Interview by Champelli, introduction by Adam Ali
It's a first-class matchup. Legendary cultivator Champelli, California's Bay Area OG known since the 1990s for his Champagne strain that evolved into his eponymous strain. The hip hop shout-out GOAT sits with Los Angeles-based innovator Shant "Fidel" Damirdjian, pioneer of the modern hash hole.
Watch the full Honeysuckle interview of Champelli x Fidel here:
If you've ever smoked a hash hole, it was probably Fidel's. He's an industry icon whose cultural savvy has created a following that transcends cannabis into fashion and beyond. These tastemakers come together in a rare discussion to explore Fidel's sudden meteoric rise after 10 years in the cannabis industry, his groundbreaking cultural collaborations, his deep horticultural knowledge and so much more. The trendsetter (born in Lebanon) has done many noteworthy collabs that reached the mainstream, including this year's milestone crossover done in partnership with the Carrots fashion brand by streetwear designer Anwar Carrots.
From one era to another, it's not passing the torch - it's torching the same spiritual hash hole.
Listen to the full Champelli x Fidel interview on the Honeysuckle podcast:
Fidel x Champelli: How Did The Hash Hole Pioneer Enter The Cannabis Industry?
CHAMPELLI: Let’s start by talking about your early beginnings.
FIDEL: I had the privilege of living my life back and forth between L.A. and Beirut, Lebanon. I spent my teenage years over there. I grew up in a family business in Lebanon; that’s very [true to that] culture. I learned how to run my dad’s supermarket from the age of 13 to just before I turned 18. And I have two older brothers who were already out here in L.A., cultivators growing and selling weed their entire lives. So I grew up with two role models who were in the lead in the street. They paved the way for me; they showed me a lot of the dos and don’ts.
Today my brothers have their own brands. My eldest brother Aram has a brand called Gas No Brakes. My middle brother Serge has a brand called Serge Cannabis; he’s also known for founding Cookies Maywood and Fiore. What’s cool is all of us exist in our own lanes. We will help one another out and collaborate as need be, but it’s dope because you don’t hear of families doing this together. And when you do, you still don’t hear of them each having their own lane and brand, so that in itself is unique to me. My brothers have been through a lot, being raided and going to jail. So it’s been a privilege having an example, being shown success and failure and succeeding after failure. It was a shortcut for me in many senses.
CHAMPELLI: That’s true resilience, especially in this industry that’s so cutthroat. They’re good guys.
FIDEL: When I decided to move to L.A. at 18, my brothers had two dispensaries at the time, and a little 1,000 square foot hydro shop. As soon as I started helping them, within a month and a half, the dispensaries got raided. I watched my brothers lose everything and I had no choice. I’d been applying for jobs [everywhere], but when I found my place in the hydro shop, I was just a bag boy. Then I ran a 1,000 square foot hydro shop for nine years. I spoke to growers every day, going through the trials and tribulations with other growers while I was growing. I turned that 1,000 square feet into a 26,000 square foot superstore. That’s my foundation in the industry.
CHAMPELLI: That’s a super introduction to the game right there, already having family in it and seeing the ups and downs. And coming from another country, which is like a whole other world, and having to adapt to L.A.
FIDEL: Yeah. I’m Lebanese-Armenian.
CHAMPELLI: Can we talk for a second about this year being the 100th anniversary of the end of the Armenian genocide?
FIDEL: Yes. That’s the most random thing, but it puts a smile on my face that we’re talking about it here. My last name is Darmidjian and I'm as Armenian as it gets. So to speak about the genocide in 1915 [through 1923], there were over 1.5 million Armenians that were massacred over small period of time. That happened in what is now Turkey. But I’ve learned about the history of the Armenians throughout time. To this day Armenians are trying to put up a fight in having the genocide acknowledged. It’s significant that it’s been such a long time and no action’s been taken. But for me, I’m part of a new generation that brings awareness to it. It’s a great part of my past. It’s the reason my family ended up in Lebanon, because of my great-grandma. She passed away a few years ago, but she lived through the genocide and made it to 105. Her husband lived to 107. They didn’t smoke, but they had these old habits and daily routines that I try to dissect from to see what I can learn.
CHAMPELLI: It’s making your own rituals. Man, that’s an amazing adventure in itself, coming from a family like that. Then your brothers were able to tap you into the cannabis space and let you into part of the journey they were already on.
FIDEL: Yeah, and mind you, I’m from the first of an era that didn’t have to look over its shoulder. Your era always had to look over its shoulder; you guys always had to be careful. I didn’t have to. I guess that’s my privilege.
CHAMPELLI: Indeed. And then being immersed in the culture of the grow store – I know how grow stores are, and it’s almost its own culture in there, talking to growers and problem-solving and recommending the right products, being on the pulse like that. That in itself is such a college degree in the game honestly.
