After Kahunaville, David Tuttleman grows high-end marijuana business
By Ken Mammarella
Special to Delaware Business Times
“First and foremost, I’m a patient,” explained Wilmington resident and serial entrepreneur David Tuttleman, who uses marijuana to manage chronic pain. “Then I’m in the business.” His new marijuana business, Matrix NV, is not out foremost to make a profit, although it has. Its primary aim is to make a difference.
Making a difference was instilled in Tuttleman as a child (“it’s part of our core family values”), as was entrepreneurialism. He was nine when he founded his first business, Snoco snow cones.
Marijuana is the fifth career for the 56-year-old, best known in Delaware as owner of Kahunaville, a Wilmington Riverfront entertainment complex. It closed in 2006. The last location in the chain closed in 2016.
In a 2016 TEDx talk titled “Coincidence, Charisma and Cannabis,” Tuttleman cites several catalysts for his marijuana business. One was his sister Jan, who used marijuana brownies to relieve her pain before her 2012 death from brain cancer.
Another was his niece Elizabeth, who found that cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive part of cannabis, stops her epileptic seizures. “She got life back into her. She found dignity. She found love,” he said.
Tuttleman himself has been medicating with marijuana for many years and became an ID’d patient in Delaware this year. His problem: pain and inflammation associated with “obesity and gravity.”
And then there was Evan Marder, another brownie fan and Tuttleman’s first assistant at Wilmington’s Kahunaville. While working at the Las Vegas Kahunaville, he told Tuttleman that Nevada’s legalization of medical marijuana was a great opportunity. So Tuttleman studied medical marijuana. “I’ve talked to a lot of people,” he said, citing doctors, patients and governors. “I understand it deeply.”
Helping him learn was Alex Bloom, a family friend who started working in the Colorado marijuana business in 2012 and is now a Matrix sales manager. “Mr. Tutt is very selfless. He thinks success comes from other people’s successes. He wants to help people and better their lives,” she said. “He’s the oldest at the company but the youngest at heart. He pushes me in the best way.”
CEO Tuttleman, COO Marder and others founded Matrix NV, with the last part signifying the state and a double-entendre for “envy.” They outfitted a 31,000-square-foot facility in North Las Vegas to grow marijuana; harvest and cure flowers; extract oil and concentrates; and sell to dispensaries. They put in the first plants in April 2016, and with 5.2 harvests a year, they became profitable in June 2017.
“We did a lot of things right,” Tuttleman said, referring to “the right size for economy of scale,” the right market in population (“Delaware would be too small”), the right background (a clean business record, untainted by illegal marijuana) and the right focus (premium and ultra-premium brands of 28 strains, including Jane Snow, which Matrix NV developed and named after two “Game of Thrones” characters).
Marder, who’s also Matrix’s chief grower and a Tuttleman mentee, praised Tuttleman’s skill in navigating laws and logistics, including a year on HVAC systems, to create the operation.
The result, according to Tuttleman: “Great consistency in product, fantastic branding, medically impactful products” and 46 jobs created, with two filled by Marder’s brother, Jay, as general manager, and his mother, Lita, as office manager.
In a Matrix profile on www.leafly.com/tv, Evan Marder refers to “the power of cannabis and what it can actually do for people.” In an interview, he said it’s nonaddictive, a better alternative to alcohol and has lots of medical potential.
Tuttleman, likewise, places marijuana above alcohol. “I lost my affinity for alcohol,” he said. “People are finding solace [with alcohol], and their inhibitions are down, but it’s not helping anyone’s life.”
To run Matrix, he has chosen to travel from Wilmington. “I have young kids, a lovely wife, a lovely home and great roots,” he said. These kids, age 5 and 6, “know daddy grows plants that help people.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, and recreational marijuana is legal in five states and D.C., with more on the way.
He’s open to growth elsewhere (his application to be a grower/processor of medical marijuana in Philadelphia was rejected in June by Pennsylvania) but he’s focused on Nevada, which provided more potential in July by legalizing recreational marijuana.
Legal consumer spending on cannabis products in North America hit $6.7 billion in 2016 and “can be expected to grow at a 27 percent compound annual growth rate over the next five years,” reaching $22.6 billion in 2021, according to Arcview Market Research, which estimates North Americans spent $49.4 billion on illicit cannabis products in 2016.
“I’m very proud to be in the marijuana profession,” Tuttleman said. His evangelism has included directing family money to research and to patient rights.
“I support recreational marijuana and adult use across the country. People who want it should not be stigmatized.”