By Mike Christen
The Daily Herald, Columbia, Tenn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Mule Town Hemp and Cafe” sits in a building once occupied by a bank complete with a safe. Entrepreneurs Dennis and Samantha Albu offer hemp-based textiles, tobacco alternatives and soaps made with hempseed oil.
The Daily Herald, Columbia, Tenn.
Mt. Pleasant is now home to the county’s first hemp shop, and its owners want to set an example for the new agricultural industry, starting with their own community.
Opened Sept. 21, Mule Town Hemp and Cafe, owned and operated by local couple Dennis and Samantha Albu, offers a selection of hemp-based products from skin cream and beard oil to cannaidiol.
Commonly referred to as CBD, cannaidiol is a cannabis compound that lacks the psychoactive Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in illegal cannabis plants.
The shop marks the first step into the retail environment for the two entrepreneurs, who for the past three years have been growing industrial cannabis for the wholesale market out of their Maury County home.
In 2014, state Senate Bill 2495/House Bill 2445 reclassified cannabis possessing less than 0.3 percent THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance.
In 2016, HB 2032 allowed for licensed cultivation of industrial hemp when “grown by an institution of higher education,” and established regulation system for persons who wish to process or distribute industrial hemp within the state.
After the passing of the bill, the Albus opened Alleviate Pharms, a Mt. Pleasant based industrial cannibis growing and extraction business, using plants that are bred specifically to contain little to no of the TCH compound.
“We grow indoors and outdoors,” Dennis Albu said. “We extract from the flower and make our products. Our goal is to make the best product in the state.”
He says they now supply many of the hemp dispensaries that operate in Tennessee.
The state’s first hemp dispensaries opened in June of this year in Chattanooga and Murfreesboro, and now more than a dozen are open in the state.
“We have made a name for ourselves,” he said. “It has been amazing, being here at ground zero. It is interesting. We are not here to make money we are here to change lives one plant at a time.”
Under the Alleviate Pharms brand, they have also built relationships with wholesale customers in Florida, Montana and Georgia. He says they recently turned down an offer with gas station chain Twice Daily.
“We don’t want to be a gas station brand,” Dennis Albu said. “We are a little bit above that, and we have been that since we started.”
Through a self-run research and development program, he says their product offers more cannabinoids per product than competing products.
The retail store, which sits just across the street from the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, carries all of the Alleviate Pharms products as well other products including CBD infused cotton candy.
Alleviate Pharms also does consulting for growers in and out of the state. There are an estimated 200 growers in Tennessee, although the state has no official list to protect their identities.
“We are people driven, not profit driven,” Samantha Albu said.
She says all of the plants grown legally within the state are done so under strict supervision of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
“Technically, there plants are owned by the state,” he said. “If there that THC count is above 0.3 percent, they send out a representative, and we have to burn the crop.”
Mule Town Hemp and Cafe, which sits in a building once occupied by a bank complete with a safe also offers hemp based textiles, tobacco alternatives and soaps made with hempseed oil. They also plan to sell a shave puck made from the plant.
With a three-year lease on the building, the Albus plan to move much of their extraction and manufacturing process into the the space.
They say the shop’s main seller is their selection of CBD oils, tinctures, which range from absolutely no TCH to the approved trace amount of 0.3 percent. The product has found popularity in the city, especially with the more than 15 percent of residents that are 65 and older.
After looking at Spring Hill and Columbia as potential spots to open their first location, the Albus decided to stay close to home in Mt. Pleasant and establish themselves as active members of the local community, which is three years into a downtown revitalization initiative.
“We want to help revive the community,” Samantha Albu said. “We just want to add to that.”
The new business marks the return of an industry that once held a significant portion of the region’s agricultural market.
Records from the region’s antebellum plantations compiled by the Southern Historical Collection, Manuscripts Department and Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill indicate that hemp, along with tobacco, cotton, sugar and rice were the products that fueled the region’s economy.
Archived letters between Lucius Junius Polk of Maury County and his father, William Polk of Raleigh, North Carolina, discuss growing cotton and corn, the establishment of a hemp farm in the region. Other letters between members of the family also include discussion of the purchase of machinery to process the plant.
Mt. Pleasant was once the home of a bustling hemp industry lead by Lucios Polk and his 50,000-acre hemp farm is now seeing a return of the controversial plant.
“Our hemp was the first hemp in the ground in Mt. Pleasant, since the era of James K. Polk,” Dennis Albu said.
They say the new industry will also give farmers a chance to move from tobacco crops and offers the possibility of job creation.
The Albus currently employ two locals in their retail shop and share plans of expansion that include hiring 20 workers.
With their feet fully grounded in Mt. Pleasant, the Albus say their top priority in the retail space is education.
“Everybody is not sure, so education is key,” Samantha Albu said. “We recommend people start low and slow and find what fits their needs. A lot of people still think it is marijuana, which it isn’t, and a lot of people think it is still illegal, when it isn’t.”
A family a green thumbs, the Albus have relatives across the Southeast who belong to a legacy of botanists.
“We have a passion for growing everything and anything,” Dennis Albu said.
He says the family descends from founding members of the American Orchid Society, the nonprofit organization founded in 1921. The membership for for the education, conservation, and research of orchids is affiliated with 600 organizations across the world is now partnered with the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and passed at its campus in Cora Gables, Florida.
The site remains a museum, laboratory, learning center and a conservation research facility operating with the primary goal of preserving biodiversity.
“We want to educate people on the plant itself, the nutritional value of the plant,” Samantha Albu said.
The Mule Town Hemp and Cafe is located at 112 Hay Long Avenue in Mt. Pleasant.
Visit the shop online at https://muletownhemp.com/ or call them at (931) 325-5577.
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