Mr. GUMBO invited us inside ‘the House that GUMBO built’ to learn how he made it to the top of New York’s budding weed industry.
‘Do I call it The House of GUMBO, The GUMBO mansion, or the GUMBO castle?’ That’s what I was thinking as I approached Luka Brazi’s 20,000 square-foot New York property. When I was finally inside, the residents explained that they simply call it “The House that GUMBO Built.”
For the past two decades and change, Karim “Luka Brazi” Butler has laid a powerful foundation across NYC. Building brick-by-brick between many colliding markets prepared him to lead New York’s billion dollar legal weed industry into uncharted territory.
Music fans remember Luka as the muscle and talent scout in New York’s iconic Dipset rap crew. Fashion lovers cherish the custom shirts, jackets, and CDs he used to sell in Harlem. And mob movie lovers have to appreciate his name’s nod to enforcer Luca Brasi, who served on behalf of the boss Don in the classic Godfather film.
But since 2019, designer weed lovers have made up the majority of Mr. GUMBO’s six-figure follower count. That’s because the multi-state licensed FlyTrap brand has taken off globally. Even though Luka’s home state of New York has been slow to get its adult-use market off the ground.
Luka didn’t wait around for The Empire State to get it together. Which is why he’s got a pot full of GUMBO varieties available or coming soon to Cookies stores worldwide.
With New York dispensary licenses opening up to original market operators like Luka next week, the GUMBO gang is ready to bring its world champion strain home for a victory lap.
Recently, I sat down with Luka and his partner Alexis Major and took a tour of their GUMBO abode. Along the way, the pot power couple shared exactly how they cooked up a worldwide buzz from scratch.
Here’s the recipe Bronx native Luka Brazi and his partner Alexis Major used to build NYC’s hottest weed brand from the ground up.
1. Stick to the script
FlyTrap/GUMBO CEO Luka and company CFO Alexis are quick to call a new business play on the fly. But their core brand, FlyTrap, always comes first. The company got its sticky name from legendary New York lyricist Jadakiss, who once said Luka’s weed had him stuck like a trapped insect.
The FlyTrap brand is a solid vehicle for non-GUMBO moves that Luka and Alexis freestyle in the field. That includes merch, content, and packaging. The structure gives GUMBO space to bubble without spilling over into everything they do.
With the strain’s name going global so quickly, it’d be easy for most to get lost in the sauce. But Luka’s diverse background in music, fashion, and New York’s original cannabis market makes him uniquely qualified to manage multiple flames at one time.
3. Trust the OGs
Runtz’ co-founder Yung LB and Detroit rapper GT helped Luka come up with the strain name GUMBO during a studio session in The Motor City.
Other OGs like Dipset’s Jim Jones and Cookies CEO Berner have also added secret ingredients to help GUMBO go global. One reason things bubbled so quickly: Luka is never too proud to take advice and run with it.
4. Stay legit
“Berner made us legitimate, (he) had us go legal,” Luka explains. The Cookies founder once told him, “Luka you’re not a street hustler. You’re more of a corporate guy. You know how to take what you learned from the street and incorporate it into a business.”
Then last year, Berner approached Luka with a deal to place GUMBO in Cookies stores across the globe. Luka remembers: “At the time he came and got us, he was fighting cancer, bro. He didn’t even know what tomorrow would bring. So that shit touched me… That someone could reach out to you at a time like that to wonder about you and your family?”
“We’re so thankful for Berner. Because without him, it wouldn’t even be a platform like this for people like us… We just have a lot of gratitude.”Luka Brazi on Berner’s influence
5. All gas no brakes
Every month or so, creative new GUMBO packages hit the streets filled with fresh batches of the brand’s funky flower. The product’s secret recipe is constantly being tweaked, so the presentation has to keep pace with the evolving flavors. The process has led to dozens of hilarious bud bags that many buyers cherish as collector’s items.
One underground bag of “Madison Square GUMBO” Leafly grabbed this spring depicts Spike Lee repping his beloved New York Knicks. Another bag features NY Islanders hockey players on the ice at the famous Madison Square Garden arena.
