This Character Actor Turned to the Marijuana Biz When TV Gigs Started Drying Up
Perry Anzilotti with his Perrywinkles products
Perry Anzilotti is a moderately successful actor. In the early ’90s, immediately after earning his MFA from CalArts, Anzilotti enjoyed the stuff of many actors’ vision boards: a lengthy and abundant career that included roles in shows like Coach, Cheers, and Seinfeld. One may also recall Anzilotti from a series of commercials he did in the mid-’90s for Nabisco SnackWells cookies, wherein he, the SnackWells Man, was relentlessly pursued by women who were after his cookies. When he turned 40, though, Anzilotti says his career started to slump. "People didn’t know what to do with me anymore," he says. "I wasn’t the young actor. I didn’t have a full head of hair.” Faced with diminishing income from acting, Anzilotti remained determined to stay in Los Angeles. “I had to figure out a way to not get a real job," he says, "to work for myself. To support myself in the industry.” That way, it turned out, would be cannabis.
By the time his acting career had slowed, Anzilotti had already learned how to extract THC from cannabis so that it could be used for cooking. The need to hone this skill became apparent, he says, one weekend when he made some pot brownies for a buddy going to Burning Man. After baking the batch, says Anzilotti, he tested the brownies, and in the famous last words of all edibles anecdotes, “felt nothing.” Anzilotti gave the brownies to his friend, and warned him that they didn’t work. As soon as Anzilotti closed the door to his house, he says his eyes “rolled into the back of his head. (I was) tripping for two days. [I realized] I could make this product, if I knew how to make this product.”
He enrolled in a THC extraction class at Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, a cannabis college that offers certification programs and courses in subjects including dispensary operations, the history of marijuana and finance. Here, he fined-tuned his ability to modulate THC levels in things like cooking oils and butters. By 2008, when a friend needed someone to supply edibles to the dispensary he owned, Anzilotti was the perfect person to turn to. He began making baked goods for his friend’s store under the label Incredibles. Anzilotti’s treats stand out, he says, because in addition to offering traditional brownies, he also makes savory treats, including fish crackers (Fish Called Juana) and pretzel bites (Scoobie Dewbie Pretzel Nuggets). These edibles give patients an alternative, he says, to the sugar so commonly found in edible cannabis.
Incredibles sold so well that soon several other dispensaries in San Diego, Palm Springs and the Greater L.A. area began carrying his products. The business became lucrative enough for Anzilotti to hire on a modest staff — including baking assistants, PR reps and bookkeepers. He says his income now is about 50 percent from selling his edibles and 50 percent from acting. He has appeared on Modern Family, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and recently did a four-day stint on Days of Our Lives. “I never thought I’d do a soap opera,” Anzilotti says. “But I’ll work as much as I can as an actor.”
There was just one problem with Anzilotti’s cannabis business. The product name.
Perrywinkles black and white brownie
“Eight years ago, when I was creating a new brand, I thought I was creating the wheel as well with ‘Edibles’ and then ‘Incredibles.’ I thought I was creating a really unique name," he says. "Fast-forward eight years, and now there are a lot of (edible marijuana) companies that call themselves ‘Incredibles.’ So basically, I had to reinvent myself.”
Anzilotti moved forward with the reinvention by changing the name of his brand to Perrywinkles, based on his first name and an idea given to him by one of his sales reps. In anticipation of what he believes will be widespread recreational legalization across the country in the next few years, he redesigned the packaging to make it compliant with Colorado’s current standards. While Incredibles were packaged in simple cellophane, Perrywinkles come in bags that are heat-sealed and resealable, with allergens and ingredients listed on the packaging. An image of Anzilotti now is also on the package. It’s a design he commissioned from an artist in Singapore, who won Anzilotti’s bid via a site called DesignContest.
For inspiration, Anzilotti sent the artist his demo reel and IMDb pictures. “Somehow or another they’re related,” says Anzilotti, “me as a spokesperson for Perrywinkles and me as an actor. I’m really selling myself.”
The self that Anzilotti most enjoys selling is his philanthropist side. In addition to selling edibles to dispensaries, Anzilotti has authored a cannabis cookbook, The Incredibles Medibles Cookbook, which teaches users how to distill their own THC oils for cooking at home. Unlike Perrywinkles, the cookbook is more passion project than profit maker — Anzilotti donates its profits to an organization called the Realm of Caring in Colorado, which, in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, offers research and experimental dispensation of CBD to children with rare forms of seizures.
For Anzilotti, what began as a means toward survival has become a way of enjoying life. He is proud to work with employees who, like him, are “really flexible people who have other dreams," he says. "We’re able to live out several dreams at one time.” While he acknowledges that legal recreational use is poised to change the landscape of commerce in the state and nation, he tries not to worry too much about being pushed out of the market by larger corporations.
When he broaches the topic of the evolving industry, he speaks with an actor’s trademark resilience. “I’m not afraid. We’re gonna get stomped on by Big Business. That’s true. But if you listen to the demons in your head, then you never take great risks, and you never have success. I’ve never operated out of fear. If I even look at what I’ve done as an actor. I’m just a little Italian guy from the south side of Chicago. I’ve been able to just be positive, if anything.”
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Anzilotti confesses: “I’ve morphed into finding two passions in my life: weed and food.” Acting, however, remains his driving force. “I’m confident the industry will keep providing me with work. I’m told the older you get, the more work you get, if you just stick around.” What keeps the cookie man in Los Angeles, long after his stint slinging SnackWells, appears to be a genuine sense of gratitude. “I was blown away when I moved out here,” he says, “and then to be able to work here for decades and fall in love with this place that’s embraced me. I was pretty determined to find a way to make it happen.”
For a list of dispensaries that carry Perrywinkles products, click here.
Perrywinkles Fish Called Juana
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