Fried chicken philosophy and top-quality product spark Las Vegas cultivator’s success
As far as business philosophies go, it’s tough to come up with one as seemingly out of left field than Matrix NV CEO and co-founder David Z. Tuttleman’s.
“I believe in fried chicken,” he says.
Wait. What? Isn’t he in the cannabis business?
“People think it’s easy, but it’s very complex,” he says of the food and the plant he and his company now cultivate at its Nevada facility. “When done right, it’s extraordinary.”
And so far Tuttleman and his team at Matrix NV in Las Vegas are doing something right, as the company has grown to one of the largest players in the Nevada market, which is quickly becoming one of the largest adult-use cannabis markets in the country.
“The market is very robust and we intend to stay up with it,” he says.
Founded as a medical marijuana cultivator in 2016, Matrix got its recreational cultivation and processing license in 2016. The company now has 18,000 square feet of space, including four bloom rooms that produce about 3,600 pounds of cannabis each year under metal halides for vegetation and high-pressure sodiums for budding, all in a soilless coco and perlite medium.
Co-founder and president Evan Marder handles the day-to-day operations in Las Vegas and while the company’s first harvest was all Gorilla Glue #4, he currently oversees between 25 and 30 cultivars, half of which he says are exclusive to Matrix.
“I’ve been collecting genetics for years and years,” Marder says, adding that Dosido, Tangelope and Super Sour Diesel helped make a name for the company.
The company’s first batch of GG4 received rave reviews and landed the company in some of the city’s top retail stores, including Essence Cannabis on the Strip. From there, word spread.
“The rest is kind of history,” Marder says. “Nevada — especially Las Vegas — is a very small town. It seems big, but everybody knows everybody.”
That said, the Vegas market is “voracious” and continues to grow, according to Tuttleman.
“It’s really an incredible scene,” he says, adding that legions of tourists visit the desert each day to “exercise their adult right to eat, drink and be merry.”
As one of the top tourist destinations in the country, about 40 million people visit Las Vegas every year. That huge influx of visitors has helped the city and state’s year-old cannabis industry post some impressive numbers. Retailers in the Silver State racked up nearly $200 million in sales in the first six months (and $30 million in tax dollars for the state), well ahead of the $67 million in sales Washington brought in and the $114 million the Colorado market generated in their first six months of allowing adult-use sales.
“It’s a great environment for people to come and enjoy themselves,” he says.
While Matrix is a Nevada company, its roots stretch back to Wilmington, Delaware in the 1990s, where Tuttleman opened his first Kahunaville restaurant on the city’s burgeoning waterfront. The restaurant was almost immediately successful, but it was unprepared to park the cars that brought all the customers.
So Tuttleman put together a parking crew, led by Marder, who was originally hired as a bouncer. Tuttleman describes Marder as “too vertically challenged to continue as a doorman and too smart to fire.” The former bouncer helped find parking solutions, immediately endearing himself to the boss and eventually working his way up to operations manager at the 100,000-square-foot restaurant complex.
“I was the smallest bouncer out there,” Marder says. “David took a liking to me because I solved a big problem for him.”
By 2001, Marder says he was burnt out at his job in Delaware, so when Tuttleman decided to open a new Kahunaville in Las Vegas, Marder moved west, becoming a “flare bartender” at the new Sin City location.
But even then, Marder had another hobby that he had to keep hidden for obvious reasons: He grew pot in his closet, something he had done since he was a teenager in 1986.
“I got really into growing and never stopped,” he says, adding, “But back in the ’90s, growing marijuana was not a legit profession.”
After moving to Vegas, Marder received his medical card and kept growing for himself. He also had friends in California, where growing for the state’s legal-but-gray medical market was a viable way to make a living and he began to formulate a plan. When it became clear that Nevada would move toward legalizing recreational use, Marder reached back out to Tuttleman with the idea for a business.
However, his initial proposal fell on deaf ears.
