Brian Owoc loves donuts.
"There's just something about donuts that makes people want to smile,” he says. “It is such a familiar, nostalgic, happy thing to so many people.”
Twenty years ago — while working the graveyard shift as a baker at Dunkin’ Donuts — the Portland, Maine, glassblower remembers heading home from a long night making those sweet doughy treats and diving into his home studio to blow off steam and melt glass.
“One of those mornings behind my torch,” says Owoc, “I thought to myself, ‘Man, I want to make a glass donut pipe.’”
That fateful morning proved to be the dawn of a great idea. Fast-forward to the present day and Owoc’s roaring success making unique, functional glass donut-shaped pipes that are a huge hit with cannabis enthusiasts — and so scrumptious looking you’ll probably want to chomp into one.
Retailing on average from $160 to $200 apiece at smoke shops and art galleries nationwide — and some of his water pipes fetching $450 to $1,800 — the glassmaker says he can’t fill shop orders fast enough and has a two-month backlog for his pipes. “It is a very busy time with no signs of slowing,” he says.
A growing market in the U.S. as legal marijuana becomes more available nationwide, the artisanal pipe business is currently so hot that Owoc reveals a collector happily shelled out $7,500 for a collaboration he did with a fellow glassblower from Colorado named Calm. That piece was a bong sculpted like a long-legged bird with a donut-shaped head.
In case you were wondering, it’s now official: the new business of legal weed has definitely matured into a sophisticated industry.
Marketing his products under his moniker “KGB Glass,” Owoc’s alias reflects a mostly bygone era when selling pot paraphernalia in the U.S. was nearly as illegal as dealing weed itself. For years, careful pipe makers were forced to use covert handles to maintain a low profile and keep law enforcement from knocking at their doors. But now, with cannabis presently legal for medical use across a majority of America (30 states and counting), KGB products are reaching far beyond stoner stereotypes and penetrating the mainstream marketplace. And those tasty-looking donut pipes are helping to lead the charge.
“I think legalization has made functional glass art more appealing to the masses,” he says. “The donuts seem to cross many demographics, because you can now purchase an intricate piece of art without worries of it getting taken by the police.”
From a higher vantage point, Owoc’s entrepreneurial efforts reflect a greater movement of businesses that are changing pot’s inaccurate image from a drug of degenerates to one of legitimate business. Ushering cannabis products from dimly lit headshops to higher-end galleries, more and more specialty cannabis outlets are popping up in trendy spots like Chelsea Market in New York City and Venice Beach in Los Angeles. They are also introducing marijuana products to a very interested buying public, many of whom love new cannabis accessories as much as, say, the iPhone-faithful love their flashy accouterments.
With orders coming in fast and furious, Owoc is focused on scaling up his business, and admits that his greatest challenge as a business owner is striking the right work/play balance.
“I have always been a workaholic and I thoroughly enjoy melting glass,” he says. “I do it for work, but I also do it for fun. Sometimes I get so caught up in orders and making donuts that I forget to take days off, which can be dangerous.”
So much for the old saw that pot smokers sit around all day with a bag of Cheetos binging on reality TV shows.
All KGB Glass pipes are handmade one-by-one exclusively by Owoc and are available in over 20 U.S. states. KGB has also begun taking orders internationally from Tokyo, Spain and the UK.
Asked if he ever tires of working with the same subject matter day after day, he says his work really doesn’t ever get old.
“It’s screaming for new ideas, because no two donuts are ever the same,” says Owoc. “I see the donut as an infinite palette.”