Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
In March 2020, Anthony Carnevale was working his dream job as the general manager at Toronto’s Vapor Central, a cannabis lounge at the corner of Yonge and Charles that had been operating for more than a decade.
Then the pandemic hit.
The lounge was forced to close its doors, first temporarily, in March 2020, then permanently, in February, and Carnevale went from spending his days surrounded by others to being stuck at home, isolated and out of work.
“I was really kind of falling further and further into a depressed state,” he says. “Not really sure what to do next, not sure when things would reopen.”
At the lounge, where visitors could rent glass pieces in addition to vapes and grinders and other items, keeping things clean was a full-time job.
“I had somebody working on cleaning for 12 hours a day, every day of the week,” Carnevale says.
He also became quite proficient at it himself. So one day last June, nearing his wits’ end at home, he posted a story on his Instagram account, asking if anybody wanted him to come by and clean their bong for a few bucks. He got six responses.
Soon after, Clean Piece Toronto was born.
For prices that start at $15, Carnevale cleans everything from bongs and pipes, to dab rigs, vapes, and grinders. He also offers glass repair and sells a line of Canadian-sourced cleaning products for customers who would rather do it themselves.
If you live in Toronto or the GTA, he’ll bring the finished product right to your door.
Carnevale, who estimates he’s cleaned over 10,000 pieces in the last three years, did everything by hand for the first few months. But he’s no longer reliant on elbow grease alone.
After saving up, he purchased an ultrasonic cleaner. The machines use cavitation — the process of sending sound waves through liquid — to gently shake loose any contaminants and build-up. The machines are commonly used in the aerospace and automotive industries but can also be used to clean smaller, more delicate objects, like jewelry, or even vegetables.
“It vibrates the liquid and basically does cleaning without doing any kind of scrubbing,” Carnevale says. “There are no abrasives. It’s a very delicate way of cleaning. And it’s incredibly eco-friendly.”
His investment was around $3,000 but it has paid dividends. He can usually have a piece looking brand new in about 15 minutes.
But not always.
“I’ll make myself crazy to get one little speck out of a difficult percolator and it can take me another 45 minutes. I’m just obsessed with detail. I really want people to get their piece back and be like, ‘Wow, this looks like the day I got it.’”
Carnevale honed that attention to detail while working in the wine industry. When he was 17 years old, he lied about his age, got a job at a winery, and was immediately put to work scrubbing old wine bottles.
“I learned at a really young age how to handle glass and get it clean to a point where it’s completely sterile,” he says.
Describing himself as a wine guy turned weed guy, Carnevale worked in the wine industry for nearly a decade, in a variety of roles — sales, winemaking, IT. But his passion was always in cannabis.
“I just didn’t see a career path in it until it was legalized,” he says.
By launching his first cannabiz, though, he’s also had a crash course in some of the challenges the industry still faces. Mainly, finding a bank to work with and getting insurance.
After getting denied by “every major bank and their cousin” he got lucky one day with the right bank, at the right time, and with a rather incurious employee. “Buddy didn’t ask for too many details,” he says.
It’s a precarious situation.
“I’ve found workarounds but nothing at all has been resolved in terms of red tape,” he says. “It’s very frustrating. And I don’t know how these dispensaries are doing it,” adding that his revenue is small in comparison.
Nearly three years into legalization, banking is still a problem in cannabis, even for businesses like Clean Piece, that don’t touch the plant.
Darren Bondar, president and CEO of Spiritleaf, told Cannabis Retailer last year that the Bank of Montreal is the only one of the ‘big five’ banks that he knows of that will work with cannabis companies and the application fee for a business account is $7,000.
“It has definitely been difficult to establish banking relationships,” Bondar said. “We have 46 Spiritleaf stores operating across four provinces. In Alberta, we have been fortunate that [ATB Financial] is a progressive bank. In B.C., Saskatchewan and Ontario, we are using various credit unions.”
At the moment, Carnevale says operating with uncertainty comes with the territory. Even for companies that are able to land bank accounts, they can later be reassessed and deemed too “high risk.” He has those same concerns, even for a business as unique as his own.