My personal favorite animation showed Radio Raheem from the classic Spike joint Do The Right Thing. And yes, the weed in the bag was just as loud as Raheem’s monster boom box in the 1989 film.
With NY’s growing demand for more batches of GUMBO, and an endless supply of graphic designers scattered around the city, the only thing that may slow down the brand’s brilliant marketing is New York’s strict packaging laws.
Popular packs like Garbage Pail Kids GUMBO feature characters including “Shmokel Urkel” and a peach-shaped version of “Iron Mike Tyson” might not get past regulators, or the USPTO. But New York’s active gray market should keep the bags in rotation for the foreseeable future whether the state approves or not.
6. Embrace the bootleggers
As a former street vendor who sold everything from CDs to socks, Luka never knocks a good hustle. But he had to take Alex’s advice before overreacting to counterfeiters knocking off GUMBO.
“We get a lot of bootleg stuff, but my wife had to bring this point to my attention. She said, ‘Babe, they knocked off Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Christian Louboutin. So when they knock (GUMBO) off, that means we did something good.’”
Alex added, “If you buy fake GUMBO, it’s because you want to be affiliated with GUMBO, and we’re not mad at that. We would like you to have the real GUMBO experience one day. But I know people that used to wear fake Louis, and they faked it ‘til they made it.”
7. Feed the soul
“GUMBO’s good for your soul,” Luka explained when I asked why a New York brand named its top weed strain after a Louisiana dish. GUMBO seduces users with its bold terpenes and clean taste. The founders ensure all products are organic, meaning GMO and pesticide free.
And after a day of smoking through a fresh selection GUMBO’s finest, I got lost in the mix of hearty, gassy, and fruity terps. In every pack, the soft, dense buds broke down effortlessly, like smoked BBQ that falls off the bone.
8. Beat the odds
As a survivor of the failed War on Drugs, Luka went from victim to victor before our eyes. Along the way, he served time and saw things he never wants to revisit.
“It was bad,” he remembers of his time in the illicit market. “I wasn’t supposed to make it. I don’t have a GED, or a high school diploma. So I’m living proof that anything you put your mind to, you can obtain.”
9. Influence the influencers
A key hack in modern marketing is influencers. Why spend millions on traditional ads when you can get a few celebrities to post your product directly to millions of followers?
Recently, Luka harvested organic support from rising stars like Detroit’s 42 Dugg, Atlanta’s Takeoff and actor Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory Jr., who currently plays the role of his own father, Black Mafia Family kingpin Big Meech, on the STARZ series BMF.
“What you smoking on?,” Luka asked Lil Meech on an Instagram live meet-up earlier this year, knowing the answer was GUMBO. And Mr. GUMBO’s social impact has even caught the attention of mega-influencers like Diddy and JAY-Z. With celebrities from every field looking to jump into the legal pot business, Luka’s knack for leading the leaders will come in handy for years to come.
10. Don’t forget where you came from
Luka is quick to remind you that he grew up on 63rd Street and 10th Avenue in the Bronx, New York.
The Forest Houses projects that he called home also produced Hip-Hop pioneers like Fat Joe, Diamond D and Lord Finesse. But after seeing murder and machine guns in his youth, Luka’s mother sent him away to a private school. Even with the option to choose books, Luka gravitated to the entrepreneurial lifestyle he saw his grandparents living as Harlem street vendors back home.
11. Go where the action is
Luka migrated from the Bronx to Harlem around 1999, and instantly left a mark. He came uptown to support his cousin’s CD hustle, which made decent money off the foot traffic passing through 145th and Broadway’s infamous drug and fashion markets. But Luka’s legendary ambition quickly turned his cousin’s small-time hustle into a booming operation.
“You can step on any block in Harlem, and everybody knows who Luka Brazi is, guaranteed,” he bragged in a 2008 interview.
After connecting with Harlem’s Diplomats rap crew circa 2000, he began influencing members like Cam’Ron, Jim Jones, and Shiest Bubz with his wits, charm, and loyal network.
