Interviews

As Denver Cannabis Events Stagnate, Groovy Gravy Keeps the Fun Burning

Groovy Gravy founder Stephen Woolf
Groovy Gravy founder Stephen Woolf Courtesy of Groovy Gravy
Finding a good cannabis event in Denver takes work, but finding something groovy takes patience, too.

As an organizer of exclusive cannabis parties, exhibitions, dinners and pop-ups, Groovy Gravy partners with talented chefs, artists and cannabis brands to lead guests through a journey of the best Denver has to offer. Founder Stephen Woolf teams up with fan favorites like 710 Labs, Lazercat and Dialed In to create unique events mixing popular cannabis products and local food and drink. Members of the Wu-Tang Clan and the Pharcyde experienced Groovy Gravy last year, while nationally known chefs like Dave Hadley and Emily Oyer have handled the cooking, and Death & Co has served up cannabis cocktails.

Keeping his events small, private and for those in the know, Woolf is a rare success story in a murky space as cannabis-friendly events struggle to find legitimacy in Colorado. "It's not about finding the highest bidder for me when I'm looking for people or companies to work with," he says. "It's about finding the best hash and strains and figuring out what goes best with it."

We sat down with Woolf to learn more.

Westword: How did you gain all of these connections in art, cannabis and food?

Stephen Woolf: I was the marketing director and worked with the [now-defunct] Indo Expo. Most of that is just always being willing to talk to people, and having to travel for cannabis in my last job. Then Indo Expo was here, Portland and some other places. We were always traveling or working on going to new cities, and that involved a lot of talking with other businesses. There were plenty of consumption events and cannabis cups, but the Indo Expo was one of the first to treat this is as a real business. I met a ton of people that way, and was gathering business cards, putting them into a spreadsheet and reaching out to people. I'm a cannabis person in my heart, so this never really seemed like work.

What about food?

I love food, and I'm just fat [laughs]. But it really is all from just visiting places. My grandfather taught me that if you like a place, you support it and go there often. Maybe even become friends with the place. It's hard for me to avoid doing that.

Are there a lot of similarities between the food and cannabis trades?

Oh, yeah, so much. The margins and always having to worry about price changes. The similarities are more evident now than ever. COVID really made that happen, and the food people are seeing price changes like cannabis people have.

There are a lot of egos that come with these worlds, too, especially with the pop-up culture going around in food. Some people are graceful about it, but other people always say they have the best. It's like that with herb, too. Some of that self-promotion has to happen in cannabis, because the ability to market is based mostly on Instagram. Even then, you still risk getting your profile deleted. We can't do much on there right now, and have to be very careful when we do.

All of my chef friends believe cooking changed in the early 2000s thanks to shows like Top Chef and Chopped. They think it ruined cooking. Two of the people who told me this are chefs that won Chopped! Even though they've benefited from it, they feel like it's flipped into egos getting involved. It's about celebrity, and not the experience and dirt you've gone through. I think cannabis is that way, too, because of Instagram. If it's the only marketing tool, it sort of turns into a popularity contest.

That social media algorithm can change people.

That's why I love events. I can always break the algorithm, ghost and disappear. Because people have been to the events, they'll share that information when they see it come up next time. And then when the actual event happens, social media will get jacked up because of all the activity happening there. It's sort of a saving grace.

How long did it take you to create a game plan for the events you put on? There's not a lot of precedent out there for what you're doing.

I always did side events for Indo Expos, where I'd throw parties for sponsors and close friends. We'd rent full parts of hotels and throw these huge parties, so I'm used to entertaining people at after-parties and events. I think my plan was formulated before I even put it to use for myself. A trade show is selling space, and that space is value. So you need to find extras and creative ways to make that space worth more.

When the pandemic hit, I realized that big events might not ever be the same. I've always brought people together, though, and cannabis has been part of that, even before I did it [professionally].

We see a lot of dinners, but you've put on skateboarding shows and are even considering an outdoor movie screening. How untapped are cannabis-friendly events right now? What other opportunities do you see?

I'm constantly thinking about this. There are so many things that I think would be amazing if we applied what we do to a certain space. There are so many ways people love and consume cannabis like they do alcohol. A beautiful coffee bar or cocktail lobby, something classy, with an area for cannabis and a separate area to go enjoy a drink — because we're adults. It actually makes me upset and frustrated when I think about this perception of freedom in what we're doing here. There's this layer of issues. Even when you do it the right way — thinking of fire codes, safety and trade-show requirements — the number-one concern is still getting slapped on the wrist.

The alcohol factor seems to be a big obstacle in open cannabis consumption.

A lot of people are hesitant because they have to choose between the two things when they go out. Why can't there just be two separate sections in the same place offering either? Be an adult and learn how to handle yourself.

Let's say you were mayor for a day and could throw an event anywhere in the city. Where would you have it?

It's got to be Red Rocks. It's already happening there, anyway, so at least let us have a night. There doesn't have to be alcohol. We just need the chance to prove that it can be done.

There are a lot of cool venues out there. The McNichols Building is great. I just toured the Sports Castle, and it's really interesting, with a lot of levels. A place like that could be amazing or it could be lame, but that's all dictated by how you throw the event.

I don't need to make a zillion bucks off each event. I want to throw the coolest event and execute the idea to the fullest. We have a good format right now that I still want to perfect, but I am working on a competition of sorts. It's not a cannabis cup or something where you taste everything at the same time, but something with different elements to it. I can't say much more about it right now, but it's exciting to plan out.

Who are some chefs or cannabis companies that you'd like to work with some day?

La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal on Larimer. I haven't met the chef there, but his food is incredible. Caroline Glover, the chef and owner of Annette at Stanley Marketplace — I would love to work with her. I've been there a few times, and it's probably the best food I've had in the city. We're doing some cannabis stuff with Allgreens soon, which I'm really excited about. There are a lot of new brands I've been meaning to try, as well.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell