They’re among the top worldwide cannabis brands, but their mystery is part of what makes The TENCo a cultural phenomenon. In one of only three interviews ever released, Honeysuckle got the scoop with Staks and Gerry, co-founders of The TENCo, the global leader that birthed the ever-popular Zushi strain and its offshoots.
Watch Honeysuckle's exclusive interview with The TENCo founders Staks and Gerry:
What Is The TENCo? Inside The Global Brand That Created Zushi
“We’ve been curating this brand for almost five years, so the combination of us together is like a deadly weapon,” Staks says.
“I always felt that the weed culture was a part of the culture, but it wasn’t really fused in there,” Gerry adds. He and Staks believed it would be part of The TENCo’s mission to create that fusion, allowing consumers to feel the influence of the plant on every level of their being, from merch to events and experiences and music.
The vertically-integrated brand took charge of the zeitgeist almost immediately, with its anime aesthetic and powerful flavor profile capturing the hearts of cannabis enthusiasts everywhere. Staks, originally from the United Kingdom, is a pioneer who brought Cookies across the pond for the first time in 2014. He used his background in European horticulture - particularly taking inspiration from his time among the cultivators in Barcelona - to innovate terpene-rich strains with Gerry. Zushi, a Zkittlez and Kush Mints cross, would become their biggest hit.
“Our true game is to combine the two worlds together again, European genetics and California genetics,” Staks explains. “I used to make hash, so I was all about terpene profiles and being blown away by that concentrated flavor. It has to cut through my sinus and it has to stand out from whatever’s really out there on the market.”
Who Are TENCo Founders Staks And Gerry?
Originally calling the venture Team 10 Extracts, Staks racked up a multitude of awards in Europe before bringing anything to the U.S. His earliest incarnation of the brand is credited with hosting the first infused dinner party in the U.K., and his flower began winning some of the world's most prestigious competitions. Near the end of 2015, he was invited to the global Secret Cup's grand finale competition in Los Angeles, his debut in the States. It would be a life-changing move that convinced him to leave his home country for the Land of Opportunity.
In 2019, Staks linked up with Gerry, a creative director based in San Jose who was known for his wunderkind-style innovation. Gerry's raw talent and drive, which brought him to notoriety in the sneaker community, earned him a position at Worldstar Hip Hop. Connections in the music industry through Worldstar brought the two minds together for a chance meeting. Staks found a kindred spirit in Gerry, and told him that he needed a genius designer to work with his latest creation - Zushi. The rest is history.
All About Zushi Strains: Blue Zushi, Yellow Zushi, Zoy Zushi, Wasabi Zushi, Pink Zushi - Welcome To The Family
Today Zushi is an industry phenomenon. Blue Zushi is an indica-dominant staple that delivers a well-balanced but euphoric full-body high. This signature cultivar consistently tops many connoisseurs’ “favorites” lists. It won multiple titles at the 2023 Zalympix in Los Angeles, including Best Overall Strain (Gold), Best Tasting (Gold), and Best Terpenes By Smell (Silver).
Other members of the strain family are just as striking. Yellow Zushi contains citrus notes with “just a hint of sushi,” and earthy terpenes that merge for a strong but clean elevated experience. Zoy Zushi includes a Gelato cross in the genetic mix, a hybrid that makes for a great daytime smoke. Wasabi Zushi (also known as Wazabi) is a Zkittlez x Kush Mints cross with distinct spicy, peppery notes that combine with unexpected elements such as a kind of "cake frosting" and hints of grapefruit. Strain reviewers have observed that even its packaging "feels premium."
Then there’s the elusive Pink Zushi, deemed by Honeysuckle’s own Creative Director Sam C. Long to be an exquisite “unobtanium.”
How Did The TENCo Develop Pink Zushi With Coi Leray?
But you can’t talk about Pink Zushi without talking about its loving mama, renowned rapper Coi Leray. When the chart-topping, platinum-selling musical artist began partnering with The TENCo, the brand entered a whole new evolution.
“Three years ago, when we were creating the characters [for our merch], for some reason we always mentioned bringing Coi Leray as a fit to the brand,” Staks recalls. “She’s got the anime vibe, she’s part of the culture, she’s up and coming. We truly love Coi. She’s family to us, for sure.”
Leray and The TENCo teased a preview of Pink Zushi at Art Basel 2022 in Miami, but officially launched the strain in January 2023 at Cookies Melrose in Los Angeles. Though the brand’s eighths are known as the highest-priced products of any in the category in their home state of California, it’s clear from the devotion of cannabis consumers that the quality is well worth the cost. And as Staks told LA Weekly in 2021 when he and Gerry opened their first The TENCo retail store, the idea is to keep product runs limited to maintain that precious quality and the “gotta-catch-em-all” mindset. What’s a good anime without a quest, right?
New Drops From The TENCo: Nozu, Blue Zushi Rosin, And The 10Pen
The TENCo welcomed its newest addition to the Zushi family in July 2023, when they launched Nozu. Named for the globally renowned, elite sushi restaurant brand Nobu, the initial drops capitalized on the idea of a luxury experience. Nozu's first packaging resembled champagne to-go bags from Nobu, followed by a collector's box with nods to gourmet ingredients such as lobster, steak, and truffles. (That debut drop, by the way, went for $1,000 per bag.)
2023 was an explosive year for Staks and Gerry and their team; among major victories at competitions including the Zalympix events on both coasts, they introduced their first solventless product with Blue Zushi rosin and most recently brought their premiere device to market in the 10Pen vape. Their worldwide adventures can only keep climbing skyward.
What's Next For The TENCo?
Of course, it seems to be on the East Coast where consumers have welcomed the brand most readily, according to Staks. “We get great reception everywhere, but I feel that New York’s kind of embraced us with open arms and we have the position to play in the city,” he observes. “They’re the curators of the high-beat trends, so I feel that they relate to us and our market.”
As connoisseurs develop their palates globally for what cannabis giants have to offer, the future definitely looks bright for Staks and Gerry. We give them a perfect TEN.
*A version of this article originally appeared in Honeysuckle's 17th print edition, featuring Havoc of Mobb Deep. Get your copy now at dispensaries nationwide or click here to order!
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Featured image: The TENCo in Honeysuckle's 17th print edition (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture