, I just realized this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m not supposed to coach, I’m not supposed to do any of that. I’m supposed to be an entrepreneur and provide opportunities for other people.
The foundation of the company was set in a personal relationship with your grandmother. What did it take you from there to find out how to develop this business plan?
My first financial advisor literally fired me because I was in this space. He thought I would go to jail with taxes and different things like that. He’s like, I can’t work with you anymore. I was still strong enough to say I’m willing to lose a relationship over this. Then there was a lot of trial and error.
A lot of people that I felt like were industry experts led me in the wrong direction. But thank God I can read and I had a good partner with instincts. That allowed us to get through that first two, three years until we got to the point that we understand the industry and know that it is always changing. You have to be kind of nimble enough to allow your company to continue to move forward. From there it’s constantly watching the regulation. This plan is evolving, it’s still not even set. This industry is still a lot of unknown and we just kind of roll with the punches.
Knowing the benefits of cannabis, do you see it ever becoming a part of treatment for players?
It should be. I understand the perception, nobody wants to see an athlete smoking anything. That’s the beauty of cannabis, you don’t have to post. You can have a capsule, there are topicals and that’s what I’m advocating for. I use cannabis every single day. That’s the first supplement I take in the morning is CBD and it assists with the aches and pains my body will go through for the rest of my life. It’s so much more dynamic than about just somebody getting high and sitting on the couch.
You recently just opened your first shop in Michigan, how fast you expect for your retail locations to expand?
Pretty fast. I mean we work with the social equity applicants here in LA that we have some opportunities there. We just won two retail locations in Missouri and will aim for Chicago, our aim is to hit the market as it becomes available. We are a top-shelf brand and we will find our way into the market.
The Source: What attracted you to become a member of the Viola family?
Ericka Pittman: So a Viola is a special organization because it’s rooted in purpose. Um, uh, the company is literally named after Al’s grandmother. I think it speaks volumes to the level of authenticity and integrity that the brand represents. The biggest focus is purpose, product, and people. Making sure that we execute with excellence across all three of those pillars. So as I think about the cannabis industry as and where it’s going, for me has been a tremendous community and the work of how to get into the space and make waves from the ground up around marketing, strategy and consumer interface.
It is the largest African American owned multi-state operator in the country. It’s a best in class brand. I just think that there’s a great opportunity for this brand to really be a legacy brand.
You’re serving as the first African American female CMO of a multi-state cannabis company. Do you think there is an adequate representation or a positive growth trend of Black women coming to the cannabis business?
I think there’s a lag in African-American women getting into any industry at an executive level. I certainly think that the dialogue is starting to become a bit more transparent around inclusiveness. But cannabis specifically, I think that there is an urgent need to diversify at the top level in cannabis across the board. I think a lot of African Americans are starting to understand the dispensary level, but there is a much broader spectrum of opportunity within cannabis from the cultivation standpoint to processing to distribution and even obviously to retail. So as the first chief marketing officer of a multi-state operator and a Black woman, I think it is my responsibility to help continue to evangelize the message and creating opportunities for more women to have a voice.
Your previous roles, whether it was AQUAhydrate or Combs enterprises how much do you return to tactics that work in past roles into your new adventure?
I think for everyone, anyone that has ever worked anywhere in their lives, it is preparing them for the next role that they take on, whether it’s a role within a company or organization or it’s launching their own organization. he experiences that we amass over the course of our careers are the very things that we go to, to, to help us make decisions and to, um, to operate, uh, successfully as we move forward. So, to answer your question specifically, uh, everything that I’ve done in my career, has prepared me for the role that I’m in now. And, uh, and I certainly go to the tools that I’ve, I’ve amassed to, um, to make decisions and to, to work to forward the company.
What was your process like for becoming familiar with the product and the market and the consumers?
That’s a really great question. I’ve done a lot of research. I have a lot of friends that are cannabis experts and I have friends that are curious. I think that more individuals are starting to explore the efficacy of cannabis from a medicinal and recreational standpoint. There are quite a few buckets of types of psychographics, if you will, that go into the cannabis consumer behavior. So I’ve done a lot of research anecdotally in my own network to just understand what the experts think the category is and where it’s going and what some of the newcomers might be thinking about the category as well.
Events for this brand have wrapped at Super Bowl and now NBA All-Star, how do you aim to stand out in a city where various brands have other events going on?
What’s exciting is the NBA All-Star weekend is in Chicago and who just got approved for recreational use. So it’s going to be really cool to see how consumers are engaged with cannabis during the weekend. It’s important for us for a few reasons. Al Harrington is a former NBA player, so the all-star weekend is near and dear to his heart. I think Chicago is the home base for one of our co-founders so we have a lot of roots actually happening around the weekend.
For me, it’s really about Viola, the brand, and being brand forward as it relates to the things that we represent in the lifestyle and the culture. It’s really about creating use once in a lifetime opportunity for the consumer that we think speak to our brand ethos and making connections.