FIDEL: Yes, you’re so right. Being able to see the evolution of all the technology from the lighting to the nutrients in the ground. It’s been awesome.
How Did Fidel Make A Name For Himself Innovating The Modern Hash Hole?
CHAMPELLI: After building the grow store up, when did you start to transition into the game yourself?
FIDEL: I was always growing while I was at the hydro shop. I started branding in 2016, but what really triggered it for me was in 2018 when I went to Spannabis in Spain for the first time. I got to go with a lot of OGs, and I learned so much and came back so motivated. In 2018 I kicked off my brand and it went to a whole other level because of [that] motivation. I went from being a guy who grew really good flower to being known for the hash hole.
CHAMPELLI: The hash hole has become a household name now. You were literally one of those pioneers that put it down for the culture and made it more common for people to talk about and smoke. You brought it to the culture in a more digestible way for everybody. People back in the day in Europe, they’ve always been mixing hash in tobacco and weed and stuff. But here in the United States, people really weren’t doing that as much. It was in small pockets, but you brought it to the masses here where they could be like, “Damn, I want to try that!”
FIDEL: Yeah, it’s been an honor. What a great journey.
CHAMPELLI: Where did your nickname “Fidel” come from?
FIDEL: Awesome, I love this one. So when I ran the hydro shop, I got known as Fidel. It was like my own crown name, but people started calling me Fidel Hydro over time because I was at the hydro shop. This is exactly how it went down: I wanted a cool alias. I looked up to a basketball player named Kevin Durant at the time and he has an Instagram name, Easy Money Sniper. It’s a real smooth criminal name.
I crowned myself Fidel Hydro [for] “hydro store.” That stuck with me. That was my Instagram name. But when I decided to brand it, I knew I couldn’t do Fidel Hydro. It’s cool, but I’m trying to gain the world, not just who’s in the circle. Fidel is simple, five letters. That’s how Fidel Hydro, and now Fidel’s, came about.
CHAMPELLI: That’s super dope. Now that’s an iconic name right there. Within the cannabis industry, it’s definitely become a name that’s just synonymous with hash holes and quality in the culture. You can’t go anywhere that people aren’t going to know about Fidel’s at this point.
FIDEL: Thank you, man. My OG. I appreciate that.
CHAMPELLI: What are your thoughts about where hash and rosin, and that sort of cultural stuff is going? It’s a unique time right now. I think rosin and obviously hash holes are coming into a real crossover moment, where more people are experiencing that.
FIDEL: Yeah, it’s awesome seeing what it’s coming into. Every brand will have its own hash hole or donut eventually. We’re at a time where hash is the best it’s ever been, flower is the best it’s ever been. There are so many tastemakers out there. Now these growers, consumers, rollers are all chasing a high in some sense. And it’s triggering so much amongst people that I see it getting a lot more competitive. But I do see more companies coming out with hash holes and it’s just the level that everyone’s lungs graduate to.
I went from feeling salty, not realizing it’s bigger than me, to now [being] humble about it because I’ve paved the way for a category with everybody. In this industry, that was going to happen with me or without me. But where I took it, and how quickly things scaled up, it’s made people realize that it’s a really lucrative business. It’s the right way of consuming hash and flower together. I’m just fucking happy I get to provide for so many people. I get to provide for my competitors too in some sense; everybody’s driven the game up and going harder because of the hash hole category.
CHAMPELLI: It’s definitely an evolution of the consumers’ palate as we watch it. Consumers and their tastes are evolving. As we know, hash and rosin are some of the purest forms that you could consume cannabis, so that really ups the game. When you combine the hash with the flower, it’s just the ultimate marriage of flower and quality. If it’s the right product, you know what I mean? And you did it – within a small window of time, you were able to spark that phenomenon.
FIDEL: Made everybody go, “Oh shit, I’ve gotta do a hash hole too.” Yup.
Collabs And Crossovers: Fidel x Carrots, Fidel x Champelli
CHAMPELLI: I know that’s sparked a ton of opportunities and opened so many doors for you. So even if a ton of brands are doing it, you’re one of the originals who brought it to the game in that manner. And I know you got a lot of dope stuff in the works. What can you say about your latest collab with [fashion brand] Carrots? How did that super exciting project come about?
FIDEL: The Carrots collab was awesome. It was my first go at collaborating with company outside of our industry. To take a clothing company that has a collab with Crocs, Bugs Bunny, Lego, all this and to be able to dabble in the cannabis industry with them, and do it differently than anyone’s ever done in our industry – it’s an honor. What we did is we put together 500 limited boxes that had a 3D printed carrot, which is like a toy. You open the top of the carrot, there’s an original hash hole inside it. We gave consumers basically an amazingly paired hash hole in a figurine that exists in their living room forever, but we didn’t stop there.
