Viola Brands looks to drive diversity in Illinois cannabis industry with first Chicago-area pot shop

A Hyde Park entrepreneur in partnership with a pair of former NBA stars were awarded licenses for two pot shops: one opening this week in suburban Broadview and another later this year in Lincoln Park.

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A new cannabis dispensary from Viola Brands will open its first Chicagoland location this week. The new Broadview dispensary is at 1516 W. Roosevelt Road. A second Viola Chi location will open in Lincoln Park on Webster Avenue near Damen Avenue later this year.

A new cannabis dispensary from Viola Brands will open its first Chicago-area location this week. The new Broadview dispensary is at 1516 W. Roosevelt Road. A second Viola Chi location will open in Lincoln Park on Webster Avenue near Damen Avenue later this year.

Provided by Viola Brands

A new cannabis dispensary from Viola Brands will open its first Chicago-area location this week, adding another pot shop to Illinois’ burgeoning legal weed market — and a diverse group of entrepreneurs to the state’s troubled industry rollout.

Viola Chi is led by Dan Pettigrew, a Hyde Park cannabis industry veteran, and business partner Al Lomax. Pettigrew co-founded Viola Brands with former NBA star Al Harrington in Denver in 2011. Hall of Famer Allen Iverson is a partner.

“Coming home to Chicago is just unbelievable,” Pettigrew said. “It’s just an incredible opportunity to do this in my hometown and bring this to my hometown.”

Pettigrew and Lomax received two Illinois pot licenses in 2022. After opening a dispensary in west suburban Broadview this week at 1516 W. Roosevelt Road, they plan to open another later this year in a former emissions testing facility in Lincoln Park, at 1850 W. Webster Ave.

Dan Pettigrew, pictured in December 2019.

Dan Pettigrew, pictured in December 2019.

Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

“We really fell in love with Broadview,” Pettigrew said. “The mayor is extremely pro-minority-owned businesses. We’ll get a lot of traffic being right off the expressway.”

The Lincoln Park location will maintain the drive-up model of the old emissions testing site: Customers will be able to drive in, pick up their order and leave without ever getting out of their cars.

Viola Brands touts itself as the leading Black-owned cannabis company in the U.S. The retailer and cultivator operates in six other states, including Michigan, Colorado and California.

Viola Chi will also focus on providing jobs and training for underrepresented communities in Chicago, particularly for Black and Brown people who have been disenfranchised by the industry.

That also means working with minority-owned companies throughout the process. They hired a Black-owned general contracting company to build the retail space and are working with a diverse marketing firm.

“The Illinois partnership is funded by all minority investors,” Pettigrew said. “And that was an important goal for us, because we believed it was a way to differentiate ourselves from everybody else in the Illinois market.”

The company was awarded one of 55 licensing permits in 2021, alongside other ventures that include Cook County Commissioner Bridget Degnen, longtime news anchor Robin Robinson and the indicted son of ex-state Rep. Eddie Acevedo.

Illinois has struggled to meet lofty diversity goals for its legal cannabis industry. A state oversight office launched a study in February into whether discrimination exists in the growing business.

The $2.5 million study will analyze license applications for growing, transporting and selling cannabis. The study will also examine the state’s social equity program, aimed at increasing diversity among license holders.

The social equity program has long been criticized for stagnating the process for applicants. While nearly 200 have received conditional licenses, few have been fully authorized by the state to open as of this month.

“Getting open has been extremely challenging, and our goal is to run a successful business here,” Pettigrew said. “We’re competitive, and we want to be able to set ourselves apart.”

Pettigrew said while the licensing process hasn’t been easy, he’s encouraged to see the state trying to fix mistakes.

“We’re aware of all the challenges. With the social equity concept, it is something we’re extremely passionate about and supportive of as a company,” Pettigrew said. “We just understand that they haven’t figured it out yet.”

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