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At 23, student entrepreneur has won 1 of 7 permits for Saskatoon cannabis retail stores

Being offered the permit was like "my birthday on steroids," says Cierra Sieben-Chuback.

Cierra Sieben-Chuback says permit offer is like 'my birthday on steroids'

Cierra Sieben-Chuback, a 23-year-old student who graduates next week from Saskatoon's Edwards School of Business, has been offered one of seven legal cannabis retail permits for the city. "This is quite surreal," she says. (Tom Waldron)

Saskatoon business school student Cierra Sieben-Chuback has beaten out more than 150 other candidates for one of seven highly sought-after permits to operate a cannabis retail store in the city.

Sieben-Chuback, 23, has never run her own business before, but that's about to change very quickly.

"I convocate on Wednesday," she said of her impending graduation from the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business.

"It's like my birthday on steroids. This is quite surreal, I'm not going to lie."

'All by myself'

On Friday, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) announced the 51 groups across the province that won a permit in a lottery.

Sieben-Chuback's name stuck out from the Saskatoon winners' list for a couple of reasons.

Born and raised in the city, Sieben-Chuback was the only Saskatoon-based entrepreneur in a group otherwise consisting of out-of-towners (a Regina lawyer and restaurateur, for example) or large team-ups (two groups of five partners).

Also, she drew up her application from her bedroom.

"I did it actually all by myself," she said, which is quite an accomplishment given the experience of one unsuccessful Saskatoon applicant. Tracey Grand'Maison likened the form to "1980s stereo instructions."

"A lot of people I know had hired professionals to do it, and they were denied because something wasn't filled out correctly," said Grand'Maison.

Sieben-Chuback's associate professor at the Edwards School of Business, Lee Swanson, helped her out with her business plan, however.

Sieben's associate professor, Lee Swanson, helped her with her business plan. (University of Saskatchewan)

She drew it up as part her Entrepreneurship and Venture Development class (Comm 447) last semester, Swanson said.

"The credit is all for her. She put her heart and soul into this," said Swanson.

"We have had wonderful success over the past many years with students from the Comm 447 class commercializing their [local] businesses," he added, citing a modular building design firm and an online apparel shop.

Her inspiration

Sieben-Chuback suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and said she was prescribed cannabis to relieve the pain.

"I was told I have to take a bunch of pills every day for the rest of my life," she said. "That's not something that interests me. So I looked into other methods of treatment and then that was kind of my inspiration moving forward into this industry."

While her store will primarily cater to recreational users, she does want to have "a bit of an emphasis on that medical side," provided the SLGA rules allow for it.

She definitely knows what she wants to name her dispensary, though.

"Living Skies Cannabis," she said. "You know, [like] 'Land of the Living Skies.'" That's the slogan on the Saskatchewan licence plates.

Sieben-Chuback wants to name her dispensary Living Skies Cannabis, after the Saskatchewan licence plate slogan. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Lottery winners were screened partly on the basis of their financial qualifications. Sieben-Chuback's main investor is her father Glenn Chuback, the owner of Saskatoon's Juicy Auto Body shop.

"My family is supporting me in this," she said.

Still cooking

For the moment, Sieben-Chuback is keeping her job as a cook at Drift Sidewalk Café and Vista Lounge.

"That's actually probably going to be the hardest part of this transition — leaving this wonderful organization because they've done a lot for me," she said.

Sieben-Chuback current works as a cook at Saskatoon's Drift Sidewalk Cafe and Vista Lounge. Owner Brian Storey says 'it will be a definite loss' when she leaves. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Drift owner Brian Storey said it will be "a definite loss."

"She fits our place so well and does such good work," he said.

Sieben-Chuback wasn't prepared to disclose where in Saskatoon she'd like to locate her dispensary, which must open within 12 months of legalization, according to the rules of her permit. 

Sieben-Chuback says her main investor is her father, who owns an auto body shop in Saskatoon. (Tom Waldron)

But Storey says he wouldn't mind if she opened up shop close to his café in Saskatoon's Riversdale neighbourhood.

"I don't really know much about the pot business myself," he said. "But it certainly seems like it's going to attract people and pretty cool people. Cool people in Riversdale is a good thing."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca