Cannabis is growing in importance in Colorado, shaping our economy as well as our image. For a closer look at the businesses creating that image, Westword took a behind-the-scenes tour of L'Eagle, a mom-and-pop pot shop on the industrial edge of the Baker neighborhood that specializes in organic, sustainable and health-conscious marijuana and bills itself as "a deluxe cannabis gallery for the discerning connoisseur."
John and Amy Andrle opened L'Eagle as a medical marijuana dispensary in 2010 in hopes of bringing something new to the industry. "It’s really unique. I come from nonprofits, nonprofit management, and my husband comes from a food-and-wine background. So we've kind of combined those things," Amy Andlre says of the couple's yin-and-yang partnership.
How did they come up with the name? "My friends and I for years have used Eagle as the code word for marijuana," John says. "''The eagle has landed' meant somebody had obtained some fine cannabis. The play on words sounding like legal — which in 2009 was very becoming — stuck immediately. Except our first employees were like, 'I'm not faking a French accent on the phone.' I said, 'Well, just pronounce it legal.'"
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They found a location on the edge of the Baker neighborhood, near the highway, where both the grow and the store are housed. "We loved the ease from the interstate — you can get off and back on from I-25 north and south without hitting a single stoplight," Amy says. "There's free and ample parking, a discreet locale: we're hiding in plain sight. And the view of the mountains both inside and outside the store is unparalleled."
They began selling marijuana recreationally in January 2014, shortly after the first wave of rec dispensaries. John has seventeen years of food-industry experience, in both Vail and Denver, which is apparent in both L'Eagle's meticulous growing process and its treatment of customers. L'Eagle emphasizes organic agriculture methods, and the couple and their staffers are careful to let customers know exactly what's in their product.
The Andrles, who have their hands full at home as well with a two-year old daughter, treat L'Eagle's customers like family. They have a Rolodex of die-hard regulars who clearly appreciate the approach.
Flowers and potted plants surround the entrance to the L'Eagle storefront. As you pass through the orange facade, a ramp leads you to the check-in counter by a small waiting room. The atmosphere is relaxed, and that feeling continues through to the budroom, where the friendly budtenders offer intelligent commentary on their favorite strains. Prices lean towards the expensive side, about $60 for 7 grams medically, and $100 for 7 grams recreationally. In one promo campaign, L'Eagle quoted Ben Franklin: "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."
“When people walk in," Amy says, "the first thing I ask is have they been in a dispensary before? It just gives me an idea of what their knowledge is. We try to make it a comfortable experience for a first-timer, and also an enriching experience for someone who considers themselves a connoisseur.”
To help customers determine what strains might be best for them, L'Eagle has an entire wall dedicated to cannabanoid facts and the CBD percentages of each strain. “If I’m going to go buy a bottle of wine, I don’t want the strongest wine," Amy explains. "I might do a pinot grigio — I like it a little lighter. You can do that with cannabis: If you don’t want to be knocked-out cold, go with these strains. We have a great sales staff, but it's really up to the individual to say, 'What am I looking for and how do I discern that for myself?' You can get guidance, but I think empowering people is important.”
L’Eagle has been testing its product since the couple opened the store's doors, long before the Marijuana Enforcement Division made it a requirement for recreational stores to lab test. "We use Gobi Analytics as our testing lab," says Amy. "We also do some back-up testing here, to show people the CBD breakdown — THC percentage, munchies level, all of the CBD levels. We learned that before we started selling recreational; it’s a way to keep consistency with our patients.” Double-testing keeps L'Eagle's owners on their toes, constantly expanding their knowledge of what they are producing.
The Andrles sell only their own cannabis, and they take their time growing it. “Nothing is rushed to the shelves," says Amy. "It's not common; it also costs a lot of money to do that. It’s really a challenge for us, but I think that people value it and appreciate it.”
Although they sell wholesale cannabis to other stores, they keep the best for their own store, where they also offer edibles and concentrates made with L'Eagle bud. “This is butter extraction," Amy says, holding up one edible product available at L'Eagle. "it's made with all-healthy ingredients, and it's made only with our product. You know what's in it. Don’t you want to know where your food comes from?” The products made at the varying edible companies they work with all use healthy, non-genetically modified ingredients — including the bud.
L'Eagle doesn't offer BHO-extracted hash, but it does make an in-house water-extracted wax. "The extractions that are coming out of heavy pesticide-using grows are not safe and no one has determined the side effects.” John explains.
