How Tess Taylor Sauced Up Cannabis Edibles
By Lauren Yoshiko
We started the How I Got Here (HIGH) interview series to open a window into the experiences of cannabis industry leaders in a blossoming industry; to uncover the good, bad, and ugly, and share hard-learned lessons with those just starting out. With legal cannabis being such a blank slate, the individuals who compose this space naturally hail from such remarkably diverse backgrounds. We seek to preserve and tell the stories of those who were drawn to the inherent risk, uncertainty, and opportunity at the inception of this new industry born out of a plant that has been vilified for generations (and in many places, continues to be). With each HIGH interview we release, we owe it to our readers and industry colleagues to celebrate not only their accomplishments but their differences too.
Three years into adult-use sales, California’s cannabis industry is still one wild, rowdy rodeo.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have halted any IRL gatherings and consumption lounge debuts, but it spiked retail sales and kept delivery services humming all hours. Cannabis became a crutch to cope with all the extra time at home; a moment to take a mental break from news headlines or homeschooling, and curious first-timers finally checked out what the fuss is all about. In the summer of 2021, experiential stores, infused dinners, and hemp farm tours are opening back up again, welcomed by a cannabis community more than eager to reconnect and vibe in person. At the same time, allocating equity licenses and equity programs, in general, remain huge issues city-to-city, and costs and feasibility of production are under scrutiny against the backdrop of extreme, ongoing heatwaves and droughts.
Amidst the chaos of it all, the pandemic also made time for new ideas to germinate and take root while people pondered at home. Ideas like Saucy, an infused condiment brand founded by Tess Melody Taylor, which launched earlier this year on April 20th at Sweet Flower with a thick, Texas-style BBQ Sauce and a lemony Herbal Vinaigrette that doubles as a delicious marinade, formulated with family recipes and kitchen tricks handed down from her grandfather.
The idea of this California brand originated in Texas, though Taylor’s military brat childhood stretches her roots much farther than there. Taylor’s relationship with cannabis stretches further, back all the way to stoned lunch hours in the high school parking lot, back when she was unknowingly coping with experiences she hadn’t yet come to terms with. As a former athlete, a survivor of sexual abuse, and a former chronic overachiever, cannabis has been a tool for healing throughout Taylor’s life. Now, through a carefully curated supply chain that features businesses owned and operated by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ partners, Taylor is creating a community around her brand by hosting a series of intimate, infused dinners “with a seat for y’ALL.”
In this H.I.G.H Interview, I learned more about Taylor’s culinary heritage, how cannabis helped her face and process immense trauma, the mental health epidemic, and how all of that led to the creation of Saucy.
OUR DREAM: Tell me your origin story.
Tess Taylor: I was born in Dallas, TX to two military veterans—my dad was in Vietnam; my mom was honorably discharged when she became pregnant with me while my dad furthered his government contracting career. My mom likes to say she named me Tess because I was ‘testing her,’ as her third (my dad’s 7th) baby coming ten years after the last. We moved to middle-of-fucking-nowhere, Confederate-flag-heaven Pennsylvania when I was 6, and to Heidelberg, Germany before I started high school.
My family bonds over cannabis and food, and many of our best tricks in the kitchen were learned from my maternal grandfather, Jesse James “Granddad” Robinson, who was born into a sharecropping family in Waco, TX in 1927. At 16, he headed to California in search of a better life, and he became a top chef in the Navy for Admirals. His cooking was famous, but he was best known for his cool demeanor, kind spirit, and commitment to the National and Virginia chapters of the NAACP. Food is both communal and generational—Saucy is his legacy.
OUR DREAM: What was the weed scene like when you started partarking?
Tess Taylor: My introduction to weed was in Germany while in high school. Someone had brought back weed from Amsterdam. We smoked what we called “funny bowls”—a mix of shisha and weed we smoked out of a hookah. By senior year I was back stateside in Norman, Oklahoma, and I actually found my stoner friends because I wasn’t accepted by the very stereotypical cheerleader crew.
