In the 1950s, Munib Bhandari’s family worked in a biri factory, rolling thin cigarettes filled with tobacco, wrapped in tendu (palm leaves), and tied with a string. Their factory sat in the state of Bogra and was a crucial source of employment for many people in Northern Bangladesh. Today, Bhandari works outside of Portland, Oregon, crafting infused pre-rolls and blunts that honor both his family’s old business and the long history of the cannabis plant.
Grasse started about four years ago as a joint venture between two brothers. Although they use their family’s history rolling specialty cigarettes in Bangladesh as inspiration, the name Grasse is an ode to Grasse, France, a gorgeous town located on the French Riviera. It’s known as the world’s perfume capital, thanks to its flower fields that have been used to develop iconic scents like Chanel No. 5.
“That’s where extraction of botanical flowers, and extraction of anything, really started,” Bhandari told me.
And the company takes its own extractions seriously. They believe the natural way is the best way, and Munib explains their role as akin to chefs, rather than chemists. They view their work as preserving and enhancing their natural ingredients.
Entering the cannabis world wasn’t always on Bhandari’s to-do list. Shortly before Colorado and Washington first legalized recreational cannabis, Bhandari was grinding away as a consultant on Wall Street, working long hours and feeling the weight of the fast-paced, competitive nature of the job.
“Looking back, cannabis is what got me through those years. That was the way I got through anxiety and stress,” he told me.
At the same time, he was running a health incubator, where medical and tech communities could come together to find health-tech solutions. Bhandari listened to a nurse speak about medical marijuana’s benefits at one event, even divulging that she would buy cannabis for her patients because she wanted to keep them off opioids.
“It was really inspirational to hear this medical professional risking her license to help her patients,” Bhandari reflected.
After that event, he began to look into cannabis more seriously. Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis around the time his interest was piqued, and he ended up taking a trip to Oregon in anticipation of a legal market.
“It changed my life for the better,” he told me. “I’ve never looked back since.”
Unlike Munib’s a-ha moment during his professional career, his brother had learned about the benefits of cannabis in high school. He was assigned a presentation about medical marijuana and found himself surprised at the various ways medical cannabis could help patients. “I think his teacher might’ve just been a big fan anyway, and that’s why she assigned it to him,” said Bhandari with a chuckle. The lesson stuck with him.
Eventually, it was time to see if they could bring their cannabis visions to life. The brothers visited the west coast on vacation and scouted out the markets, before landing on Oregon as the right place to launch a new company. Munib tossed out the Wall Street grind in favor of putting his time and money into building a family business he could take pride in. This meant building an initial ‘hash lab’ that serves as a home base for the company, though they are currently working to scale it for more operations.
The two brothers’ transition into the cannabis industry has been fulfilling, especially when it comes to helping people. Bhandari told me that hearing positive feedback from customers is important to them, and noted that the people who are really passionate about sharing their feedback tend to be the ones using Grasse products for more than just recreation.
“It’s really cool to hear people say ‘I don’t have any side effects’ or ‘I have back pain and this helps me,’” he explained. “Or to hear a mother saying it’s 30 minutes of her day she doesn’t have to focus on her kids and can just relax. It’s nice to see all the people that benefit from what we do.”
Grasse specializes in pre-rolls and blunts, but they also craft concentrates and edibles. Their main brand, Biri, is a line of solventless and strain-specific ice hash-infused pre-rolls, as well as an ode to their family’s old business and a nod to the history of cannabis in southeast Asia. Traditional biri is wrapped in a leaf from the tendu tree and stuffed with tobacco. Grasse originally used tea leaves for their prerolls, but ultimately switched to hemp wraps in order to to avoid issues with regulators in Oregon.
The company outsources everything non-plant touching, from marketing and financials to packaging. When it comes to production, the team remains small, with about four people. His brother takes on extraction and everything operational, whereas Munib focuses more on sales and business development.
“It’s always smart to realize what should be in-house and what should be outsourced,” Bhandari says. “We focus on our core competency and if it’s not in our core, we work with other people that are better at it.”
Grasse’s cannabis comes from Oregon farms that grow organic flower using living soil, such as Cannasentials, Bula Farms, R&D Northwest, and So Fresh Farms. To create their infused products, they use a mechanical extraction process of heat and pressure. Their processes vary from product to product, but all produce a chemical and additive-free outcome.
“In the beginning, people would look at us funny, like ‘Why are you doing something that’s so old school? With all the new technology and chemicals, why would you do it the harder way?’” he explained. “That’s just what we would want to consume and what we would be proud of.”
Although Bhandari is happy with their move to Oregon, his company has not been exempt from general market problems. He calls the market challenging, one that is difficult to be financially stable in. But he also says that Oregonians in the industry are “battle-hardened” and warriors, able to adjust to inevitable problems, such as plummeting demands for cannabis.
“Bigger markets who haven’t faced these sort of issues eventually will, and when you’ve gone through it a few times, you have a better strategy,” he told me.
Bhandari thinks the next moves for the company may include a shift into white label processing as a service, and operating other brands under the Grasse name. Of course, the trajectory may change, as Bhandari has indicated that they’re always ready to adjust according to what works and what doesn’t.
“It’s about having realistic forecasts, understanding things might change, and being able to pivot. You should have a nimble company that can go through changes.”