12. Leverage your strengths
When Cam’Ron was trying to get out of a bad record deal with Sony, Luka’s legend as an enforcer was truly born. After lawyers and agents failed to remedy the situation, Luka showed up to the Sony offices with over 100 individuals from Harlem who demanded Cam’s freedom.
The power move worked, and set the table for Cam’s Dipset crew to take off nationally. The Harlem group rose to new heights, leading to the 2004 release of Cam’s stoner staple Purple Haze (named for both Jimi Hendrix, and the famous weed strain that took New York by storm in the early 2000s).
Luka told AllHipHop.com that he used to “manage, market, promote” for his music partners. He also takes credit for helping the Dipset collective increase its hype by selling their CDs in Harlem during the height of rap’s mixtape era.
Luka’s influence also pushed the crew to embrace up-and-coming local artists, as well as non-New Yorkers like Lil Wayne, just before he blossomed into a superstar.
13. Keep a million-dollar smile
“I’m always smiling. Not only ’cause I got good teeth. But because I remember all the days that I had to eat shit. So I had to buy new teeth to smile. And to let y’all know this is Black-owned. This is not someone saying that they own it and someone else co-owns it, or they’re the secret partner. No. I own GUMBO. It’s mine, and my wife’s. It’s a joint venture.”Luka Brazi
14. Shine bright like a diamond
Most financial advisors wouldn’t approve of the bling, especially as we trend towards a recession. But the jewels serve as a marketing vehicle in every room Luka enters; Turning heads and starting conversations about his recent success.
The diamonds are also inspirational to kids fighting the same odds that Luka beat. He wants them to know they don’t have to chase careers in entertainment or illicit dealings to shine like the stars they are.
After legalization comes to New York City, thousands of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities will present a new path for survivors of the Drug War. The GUMBO family says they want to open every possible door to give legacy operators like themselves access to the legal market.
15. Cultivate your charisma
Luka’s natural charm has helped him maintain a massive network of true supporters. Even when he was known mostly as a henchman for rappers, fans couldn’t help but appreciate his humor when he appeared in songs, videos, and interviews. Luka doesn’t have to perform to light up any room he enter. It’s just who he is.
His star power was clear long before he made his money. Even years before finding his highest purpose, Luka always did his best to treat himself and others with love and respect at all costs.
16. Choose your partners wisely
One part of Mr. and Mrs. GUMBO’s recipe for success is balance. “I have two Associates degrees and one Bachelors degree,” said Mrs. GUMBO, a Connecticut native who perfectly complements Luka’s NYC grit. “I ran a $150-million business as a retail buyer before this,” she told me.
“I guess it’s a balance,” CEO Luka chimed in. Alex is CFO of FlyTrap/GUMBO, but also owner of A3Squared, a management company that works with athletes and entertainers.
The couple endured highs and lows together before really hitting it big in legal cannabis. That’s why they have ultimate trust and faith in one another’s skills sets.
“He’s a big picture person,” Alex explains. “So we took his hustle mind and my strategies for being able to scale a business.” The rest is history.
But Alex was clear that GUMBO isn’t their only source of income: “We didn’t acquire all of this just off of cannabis. I worked with NFL players first. I segued into cannabis through the NFL because my clients were getting addicted to opiates. They’re not allowed to be affiliated with cannabis, so instead of me taking money for setting up their deals, I actually own percentages of dispensaries.”
17. Put people before profits
“A lot of famous hustlers are famous, but they’re no longer with us,” Alex told me. “But Luka is a people person.”
His gift of gab and emotional IQ helped him survive countless situations that could have ended the GUMBO fairy tale before it began.
By putting people before profits, Luka’s brand has travelled to places he hasn’t even been physically. “We’re in 15 countries now,” Alex points out.
New locations serving GUMBO now or in the near future include Cookies locations in 22 states and 15 countries (stores in Israel, Colorado, New Jersey, and Florida all say GUMBO is coming soon). And in well-established markets like California, GUMBO is a frequent top-seller.
In September, GUMBO will help make history as one of the first legal weed offerings to debut in Asia at the Cookies Thailand grand opening.