In college at University of Oklahoma, here’s how I’d sum up how I (a Black woman) and weed were received at the uber conservative school: While on spring break and staying in a house with 20 of my sorority sisters, a group of our guys came over to pre-game, and a group of us headed to the roof to smoke. As we walked down the stairs to rejoin the party, someone’s like “oMg wErE yOu sMoKinG WEED?” All of the girls looked at me and said, “We weren’t, but Tess was!” haha. I’ve never been afraid to go against the status quo. It’s crazy to think that there’s a dispensary on the campus corner, right across from my first job, nearly 10 years later.
OUR DREAM: I understand you were in law school at one point. What happened there?
Tess Taylor: For most of my life, I was suppressing an immense amount of shame and pain from childhood sex abuse I experienced, and it took the form of academic and athletic over-achievements. I pushed myself and my body to its limit, contracting shingles at age 12 from overexerting my body as an internationally competitive speed skater, cheerleader and middle school volleyball player rarely without at least two practices a day. I graduated high school and college in 3 years each. Looking back, I now see that I kept myself insanely busy to avoid the intrusive thoughts and feelings of PTSD and that I only felt loved when I was achieving.
As a teenager and in college, I was dangerously impulsive, drinking heavily, ruining my shot at law school, and willingly allowed myself to be disrespected as if I deserved it. It took hitting absolute rock bottom to acknowledge that my abuse and leaving it unresolved, tucked in a box in the back of my mind, affected me daily and more than I knew.
When I left law school, I realized I had no idea who the fuck I was without the accolades. That’s when I started going to therapy to heal and learn how to set boundaries with loved ones and intimate partners. I took a little time off, messed around with a few retail jobs, and then I started a Master’s program. I’d also been on Adderall for six years at that point and wanted to try weaning off it. As I got older, I realized it was messing with my brain chemistry and my interpersonal relationships.
When I went first off the meds, I would wake up in the morning and be falling asleep on my feet by 10am. I realized it had to do with the dopamine levels that I was missing from the adderall. That’s when I started researching and using cannabis more intentionally, seeking out different strains that could give me that boost—or as close to it as possible while living in Texas. I meet people every day who share how cannabis saved their lives. If you’re unfamiliar with the plant, that may sound hyperbolic or dramatic to you, but it’s true.
OUR DREAM: What was it like to work through that trauma and get reacquainted with yourself, while transitioning from prescriptions to cannabis?
Tess Taylor: When you’re abused as a child and share what happened to you as an adult, you gaslight yourself. Some of your memories are disjointed, and you know no one will believe you or will ask “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” For me, the flashbacks, nightmares, and back pain where I was physically abused as a child to keep me quiet were vivid well into adulthood. My mother naturally felt like it was all her fault, so that came with its own weight.
My abuser was a family member, so it was tough to set boundaries and I really had to be firm in my demands for the sake of my healing journey. The more I talked about it in therapy, the more my memories resurfaced. It was really, really painful work, but it was so worth it.
It definitely took listening to other brave women share their truths as the #metoo movement got going—and I stumbled upon the This is Jane Project—to make me feel more comfortable telling my story and acknowledging that it is more common than we as a society wish to admit. In 2018, I began learning more about spirituality and healing modalities outside of talk-therapy. In 2019, I went to Bali and learned about fascia while reading Caroline Myss who teaches us that “your biography becomes your biology.” I learned I had to work through my trauma not only psychologically, but physically as well. Now, mindful movement is so important to me in any form, along with yoga, massages, breathing exercises, and acupuncture. I do it allll with cannabis.
OUR DREAM: At what point did you decide you wanted to start an edibles company?
