BATAVIA — Empire Hemp Co. had what the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce was looking for in an Innovative Business of the Year recipient.
The owners, CEO Chris VanDusen and Chief Operating Officer Shelly Wolanske, say the innovation comes out of necessity.
As to the Innovative Business of the Year Award, VanDusen said Empire Hemp is the first cannabis business in Genesee County.
“We’re the first processor — the first one to extract the cannabinoid from the cannabis plant, whether it be hemp or high-THC cannabis,” he said.
Cannabinoid is a type of chemical in marijuana that causes drug-like effects all through the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system, according to the National Cancer institute. Cannabinoids may help treat the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment.
“I think the way that we went about it — being a processor and manufacturer — and with hemp, we could make the products at the facility and then bring them over to the store,” Wolanske said.
Empire Hemp has a store at 204 East Main St. and a facility at 34 Swan St.
“With THC, we are approaching it differently because you can’t do that with THC. We would have to distribute it.”
The business sells its THC brands under the Empire product line as opposed to Empire Hemp.
“We wanted to separate the two ,,, letting people know it’s still the same quality of the CBD products that we make,” VanDusen said.
VanDusen said the innovation comes in the products that Wolanske created that didn’t exist on the market.
“A lot of these products, we’re the only ones who make these in the country,” he said.
VanDusen said within Empire Hemp’s THC brand, it is doing innovative extraction practices.
“Solventless extraction is something we’re going to be doing. It’s a new way to extract cannabinoids out of plant material,” he said.
Wolanske said Empire Hemp had to be creative and take a boutique approach to get people into the store.
Wolanske said the company will be starting an expansion this month.
Empire is expanding its facility at Swan Street, keeping the downstairs, but moving upstairs as well to go from about 4,000 square feet to about 23,000 square feet.
VanDusen said they planned to start cleaning and painting upstairs earlier this week.
“We’re growing our capacities for all our THC and CBD products,” VanDusen said. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana.
VanDusen said they formed Empire Hemp in 2017. The company was awarded a cultivation license for hemp and a processing license for hemp in 2018.
Empire Hemp started off small in VanDusen’s bike shop in Hulberton, Orleans County, before moving to its facility at 34 Swan St. in 2019.
At first, the business had a walk-up window at its Swan Street location. VanDusen and Wolanske decided to open the store on Main Street to survive the impact of COVID on business and maintain cash flow. They opened the store at 204 East Main St. almost two years ago.
Empire Hemp had eight of employees as of late February, but expects to hire more people.
At the store, Empire Hemp started with a minimal line of products. To fill the store, they quickly learned how to work with CBD products.
“I did a lot of the skin care and a lot of the self-care. Chris and I work together and we do a lot of the R and D (research and development),” Wolanske said. “We created the Super Freeze (lotion). The Balm was the first one we created.”
“That’s still our No. 1 product. We sell an insane amount of that,” VanDusen said. He and Wolanske said The Balm is for pain relief.