Krown LLC founder explains the role of a cannabis infusion business
A new business in Pekin is the first of its kind in the state. Krown LLC is a cannabis infusion company, as well as being the first cannabis infusion company to be licensed through a Social Equity application.
Founder Allison Dries says she applied for an application with co-founder Eric Labraaten in March 2020.
“We did also apply for the craft grower, but we were not able to get that license at this time,” she said. “The whole application process for all the licensing was incredibly competitive.”
The infusion license means that Krown doesn’t grow or sell cannabis onsite in their 13,000 square foot Pekin facility. Dries says infusion is the process that turns concentrated THC distillate into the products that line Illinois dispensary shelves.
“We can buy the concentrated THC distillate from a cultivation center, and then infuse it into all kinds of consumer goods,” she said. “Products like gummies, cookies, mints, topicals, vapes, all the different kinds of products that consumers enjoy.”
Dries has a degree in chemistry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She spent 16 years at Caterpillar as a chemist doing fuel and oil research, eventually becoming a supervisor for engineering teams that manage the chemicals and lubricants used in tractor manufacturing. She says, after a while, she was looking for a different experience.
“COVID, I think really changed a lot of people's perceptions on evaluating their careers and what they want out of life and that kind of thing,” she said. “And it was certainly no different for me. I was looking for something really different.”
Dries also has an interest in food chemistry and when she read the state was looking for Illinois scientists and engineers to apply for the licenses, it seemed like a good fit for her background. The next step was finding a space that met all the requirements for a cannabis business.
“You had to find a kind of unicorn of a building. It had to be standalone, it couldn't be attached to anything else, like a strip mall or even one other business. It had to be industrial zoned. So you can't put this in a residential zone or even a commercial district,” said Dries. “And even in that case, then it still had to be 1000 feet away from everything that could possibly offend people, like a church, a school or a daycare. It was a pretty extensive list.”
Dries found the Pekin location through working with a realtor and made the proposal to the city council for a special use permit.
“I think everybody sees the potential for growth and employment. And just kind of the opportunities, of course, the tax revenue that it'll bring,” said Dries. “The tax revenue can be used for things like the park district and roads. And I think everybody gets kind of excited about those types of opportunities.”
The council approved it unanimously.
“That was a really exciting day,” said Dries. “And then after that, we moved on closing on the building and started the remodel.”
The remodel included two kitchen, packaging facilities and storage. It also included updates to be compliant with state rules for a cannabis business.
“They require 24/7 CCTV for every inch of the building, interior and exterior,” said Dries. “So the Department of Ag and Illinois State Police and any other authorities that request it have access to see what's going on every inch of the building all day and night.”
Dries says, at times, working with state agencies felt like they were both learning the rules of cannabis legislation.
“They've had some experience with the medical cultivators. But they released some or created so many new licenses and businesses that they've ramped up,” she said. “And they have to send auditors weekly to all these businesses once they become online. So they've hired a lot of new employees. And so the new employees are very much learning as they're auditing us.”
Dries hopes the process of opening a cannabis business will eventually become more streamlined.
“I think that really depends on federal legalization. I think that most people in the industry agree that it's coming at some point, we just don't know, when a lot of people are kind of leaning towards five to 10 years,” she said. “I think that might be a little optimistic. But I think eventually it will happen.”
Krown LLC also has a designation as a social equity applicant. Dries says this will be reflected in their hiring practices. Their employment base is focused on people whose lives were negatively impacted by the war on drugs.
“Maybe they lost their job, or they weren't able to get jobs after that, especially if it was a felony,” said Dries. “And so by creating different jobs, in the legal cannabis sector, we really want to focus our hiring practices to give opportunities to people that have been directly impacted by things like that.”
Currently, Krown has 17 employees. Dries says they’re aiming for 34 employees next year and 68 employees in 2024. Those employees will be creating two brands of products at Krown. The first is Wyld, an Oregon-based cannabis edibles company that Krown will produce gummies for. The other is Enliven, Krown’s own in-house brand.
“There's just not a lot available right now outside of gummies,” said Dries “And so we have this opportunity to bring some really creative new products to the market.”
Dries says Enliven will start with a few flavors of cookies, eventually she wants to expand into cannabis infused mints. She also wants to explore protein based and gluten free edible options.
“That's just the products that we're launching with and as the months go by, we're going to get a lot more creative,” she said.
Enliven products are expected to be on Illinois dispensary shelves sometime in early 2023.