Toronto·CBC Investigates

Co-founder of illegal CAFE pot shops dies in Mexico

Jon Galvano, who co-founded the CAFE chain of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries that gained fame in Toronto for repeatedly flouting law enforcement attempts to shutter them, has died in Mexico, CBC has confirmed.

No details on death of Jon Galvano, including whether foul play involved

Jon Galvano, seen at CAFE's St. Clair Avenue location in a photo posted to his Instagram feed in October 2018, was a 'very smart business guy,' according to his former criminal lawyer. (j.galvano/Instagram)

Jon Patrick Galvano, who co-founded Toronto's CAFE chain of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries that gained fame for repeatedly flouting law enforcement attempts to shut them down, has died in Mexico.

CBC News confirmed the 46-year-old's death Friday afternoon with a family member. There were no other details, including whether foul play was involved.

Global Affairs Canada said in an email that they are aware a Canadian died in the country, are providing help to the family and are seeking more information from local authorities.

Mexican news media did not have any online reports about it as of Friday night.

After this story was first published, an obituary for Galvano appeared online saying died "peacefully in his sleep" on May 12.

Galvano, who was from the Windsor area and had been running a pizzeria there, moved to Toronto in 2016 to open his first "Amsterdam-style" coffee shop under the name CAFE – short for Coffee and Fine Edibles.

Galvano's lifelong friend from the Windsor area, Wesley Weber, left, was one of the early co-owners of CAFE. (jon_bilzeri_aint/Instagram)

One of the early co-owners was his lifelong friend Wesley Weber, a fellow Windsor-area native with a long criminal record most notably involving a headline-grabbing scheme to counterfeit millions of dollars in $100 bills in the late 1990s.

The CAFE business boomed, growing from a single outlet in the CityPlace neighbourhood where Galvano and Weber lived to four in the west side of downtown and up to St. Clair Avenue. At their peak, they boasted out-the-door customer lineups on many weekends.

Distinguishing itself with its sleek decor and lifestyle branding, CAFE's locations functioned much like any coffee shop in front — selling beverages and pastries — but in back or upstairs, illegal cannabis bud, edibles and other products were on offer.

The chain gained a loyal following in Toronto as it bucked more than a dozen police and bylaw enforcement attempts to shut down its stores. Officers would raid them and then weld the doors shut or pile up huge cement blocks outside to block entry. But often within hours, the locations would reopen.

For years, Galvano flaunted his wealth on social media, posting pics of his latest Gucci or Christian Louboutin shoes, his Lamborghini Huracan, a $432 Wagyu steak dinner and his business-class jet-setting to Europe and South America.

He made frequent trips to Colombia, including on a private charter with Weber, friends and other CAFE staff in 2019. On an earlier trip to the country, he posted pics on Instagram of visiting former drug lord Pablo Escobar's grave.

Galvano's Instagram posts included a number of photos of his Lamborghini Huracan. (j.galvano/Instagram)

CBC found no social media postings of any prior trips Galvano took to Mexico.

More recently, his Facebook and Instagram accounts were set to private, and as of Friday night, appeared to be offline.

Galvano had a modest criminal record from his days in Windsor. He pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2010 and 2011 and one count of violating probation, and was fined each time.

His former criminal lawyer, Robert DiPietro, told CBC News in a 2019 interview that Galvano was a "very smart business guy" who was always working hard and "trying to move ahead."

CAFE did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday evening.


If you have a tip on this or any other story, email zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca or call 416-205-7553

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zach Dubinsky

Senior Writer, CBC Investigations Unit

Zach Dubinsky is an investigative journalist. His reporting on offshore tax havens (including the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers), political corruption and organized crime has won multiple national and international awards. Phone: 416-205-7553. Twitter: @DubinskyZach Email zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca

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