Tess Taylor: My parents and sister saw the economic opportunity for cannabis after frequent trips to Colorado. They’d tried legal products and saw the potential for the industry, so in 2018 I convinced them to first help me start TAYLOR + tess CBD skincare, which we launched April 20, 2019. I wanted to show my parents that I could do this; that I could run a business in this space. I don’t think they know how instrumental starting this company was for my healing journey because it opened up my world to so many possibilities that allow me to show up as my authentic self everyday.
I did several private cannabis events in 2018 and 2019 as I contemplated a move to Los Angeles. I experimented with my LEVO machine a lot during quarantine in Dallas, but I always wished I could just top my takeout orders with an infused product versus doing a meal from scratch with oil every time. When I heard about Our Academy and applied for the mentorship program, I knew that my condiments could be a huge hit amidst a pandemic affecting respiratory systems.
Edibles and infused dining experiences are such a great entry point for the cannacurious – my parents were a perfect example of this. I saw an opportunity for Saucy to be an easy way to introduce more people to the plant. Just putting a little sauce on your meal at the family barbecue and having a meaningful conversation about cannabis around the dinner table. Magic happens at the dinner table, you know?
OUR DREAM: What’s been your biggest challenge thus far?
Tess Taylor: Definitely raising capital. There are so many great ideas, brands, and concepts that just die because there is not enough capital to keep going. Less than 4% of cannabis companies are owned and operated by Black founders. Not only is that sad because that’s a lost opportunity for Black and Brown people to own their share of the market and help their communities prosper; it’s also a lost opportunity for investors to make returns off of those growth opportunities.
I have an amazing food scientist who also has an MBA and she’s worked with major brands—Frito Lay; Taco Bell—who I worked with for R&D for 6-7 months and continue to develop new products with. I also worked with Vertosa on the infusions. I was eager to be the first influential brand and household name on the market, but I’m also just excited about the edible category in general. There is so much opportunity for innovation in this category. It’s awesome to dream about what’s next.
But right now, I need the capital to build a team and go beyond a solopreneur company; to further strengthen our supply chain; and be able to scale while maintaining a high quality product. There are tasks that need to be done as the founder and CEO, and I have a lot of the partners in place, but I need the capital to put things in motion and grow Saucy into different regions and additional product line extensions.
OUR DREAM: What’s one piece of advice to anyone getting started?
Tess Taylor: First, ask yourself if you have positioned yourself well to take on the everyday challenges of entrepreneurship (a major financial investment; a psychological test; a physically draining role). Then, find programs like Our Academy to help you navigate the space. As with any industry, you need champions to help you get to where you want to go—just make sure they’re trustworthy and your values align.
Reaching milestones in your entrepreneurial journey is so much more rewarding when you’re doing it with a diverse community that understands you as an individual and shares your vision.
OUR DREAM: What’s on the horizon?
Tess Taylor: A hot sauce! That’s launching soon, and there’s also new custom packaging with two size/dosage options, multipacks of single-size options, prototyping our full-size bottles, specialty holiday items, and future collabs with chefs on limited-edition sauces. If one is a huge hit, we may even keep it in the offerings. Vertosa’s infusions are super fast acting, so rather than feeling effects two hours after your meal, it could be more like 10 minutes before the waiter asks, “Are you interested in dessert?”
In the grand scheme of things, I hope Saucy enters another state in 2022—one step closer to becoming a multi-state operator and eventually the Heinz of cannabis condiments.
OUR DREAM: What’s your dream for the industry?
Tess Taylor: My dream for the industry is to see cannabis grocery stores where shelves are filled with innovative, effective infused products that allow people to receive plant medicine in whatever form they need and choose.
Ultimately, cannabis can be a great tool for self care, self actualization, and becoming more active participants in our healthcare, so I want to make this plant more accessible to and approachable for all. Cannabis helped me become more of my authentic self; it helped me find my purpose and my vision for the world around me. It can remind you who you are.
OUR DREAM: Where can people find Saucy?
*HIGH interviews are conducted exclusively with individuals we love and respect in the cannabis space. OUR DREAM does not receive any compensation for this content.