Family Roots Run Deep
Across grow circles, there are a few plants that are difficult for just about everyone to cultivate. From pests to nutrient tolerance, every plant reacts differently, and each has its own nuances. One of the most notorious of these difficult breeds is the mythical OG Kush. Although consistently one of the most in-demand strains and crosses on the West Coast, this particular cultivar is highly sensitive, and it’s one even the most seasoned growers typically avoid altogether. However, for those who have cracked the code, OG is a gift that keeps on giving—and a cut that, when done right, can power a brand. While the team at the Originals has unlocked much more than just the power of the OG, one thing is clear: “OG’s just it!”
With a collective century in the game (that they’re willing to talk about), the Originals Factory & Weed Shop is a family-run, fully vertical operation out of Los Angeles that was officially founded around 2006. Having mastered cultivars like the Originals OG, King Louie, Skywalker and Oaksterdam OG, and having grown some of the best Gelato cuts I’ve ever seen, the Originals developed something of a cult following here in Los Angeles. Known for their strong and consistent gas, the folks at the Originals are truly masters of their craft, and, as such, their Prop. 64–compliant products have, to date, been sold exclusively through their own dispensary in South LA (at 6500 Stanford Avenue). Now that the Originals line is expanding into High Times retail, it’s time for those outside the city to hear the OG gospel.
Introducing the Originals
Set up back in the Prop. 215 days, the Originals brand has ridden the waves of legalization—moving through the caregiver period into the “profits over patients” madness of today—all without losing its purpose. Co-founded by Brandon Melendez and built with his real-life family, the Originals Factory & Weed Shop is proof that, with a lot of love and focus, bootstrapping isn’t impossible in this game. In fact, I’d argue it’s the cheat code for success.
“We don’t owe anybody money,” Melendez says. “We have never taken an outside dollar from somebody who I don’t consider family. Everything here has been family and friends, bro—and that’s it.”
And he’s not kidding. While many companies claim to be family-owned and -operated, the Originals really is, often recruiting friends’ siblings to join the herd.
“There are six set of siblings that work in that [Los Angeles dispensary and grow facility] building,” Melendez says. “We counted them. Not only did I hire them, I also hired their brother or their sister that came with them.
“That’s what my family is,” he continues. “We are that West Coast weed culture. That’s who we are; that’s who this family is. We’re not people trying to chase money. We literally are people who started growing their own weed to support our own habits. That’s what we did it for. We just wanted to smoke our own weed. So, what dollars? It wasn’t about anything else but just supporting our own habits. And it turned into this thing where now we’re making money. We don’t want to give you a job. The Originals doesn’t give you a job. We give you a career. That’s what we do.”
Meet the Family
“It’s actually me and my two older brothers,” Melendez says. “My oldest brother is a Marine, so we’re really proud of him. He was in the Marines for eight years. When he came out, he helped me run the business end of it. He focuses on a lot of the expansion and the growth. And, of course, he controls the security aspect of it. Right, that just makes sense. That’s Robert. And then, the second oldest, my brother Mike, he’s the total hippie guy. He’s the best cultivator—weed comes out of his nose, out of his mouth, out of his ears. He’s the type of guy that doesn’t want to do any books, doesn’t want to do any payroll, he just says, ‘Give me a location, and I’ll grow the best weed for you, and I’ll grow the best weed for everyone.’”
As many of us know, true family extends beyond the bloodline. In addition to Melendez and his two brothers, his five closest friends are part of the company.
“You know, there’s about five other guys in my group that I’ve known since kindergarten, first and second grade,” Melendez says. “Everybody who has officially a position of power or authority in my building, or in any of my businesses, have known me and my family for over 20 years—that core group of those guys that grew up in my neighborhood, that grew up at my church with me, that grew up at our local park. A handful of those guys are still with me today. And they’re my best growers. They’re my retail managers. They’re the guys that run my distro. I mean, I’m very, very lucky, very fortunate and very blessed to have a group of people around me [that] support me because I wouldn’t be in this position today.
“Marvin, who runs my distribution, is my best friend who I’ve known since the beginning of time—since kindergarten,” he adds. “I baptized his son when I was 16. He was the best man in my wedding. His younger brother, Will, is two years younger than me. So I literally knew Will the day that he was born. Our families were already friends because we grew up one block away from them. So our families, our parents, had already been friends without them even having kids. So they were already friends even before we came on this earth. Josh [Sandoval] has been my head cultivator from day one. We met Josh, when we were, I believe, in sixth grade. We were at Monterey Park Sports Club. We’re all playing basketball at the sports club. My dad’s involved. My dad’s a commissioner. Josh just, you know, kind of became our fourth brother at that point.”
And it doesn’t stop there. When Robert returned home from the Marines and Melendez discovered the difficulty that Robert’s veteran brothers were experiencing trying to find jobs, he knew he had to use his brand to help.
“You know, they didn’t have jobs when they came out of the military,” Melendez says. “This is one of those things that I didn’t really understand how big of a problem this was, but you know, once my brother got out with about 100 of his guys, they weren’t getting hired anywhere else. Our guys are coming back from war, and they don’t have a place to work? That was a big thing for us, so what I did is hire a lot of these guys. Currently, we probably have a little under 20 guys in our team that are military vets [who] came directly from my brother.
“There are about 400-500 people working for the Originals today, right now, but together, our family as a group, like if you show up to our Christmas parties, there’s over 1,000 ‘employees’ here with us,” Melendez adds.
The Genetics Have a Story
Part of what makes the Originals so special is the clean genetics. It’s incredibly hard to find pure strains anymore, and with all the interbreeding and trying to develop new cultivars, it’s getting increasingly difficult to find the flavors we loved in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, part of the Originals’ secret sauce is having those original cuts in their original forms.
“My family had acquired a lot of these genetics that we still use today in the late ’90s, early 2000—we got them at the same time as Bubbah and Kenshi and the DGT guys,” Melendez says. “We were all kind of sharing genetics at that time. I was very lucky to have put those cuts away in my family’s genetic lockers for 20-plus years now. I’m really proud that my family was able to keep them in their original form. This, to us, is the true OG. For us here in Los Angeles, in particular, it’s real cultural—OG was built into our industry here—it was like the dominant thing that you would be smoking in the late ’90s. And pretty much [in] the early 2000s, [it] was the most popular type of strain that you can get your hands on here in Los Angeles, and it was demanding the highest price point, so I was really happy that my family was able to put them away.
“With that being said, we started growing maybe a handful of years after we got the genetics, and it took us a while to kind of come up with our recipe; we call it our little secret recipe,” Melendez continues. “It’s the Betty Crocker recipe, you know. It took us probably about six, maybe seven years to really dial in that recipe, and then we really started to see her shine. We really started to see something really developed over time, with our skill set improving with the growth side.”
According to head cultivator Josh Sandoval, “When the first harvest came down, we knew that this is what we wanted to do for a living. And, you know, we’re a tight-knit family, so we knew that if we could do this the right way, that it’s something that could help us forever.”
“We were very lucky and very blessed at that point, when we started rotating in other genetics—but we had one rule,” Melendez says. “That rule is, we’re not going to come up with different recipes for every genetic. It either eats our recipe, our family recipe, or it can find another home somewhere else. So we are really lucky that we got a few [strains] into rotation that really did well. They ate well with our secret recipe, and they did well for us. We actually grew them better than the people that actually gave the genetics to us.”
“For us it was simple,” Sandoval chimes in. “There was a choice early on to grow all these different flavors that might yield better—and you know, they have their qualities! But as far as OG—it’s what we want, it’s what the connoisseurs want, it’s what LA wants, it’s what SoCal wants—and when you find a product like that, and you have that—and it is more difficult to grow, you know—but we decided real early on that this is our plant, this is our flower.”
“I tell people every day, it’s kind of like that, that fine wine.” Melendez says. “When you were 16 years old, you may be drinking that Smirnoff plastic bottle of vodka, but you know, when you’re 40, you’re not drinking that. Your palate has developed; you acquire different tastes. I believe that my OG will be the same thing for people that smoke. I believe that over time, people will develop this flavor profile. They will gravitate to OGs. It’s a more distinguished flavor and profile for the more distinguished smoker. It’s just what a distinguished palate will lead you to.”
So What’s Next?
While the Originals Factory & Weed Shop is expanding rapidly—and its product is now available through the High Times Market and Delivery ecosystem—the success hasn’t gone to the crew’s heads. The Originals Factory is already the largest grow facility in the city of Los Angeles, and it commands a cult-like following and has won countless awards. But Melendez and Co. are still focused on pumping out the best products for the people because they know they only want the best, and they need to provide that.
“We’re expanding—we could comfortably [increase fivefold], no problem, tomorrow,” Sandoval says. “This is the first-level license for small cultivation. So the next is a medium, and that’s only twice the size. The Originals’ craft, high-level cannabis will be in every shop, and we’re working hard to make that happen. We’ll definitely have more Originals shops. I don’t see us not having a San Diego store—all up and down—all everywhere. Coast to coast. Country to country. Everywhere you want us; we want to be there.”
In terms of other products, Sandoval says that “it’s inevitable; it’s all inevitable. When you have some of the best flower, you’re going to have the best trim, so you might as well make the best vape pen—and people approach us left and right because they need that product. We have the product, and we choose to do what we do with it right now, but that’s not the end result. Yeah, we’ll be Originals. Dry sift, man? Top to bottom. We’re living the dream here, man. We’re putting in the hard work, and we’re enjoying it while we’re doing it. We enjoy coming to work; we enjoy helping each other, and we enjoy being with these plants. We just want them to do as well as they can because they know that they’re going to take care of us at the end, so we’re going to take care of them right now. We’re living the dream.”
“Our motto is, ‘We want to be successful in our own right,’ Melendez adds. “And we want to be the best in our own right. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be number one in your model. So, that’s okay with us. There are companies out there that don’t care about that. They don’t really care about the culture, which really upsets me and my family because we are the culture and people. The capital rush into this space keeps hitting us; they keep kicking us, and they keep taking away at us. But at the end of the day, when this is all said and done, when the smoke settles, there’s going to be a really small part of our culture that’s still left. That’s so very, very disheartening to know that where we came from, that it’s just turning into a soulless industry, with all the people that shouldn’t be here. They’re taking pieces away from me, and they’re taking pieces away from my family and the culture. They don’t even know how bad they’re messing things up for us. And they’re gonna leave when they’re done. You know, they’re just going to leave. We all know this is going to happen, but I’m not going to allow that to happen. I’m going to do the best in my power to make sure that that doesn’t happen with a culture that I protect here in Southern California. That’s our culture, the culture my family protects—that’s us—the fact is that we’re protecting ourselves. This is bigger than a weed brand, man. This is our lifestyle.”
“People walk in all the time like, ‘This is right here?!’” Sandoval says. “Yes! This is for you—this is built for you. Come enjoy it!”
Read this story originally published in High Times June 2021 Issue in our archive.