"This is a specialty here," adds Amy. "Purified water, ice, strained in a microne bag by hand. We even sell the microne bags here. We actually just started carrying a CO2-extraction. I err on the side of caution. It's better than butane, but I believe the CO2 extractions we have just further highlight our amazing water-extracted hash. The smoke is so pure.”
As for the Andrles's favorite strains, John goes with the namesake: "L'Eagle Eagle. This is a sativa, it's light and similar to a Golden Goat. It's phenomenal." Amy, on the other hand, says, "Durban Diesel is my favorite. Once I find a strain I like, I stick with it." Other customer-pleasing strains include Green Crack, Strawberry Cough and Girl Scout Cookies.
The strains of bud have evolved since they began growing. L'Eagle shelves will usually carry twenty to thirty strains, when only a few years ago they grew nearly sixty. John and Amy say they eventually had to narrow down the inventory, but kept their favorites. (if they knew a customer really liked a certain strain, they held the last ounce for that regular.) In general, the lineup now holds all the favorites, strains that have become only better over time.
L'Eagle's back-of-the-house grow warehouse has plenty of space. They keep their plants as tightly trimmed and spread out as possible, a farming secret that reduces the possibility of pests, bacteria or mold in that can appear in shadowy areas on plants. More space also means the plants are less stressed-out than they are at a crowded grow.
The extra steps are not cheap. "It costs a lot of money to run it this way," Amy explains. "We bring people in to get rid of the extra leaves, so the plant doesn't have to focus energy on growing those leaves, but also as pest prevention. Pests love dark, cramped spaces. We're using citrus oil, garlic oil — these are all things that are completely safe for fruits vegetables, foods and everything is OMRI listed." OMRI stands for the Organic Materials Review Institute, an organic branch of the FDA.
"We just take the road 'if it's good enough for food, it's going to be good enough for pot,'" John says, "Any cash crop needs nutrients — tomatoes, lettuce, corn, pot — everything needs nutrients. I'd rather have something that someone used way too many nutrients on than something that used a tiny amount of pesticides, which are illegal."
“We try to be as organic as possible, given that the federal government doesn’t recognize the crop, and the industry can't have that organic standard yet that we have here," Amy continues. "What we do is we grow differently. Part of that is spacing and our human resources. We give a lot of space to our plants and a lot of eyes on plants every day. There’s always going to be human contact with the plant. We're looking it over and we're identifying if there are any weak spots. It's for two people: the consumer, and our employees, who we value. See how clean it smells in here? They know it's safe, they know to wash their hands, they know our nutrients are genuinely safe to work with."
John is always improving the grow and, through experimentation on the soil, he's learning how to produce a better product. He'll add or change an organic variant, then track it with his team. And that team is impressive: "Lucas Targos worked at a certified organic dairy farm; John Chandler grew organic tomatoes for Whole Foods for three years; Ray Paz worked at a family farm, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he was also an agriculture inspector for Homeland Security. Everyone has horticulture degrees. We hire people who have the experience and pedigree and education. Learning about cannabis they can do, but you can't do it the other way around. You can't teach a basement grower agriculture."
This emphasis on the organic agriculture process gives L'Eagle an edge on MED compliance standards, which got significantly more strict earlier this year regarding pesticide use and regulation. “For our growers, all the compliance wasn’t so shocking," says Amy. "When you're used to what happens in the federal government to get that standard, I think that the cannabis regulations were expected. Some of the other safety measures and federal protection standard act requirements we were already doing.”
There are five stages in the L'Eagle grow, beginning with the clone vegetation, then moving into the larger center room, and finally into three separate flowering rooms. The buds slowly get larger as the plants are moved from flowering rooms one, two and three. These flowering rooms simulate “fall” in lighting and in temperature, another secret that tricks the plant into flowering more efficiently.
"We believe in a long curing cycle: sixty days minimum," says John. "They used to cure tobacco in tobacco sheds; when they'd pull and harvest the tobacco, they'd hang it upside down."
And why is sixty days important? "It's because they'd want the plant matter to dissipate, they want the chlorophyll to break down," Amy explains. "What you're left with is something that smokes really smooth and tastes more pure. Live plant matter needs a chance to properly dry and dissipate."
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Nothing is rushed, nor does it go to waste. "We compost all of our plant waste here. We do a bokashi composting system where we break it down with bran, and it becomes a nutrient for us," Amy says. "We recycle all our plastic containers. We have farmers who pick up our additional media, soil, things we’ve grown in. They’ll pick that up and recycle that on their farms because it has key nutrients in it; our root balls are healthy to use, our water is healthy to use.”
Learn more about L'Eagle on its website.