Tuttleman comes from one of Philadelphia’s most successful and philanthropic business families. His father, Stanley, made a fortune in the textile industry and the name now graces multiple institutions across the City of Brotherly Love thanks to his generosity.
Tuttleman calls his father a “serial entrepreneur” and likes to say he was “literally diapered in a factory.” As a younger man he attended Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, now renamed Philadelphia University. He worked all over the world and has opened several businesses.
“I understand retail,” he says. “I understand what it takes to support a retail client.”
So when Marder first proposed Matrix to him, Tuttleman initially saw it as more of a pipe dream and less of a business. Tuttleman was not entirely opposed to cannabis because he had seen the difference it made when his sister was diagnosed with brain cancer. In a TED Talk he did, Tuttleman detailed how medical cannabis helped his sister toward the end of her life and made him realize it was a “legitimate medicine.”
“Don’t write it off as Nixon administration-era pablum,” he says. “I’ve been committed to it for many years now.”
Tuttleman told Marder he needed to see more detailed business plans, but offered to help mentor him, though he was unsure about getting in himself.
“He said, ‘You’re coming at me in a very rudimentary way,’” Marder remembers.
Soon after, Marder set up a meeting with some investors from California and invited Tuttleman to join him. After the meeting, Marder says a light bulb went off in Tuttleman’s head and he realized this was a legitimate business opportunity. When combined with his own beliefs about the healing power of the plant and his “passion to create something fantastic,” Tuttleman jumped in.
“Emerging markets have an incredible view of the future,” Tuttleman says. “To be my age and have this chance to look into the future is incredibly rewarding.”
Together, the two found a building in North Las Vegas that not only worked for their needs but met local zoning restrictions regarding cannabis. They got to work, making their name on the medical side and then going rec when the state did on July 1, 2017.
“We proved ourselves in medical,” Tuttleman says. “I really feel incredibly fortunate to have survived and grown our business through the beginning of recreational.”
A year later and Matrix is thriving. The Nevada market is one of the fastest-growing in the country and Matrix is among the key suppliers, thanks to the passion and experience both Marder and Tuttleman bring to the company.
Both are incredibly proud of the company they have created and of their products, though they try to remain understated.
“We have such a great corporate culture and everyone is happy to come to work every day,” Marder says.
Both men speak of persistence and the idea that they must continue to strive to be better every day.
“I never feel like I’m doing enough,” Marder says. “My fear of failure has driven me throughout my life.”
But they also stay focused on what they are doing. They intend for Matrix to be around for the long-term and are not among those looking to sell to larger companies.
“We’re not looking to conquer the world,” Tuttleman says.
Their products are all well-received at dispensaries around Las Vegas and the state in general. Along with flower, Matrix produces oils and extracts that both Marder and Tuttleman take great pride in because they retain the original cultivar’s terpene profile.
“That’s why we are the leader in the cartridge and syringe game here in Nevada,” Marder says.
But Tuttleman stays humble even about that, which is somewhat unusual in an industry in which everyone is convinced they grow the World’s Best Pot.
“We’ve never professed to be the best, but we’re on the leaderboard,” Tuttleman says.
When asked about Tuttleman’s fried chicken philosophy, Marder laughs.
“The man loves his fried chicken,” he says, but he also agrees with Tuttleman’s comparison to growing cannabis. “That’s actually pretty accurate. There’s a lot that goes into making great fried chicken, like great marijuana.”
He says the pair have also celebrated a handful of successes at their favorite fried chicken spot on the Vegas Strip, Joe’s Stone Crab at Caesar’s Palace, though they try to take each day in this industry as it comes, focusing on what they do and making it the best, celebrating only major milestones and staying true to the company motto “Yes, We Cannabis.”
“The joy of fried chicken is second only to the joy of marijuana,” Tuttleman says.
Together, they look forward to many more meals as both the industry and Matrix continue to grow; Tuttleman calls it “enthusiasm with a dose of fried chicken.”
“If I don’t eat too much fried chicken I can survive a long time!” he jokes. “I don’t believe in exits. I don’t need an exit. I’m on an incredible journey.”