“If I wasn’t doing this I’d be traveling through Italy,” laughs Mark Ainsworth when asked if he could see his life going in any direction other than the one it has. Years ago, the longtime chef took a gamble with his career and joined forces with another hospitality veteran, Rob Weakley, to co-found Indus Holdings, Inc.
Culinary Beginnings to Award-Winning Edibles
Ainsworth cut his teeth as a pastry chef under Master Chef Alfonso Contrisciani at Philadelphia’s Opus 251, and worked in the pastry kitchens of pastry kitchens – the Atlantic Inn, Lucca’s, and Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino – before founding Pastry Smart, the first and only American Humane Certified and Organic bakery and confectionery manufacturer in the United States.
It’s been five years since he transitioned from culinary to cannabis, yet he hasn’t fully abandoned his first love. As Indus Holdings, Inc.’s Executive Vice President, Ainsworth has been the originator of the company’s award-winning confectionary portfolio, bringing Altai Brands, MOON, Original Pot Co., and others to life.
Partnering with Rob Weakley
It was a life-changing moment when the chef sat down with friend Rob Weakley to discuss Rob’s idea for a new cannabis company that would seize on the growing needs of patients in California. With legalization of recreational cannabis on the horizon, Ainsworth saw an opportunity to improve on the products that he saw lining the shelves of local dispensaries.
“Seeing what was in the stores – it was unsafe,” Ainsworth says. “Food safety wasn’t a concern, and products were being given to people with already compromised immune systems.
“I told Rob, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. We’re going to create a product that’s safe, and be part of shaping this industry as it evolves. I wanted our legacy to be quality products that were safe for consumers.”
As Indus Holdings, Inc. continues to expand its offerings, Ainsworth sat down to discuss what he’s learned throughout his journey.
Moving into the Cannabis Industry
Q: Where did you see yourself at the beginning of Indus?
“I’d known Rob Weakley for quite some time, and when he came to me he was looking to partner with somebody who understood the operational side of the business. I like process, I like to refer to myself as the guy behind the curtain. I wanted to build a well-run company, like a machine, and I felt that he had a similar vision. It was a win-win for both of us, a good marriage of skill sets.”
Q: When it comes to your background, what experience or knowledge was most helpful as you transitioned into the cannabis industry?
“There’s only a handful of people in cannabis that understand flavor texture, differences in time and temperature, and how it all factors into making a quality product. I had a bakery manufacturing company, and I had a lot of experience running large manufacturing operations in hospitality. I started in casinos, so I learned how to do volume early on. When I went to the Ritz Carlton, I was 23 years old, and I wasn’t afraid to do banquets for 400-500 people nightly; and I learned the fundamentals of scratch baking.
“My background doing that, and smaller volume fine dining, gave me knowledge of flavor textures and technique. My pedigree, how I came up through the culinary industry, was a tremendous benefit.”
Indus at the Forefront of Transparency
Q: What are the important lessons you’ve learned since you transitioned into cannabis that other professionals and entrepreneurs should know?
“You have to take extra time and extra care in creating your products, because they’re not always handled well from the time they leave your warehouse to the time they end up on a dispensary shelf. A fresh chocolate with a two-week shelf life is never going to work, and that’s a reflection of your brand. We’ve had to engineer some products to survive on the shelf so they’re safe for consumers.
“Indus has been at the forefront of transparency and quality and a leader for safe consumer practices. You have to do that. We’ve always tried to set a standard of quality beyond the standard. If the state regulations are ‘this’ then we want to have something better. We push ourselves to do better in certain areas. You have to build a product of quality, and if you want it delivered to the consumer in an appealing, fresh way, you have to put a lot of thought into it. You can’t rush, you have to take the time to do the research.”
“We’ve always tried to set a standard of quality beyond the standard. If the state regulations are ‘this’ then we want to have something better.”
Q: Can you recall the moment when Indus had its first big success?
“I think the thing that was really cool was winning third place in the Cannabis World Cup in Jamaica for our Sea Salt Caramel Bon Bons. That’s a formula that I learned my first year in culinary school, it was a Bailey’s Irish caramel, and I’ve tweaked that recipe over 26 years. Every time I’ve learned new disciplines or techniques or processes to improve, I’ve changed that recipe. To think about where that thing came from – I think we were only in business about eight months when we won third place – it’s a testament to the passion and work we put into it.”
Q: What has been the most exciting thing about building an organization in this unique and emerging industry?
“For me, a guy who went to culinary school, to be able to grow a business into a public company that now has a president that came from VOSS water, and a Vice President of Sales that came from Red Bull – I never thought that I’d have peers in a company of that caliber. The exciting part for me is being able to learn from all these people’s great experiences.”