Crave Restaurant Owner Kam Talebi Launches CBD Brand
Kaskaid Event Group CEO Kam Talebi, whose portfolio of local restaurants and venues includes Crave, Brit’s Pub, and Muse Event Center, is moving beyond burgers and sushi for his latest venture. The serial entrepreneur is launching a CBD brand into the rapidly growing field with hopes of taking it national.
Two years in the making, Talebi’s CBD wellness brand NULEEV will make its public debut Thursday with the opening of a flagship store at Mall of America, where Talebi has operated one of his 12 Crave restaurants for more than a decade.
“I wanted a location with a lot of visibility,” Talebi said. “Mall of America will always be the mall with millions of customers coming through it. It’s the mall that can not only introduce us locally, but nationally.”
CBD, one of many cannabinoids found in cannabis, comes from legal hemp plants. It is not psychoactive or mind altering, but has been found to have medical benefits such as reducing pain, anxiety, and alleviating sleep disorders. That discovery has triggered a flood of CBD infused oils, creams, gummies, teas and even pet treats in recent years from hundreds of different manufacturers. Celebrities are getting in on the action, too—Kristen Bell, Mike Tyson and Willie Nelson are among the famous CBD advocates who have launched product lines of their own. According to CBD market research firm Brightfield, the CBD market exceeded $4 billion in 2019 and is expected to top $25 billion by 2025.
Talebi sees opportunity. “I started as a user of CBD for knee and back pain, and it was amazing how it impacted my life. But what I found was a market that was incredibly fragmented. CBD is a product people sell off shelves—not known as a brand. We wanted to create a brand that stands for quality, integrity, and trust.”
Talebi partnered with CBD industry veteran Jared Day, who previously worked with Complete Nutrition. The two met through mutual acquaintances and Day pitched Talebi on CBD. “I’ve been busy building restaurants. I had to catch up,” Talebi admitted. “Jared is young, smart, and sees the opportunity.” Talebi self-funded the research, development and brand launch of NULEEV. He declined to say how much he’s invested so far.
The NULEEV collection includes more than 70 CBD products in the form of tinctures, gummies, smokeables, and topicials—all said to address a variety of lifestyle needs ranging from sleep and calm to sports performance and skin care. The products are made from hemp plants grown by Minnesota farmers. Day said one of the line’s differentiators is its unique blend of certified cannabinoids beyond CBD oil.
CBD products are currently excluded from regulation by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. A statement from the FDA says the government entity is “working to answer questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD.” Talebi is making a point to take measures of his own, saying all NULEEV products have been tested at least twice, by two different FDA-approved laboratories.
Opening a physical store out of the gate is part of Talebi’s strategy to “build trust and educate customers.” Although his aspirations are national, Talebi said he plans to grow his base locally first.
“I’m looking to establish a local brand that can become a leader in our own backyard,” Talebi said. “I want to become the recognized brand in a busy space with no dominant brands. I want to build a Midwestern brand.”
He’s learned that lesson the hard way. Pre-pandemic, Crave opened and closed seven locations around the country before settling into being a solid regional player. Instead, Talebi has looked for local extensions—he scooped up Brit’s Pub when it became available in 2019, and most recently, launched The Butcher’s Tale in the former Butcher & the Boar spot in Minneapolis. While his downtown establishments have been slower to bounce back from the pandemic, Talebi said overall, his restaurants are “seeing traffic back to 2019 levels.”
The NULEEV store is located on the west side of Mall of America, directly above Lululemon and Apple, at 286 West Market. Designed by James Henke, the store clearly takes inspiration from national beauty brands like Aveda, with green plants cascading down the sides of brass fixtures and professionally packaged products neatly displayed on white shelves with a backdrop of light, earthy woods.
Talebi took the comparison as a compliment. “What Horst did with Aveda, I want to do for CBD.”