We gave them a bunch of clothes that I took pride in making. I got to curate every bit of it from the cut-and-sew pattern, which is our own winter collection. We have our own sweats that are true to the brand. We have our own hoodie made out of 50 percent cotton and 50 percent bamboo; we dyed them all in-house in L.A. with our own orange. So everything we touch, it’s our own version of it. I didn’t just take an orange hoodie that was out there and printed on it, I tried to go above and beyond. We gave people the hoodie, the sweats, the limited-edition T-shirt, a headband that we did in collaboration with Carrots and Buff Headwear, jibbitz – these really cool little animations that go on the Crocs. There’s a hash hole image that goes on it. We gave the consumer all that plus half an ounce of flower and it was a fucking hit. It was a wild moment for me, and I still feel like it’s making a bang even to this day because it’s only been a couple months since we dropped it.
CHAMPELLI: Yeah, that was a big collab. An intersection of different brands that’s definitely making waves in the industry and people. I’ve seen tons of people rocking the sweatsuit and pulling out the carrot with the hash hole and everything. The attention to detail in that project is amazing. I could tell you’re like me in that regard – detail-oriented and just loving all the little layers to the capsule. People nowadays appreciate and really get into that. You have to have some complexity because humans are complex beings. You’re able to achieve that high quality. Congratulations. I can see how that would open up mad doors for you.
FIDEL: Thank you. It’s such a crossover moment, and I just want to go harder on the next one.
CHAMPELLI: That’s so sick. How long, from start to finish, would you say that took you? Because I know that’s a pretty involved thing, once you get into cut-and-sew, manufacturing basically a toy – the plastic carrot – that held the hash hole.
FIDEL: I’ll be honest with you. It took a year and a half, and every part of the project was prolonged for its particular reasons, but it all came out perfectly in the end. For us to get the 3D printed carrot to be done right, that was a challenge of its own. And then to do all this in the middle of the pandemic, [dealing with] every excuse from ports being closed, etcetera, you learn a lot in the process.
What’s amazing, though, is I was so invested in it personally and financially that I wanted to put every bit of it out the right way. So I held off numerous times until it was right. It’s like dropping an album; I wanted to get the timing of it just right.
CHAMPELLI: And we had a hash hole collaboration too. That was my first collab and my first national action on the market.
FIDEL: Yeah, we’re going to have many more.
CHAMPELLI: I smoked one the other day honestly, and it was still smoking fire, which is crazy. It’s something about the hash and the flower when it binds. Even if it sits for awhile, it’s still pretty fire. It’s the happiest high.
FIDEL: It’s so cool to me how people use them for celebratory moments or special occasions. I’ve heard of so many scenarios where they’re like, “Bro, we smoked this with four people after a hard day’s work in the field…” For them to remember a smoke session is pretty cool.
CHAMPELLI: It’s primo-primo, some of the best out there for sure. It just burns forever. You’re getting your money’s worth; it burns for like half an hour to an hour.
FIDEL: And the packaging is something I love. Another part of the greatness about my brand is that we own all our own printers. We print and package everything in-house, from my jars of flower to the hash holes to the rosin jars. We do it for a few other people in the industry too. My right-hand man, Dabber Dan, he’s responsible for a lot of the products that come out from clothing and packaging. But we’ve always been able to have a very close relationship where I can affect it if I need to tweak some artwork or change a color. It’s as simple as having a conversation with someone that I talk to for hours throughout the day, every day. So it’s been a big advantage for my brand, to be able to bring some stuff to market more quickly, executing my vision. We did that for the sparkle that’s on the hash hole label. That’s something we’ve had early on.
Fidel x Champelli: The New-New In Cultivation And Genetics
CHAMPELLI: You just took on a huge project with your new cultivation facility. How’s that going?
FIDEL: It’s going great. I’m over the hard part of it already. I had the pleasure of building out one of the most state-of-the-art facilities; it took me six months to do it and I did it with no general contractor. It’s an $11 million project that’s put my heart, soul, and everything I have into it. But we’ve been hitting the ground running for eight months now.
There were a lot of challenges early on. I have 767 flowering lights I have to pull down every 10 days, 250 to 300 pounds are coming down. You realize how big of a ship you run, how it needs to be fine-tuned and work like clockwork. It never stops. I employ so many people and that’s been a challenge in itself, but being able to scale up my genetics, being able to pheno-hunt every 10 days, has been the fun part. I have the privilege of growing almost 1,000 plants in each flowering room and I squeeze in new seeds every run. That’s what keeps it exciting for me: Breeding, hunting, looking for the new shit, and I get to do it faster than I’ve ever been able to, faster than most people can do. I wake up for that.