18. Keep a hustler’s spirit
Luka grew up with grandparents who were vendors in New York. When he was 7 years old, he used to join them on the block to flip items and barter within the community. The early business lessons gave Luka instincts that he still uses to this day. Even when he wakes up in the luxurious GUMBO master suite, his passion for solving problems and connecting people continues to keep him supremely motivated.
19. Legacy over everything
It’s not easy to think 100 steps ahead. So Luka focuses on keeping a solid reputation one day at a time.
There was no way to predict that his work in music, fashion, and the illicit market would one day make him the poster child for NYC’s legacy weed scene. But it turns out that taking the time to build a solid reputation can pay off way more than chasing clout, get-rich-quick schemes, or scams.
Remind yourself that every day is a new chance to build your legacy with integrity and honor. And it will pay off big time down the road, just like it has for Mr. GUMBO.
20. Take a good thing and run with it
“Sometimes in life people don’t understand your mission or what you’re going to achieve. Instead of just waiting for approval, I just took my opportunity and I ran with it. And here we are now, three years later, damn near the biggest Black-owned cannabis company in the world… I just didn’t stop.”Luka Brazi on his marathon to the top
21. Say ‘no’ to boof
“We took our time with the quality of bud that we’re putting in stores,” Alex told me. She said she recently sent back a bad batch of samples and pushed the release date because the product wasn’t up to snuff.
22. Don’t wait, innovate
GUMBO is currently developing regulated, strain-specific carts with terps that translate the rich taste of GUMBO flower into concentrates. The move should increase customer access to the brand in the states and countries that haven’t fully legalized.
Of course, I got to hit a prototype GUMBO pen during my visit. The toke was smooth with a fruity after taste. So smooth in fact, I thought I might have hit a hookah at first. But within a few seconds, the GUMBO effect creeped up. This will definitely be a hit when it officially drops.
23. Always do the right thing
“We’re big on integrity,” Luka told me. “So we’re always doing the right thing.” With a clear lane to make millions the legit way, that means avoiding old traps at all costs.
“The black market was an everyday struggle,” he remembers. “You gotta be around certain things and people that you didn’t want to be around,” which is why he never intends on going back.
“I’m not going to jail. So I’m not doing nothing illegal… I had my exposure to that market, but I transitioned over to it being legal. Thank God,” Luka told me.
24. Map out your vision
Alex invites all women in cannabis to reach out to her directly for support via Instagram.
25. Do for self
“A lot of people call me or message me like, ‘Yo I got a license here, let’s do this!’ I’m thinking: ‘OK, do your thing. You don’t need me.’ I don’t need anybody to do this. I had my wife. I had God. And we put our brains together, we stayed down ’til we came up.”
Be grateful for the blessings you receive, but never expect things to be handed to you.
26. Rise above the hate
On your journey to the top, distractions can do you in. During GUMBO’s fast ascent, unfounded rumors that their products were contaminated forced Luka to tune out the hate and keep pushing.
“People tarnished our name,” he remembers. “They said, ‘Yo, they got fentanyl in GUMBO!'”
The myth of fentanyl-laced weed has been disproven by Leafly and countless lab tests. But the reality of others trying to bring you down with BS will never completely disappear. So stay focused, and don’t let it knock you off your game.
27. Give because you have
“We give, because we have, and we have because we give,” Luka told me. “Therefore, we will never be without.”
Luka sees people struggling to pinpoint the secret to his success. But he feels the answer should be obvious: Generosity and gratitude are the G’s he credits first. And as a result, Luka and Alex are living on acres of gorgeous real estate, with endless grams of New York’s hottest weed brand.
Paying it forward clearly pays off.
28. Don’t stop believing
Luka insists that hard work without faith is aimless.
Instead of rushing to keep up with trends, or breaking your neck to impress others, Luka suggests focusing on the things you truly believe in. Building your own value system and sticking to it through the ups and downs that we all face.
But don’t take it from me. Just look at how Luka’s living if you need proof that his recipe for success is a certified winner.
Ingredients sold separately.