CHAMPELLI: For breeders and cultivators like us, that’s the most exciting part, looking forward to “Oh, what’s this seed gonna come out and bring down this time?” Finding new genetics is like the pot at the end of the rainbow. What are some of the new genetics you’re bringing out?
FIDEL: The next wave of genetics that I have are Runtz x Jealousy and Runtz [with] the mellow crosses that I’ve bred, ones that I’ve had my friends raise up. I’m hunting through all those and a bunch of different selections of seeds brought over from my last trip to Spain. I’m really excited about how Europe breeds and how they’re one-on-one with their plants. Over here, everything’s kind of at scale. Over there, everything’s two to ten, twelve lights. They give a fuck about genetics and how things grow. In Spain, Barcelona specifically, they’ve been breeding like crazy and the genetics from this last trip got me so excited, from sours to fruity. I met people from the south of France, small-time growers who showed me bags of flower [like nothing] I’ve ever seen in this world. I admire the people of Europe and how much care they put into it, and I came back with so many beans on top of everything I’ve had. Aside from that, I have my own genetics that I bred, so I’m hunting through each type. Tropicana Grape Cake, and a few other strains as well. It motivates me a lot.
CHAMPELLI: What’s your favorite thing about cannabis, personally?
FIDEL: I love the flavors. I love that there’s so many craft categories of flavors. I truly believe that it’s still so untapped. Like I can’t wait till the day that we have strictly multiple strawberry phenos and pineapple phenos and all these different grapes. And naturally tasting cannabis. That’s what I look for.
CHAMPELLI: As a boutique brand, how has it been to scale and trying to maintain your “boutique-ness”? Have you been able to ensure your flowers are still up to the next level and to your standards?
FIDEL: It’s been challenging to say the least, but we’re doing it. The hardest part of what I did with this new cultivation facility was scaling up my practices that I’ve been known for on a small batch. So things like not settling with the fact that everyone in this industry growing at the scale that I am is using salts. I want to use liquids. I like the results of how flower comes out with liquids. Not changing the fact that I have so many rooms, so many plants, and I’m on dripping meters and most people would feed [their plants] tea brews. But I still go through the trouble of feeding that to my plants; I [hand-mix] my cocoa if I need to, because I grow in cocoa. So I’ve been able to scale all our practices to the best of my ability. And it shows that you can grow quality flower at scale.
But with that comes product allocation. You don’t want to flood your own brand with a couple of the same strains. When you have such a big business, you really want to be able to fill the need of bulk fires and still fulfill your brand. So I’ve been able to put a lot of genetics per room and I have cool strategic planning notes. “When I harvest this product allocation, how many plants, how many pounds you’re going to pre-package, how many are going into hash holes, how many going into this collab, and how much is going bulk?” So I’ve been able to fine-tune it pretty well.
What's Next For Fidel's?
CHAMPELLI: What should the public be looking for from Fidel’s in 2023? Any projects you want to highlight?
FIDEL: A lot of cool hash hole collaborations. I’m working with Talking Terps… We’ve started working on hash holes and we’re going to start on flower, and hopefully we could dabble in clothing together too. My goals for this year have no roof, no ceiling. I want to work with the best of the best of everyone and I don’t think anything is farfetched. We have a lot of cool genetics coming. I have this box called Fidel’s Head Stash, where I get to give the consumer four different phenos of flavors that we’ve hunted. So it’s four seven-gram jars that make up four pheno-hunted flavors by us and they’re all keepers. I’m scaling that up to the masses, getting into these chains of stores that want to carry Fidel’s and dropping my flower there. I feel like I’ve won over the Southern California market. I have to take advantage of all of California now. I’m going to stretch my arms out and just go shake hands with everybody, smoke with everybody, win over every budtender. And once I’ve got California on lock, I want to focus on other states.
CHAMPELLI: Your brand’s so distinctive. Your look, your personality, goes perfectly to who you are as an authentic brand. How do you tune into yourself? Is it meditation, or another way that you’d explain how your whole persona is expressed in your brand?
FIDEL: I wish I meditated. (Laughs) I’m not as perfect as it seems. But I do credit a lot of this just to being dedicated to the craft. I’m dedicated to everything this fucking community has. Me, my team, my family, everybody’s for one goal – for Fidel’s. My goal is just to be a brand that’s more. When I say “legacy brand,” I want to live longer than one lifetime. How do they speak about your brand for lifetimes to come? It’s to make an impact so deep in this lifetime that they speak about it for the next 200, 300 years; that’s how you live to 300 years. I’m honestly just so committed to this brand and the industry. I don’t see any other way. I don’t see anything changing. It’s just building, getting more creative, inspiring more people… I’m passionate. I’m just so passionate.
A version of this article was originally published in Honeysuckle's 16th print edition. Click here to get your copy now!
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