Branches of health ready to grow as Casper ‘Dahlia’ couple plant ‘Ask Wellness’ downtown

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Ask Wellness is a new health store located at 163 South Wolcott Street in Casper. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — A Casper couple are preparing to host the grand opening of their new “Ask Wellness” store downtown.

The grand opening is set for 10 am to 4 pm Saturday, Jan. 25. Ask Wellness, located at 163 South Wolcott Street, will offer Wyoming made health products, but the couple almost decided on a different name for the store.

“It started when Cece was like, ‘For our company’s name, let’s name it Dahlia,” Dana Bonanader said on Tuesday. “That’s for Dana and Cecilia combined.”

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Dana Bonander and Cece Tolin inside the new store. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Bonander and Cece Tolin thought for a time that the name “Dahlia” might suit the health focus of the new company.

“Well, dahlia is a plant and one of the main aspects is a branch,” Bonander explains. “That’s kind of cool, you know, branch of peace, a branch to bring people together. So what’s another name that might be fun with that?”

Bonander began to research different names associate with the word branch.

“I was starting to go through these different names and ‘ask’ is another name for branch and ‘Ask’ is also a Norse god who is very similar to Adam and Eve,” he says.

That’s when they landed on the name “Ask Wellness” since the company is focused not only on offering health products, but also on starting conversations with people around the topic of health and well-being.

Bonanander and Tolin say that they and family members have struggled with pain management and other health issues in their lives, including Bonanader’s mother who has multiple sclerosis.

Dietary supplements are among the products available. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“I’ve always done research and I came across a video 10 years ago that was about marijuana and part of it was about MS and the relief that [marijuana] presented,” Bonanader says.

He continued to research the plant and later Bonanader and Tolin met some people who were selling “CBD,” which stands for cannabidiol, the second most active ingredient in cannabis.

“We ran into some people that’s were starting to sell CBD and so we started looking at it,” Bonander says. “The problem was the mass amount of products that were out there. What’s a good product? How do you know?”

Tolin chimes in that their interest in CBD as a remedy for pain began at that time, but that the two were busy with other things in their lives and “we just kind of put that on the back burner.”

“Then, I don’t know, my [dog] Chip he’s going to be 14, had cancer at the beginning of 2019 and just wasn’t functioning,” Tolin says.

This board was made using corks from wine bottles Bonander and Tolin have finished. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Tolin began to look into whether CBD might be an option for dogs struggling with pain or disease. That’s when a relationship with friend AJ Hakala, who Tolin says was also a long-time customer of hers at Vintage Fine Wine and Martini Bar, began to take a new direction.

Hakala sent Tolin a message letting her know that he had some CBD products she might consider trying and then one day, Hakala’s wife brought some samples for Tolin to try.

Hakala and his father J. Charles Hakala are own Glenrock-based “Body Armor Products” where they create THC-free CBD products using organic hemp from Bend, Oregon.

The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2019 which made it legal to create products from hemp in the state. CBD is legal, so long as the “THC” content (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive component of cannabis, does not exceed 0.3%.

J. Charles Hakala spent over 40 years in compound pharmacy and AJ Hakala is himself a chemist. They originally focused on researching and making dietary supplements and vitamins like tumeric, vitamin C and magnesium iodine, Bonander explains.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“They’ve formulated some different compounds for different things like trace minerals because you know, our food has gotten where you’re taking the enriched vitamins out of the soil,” he adds. “So you’re not getting what we should from our plants. So this is one way to give it back to our body.”

Thinking that they wanted to expand their business to offer solutions for things like pain management and anxiety, the Hakalas attended a pet fair in Las Vegas where they became aware that there was an “abundance” of CBD products for pets.

They began creating their CBD products in Glenrock which Tolin says are third-party tested. While Wyoming allows CBD products to contain up to 0.3% THC, most of the products available at Ask Wellness don’t contain any, according to Tolin and Bonander.

“For us, it was a quality deal,” Bonander says. “They are from Glenrock, so it’s local. They have third-party inspections so we can see the quality of it, you know, pesticides, herbicides, making sure there’s none of that.”

“All of the sudden everything fell into place with it. It was something that we could stand behind.”

Bonanander’s research into CBD led him to increasingly think it was a good option for pain relief, but when he began to experience symptoms of diverticultis, which he explains is inflammation of the colon and large intestine, he says he learned something first-hand.

Chewable CBD tablets sit on a shelf made by Barnwood Bros. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

One night while he wasn’t able to sleep, Tolin woke up and suggested he try a CBD product that can be poured into a drink.

“I took it and within about 10 minutes I felt enough relief where I could fall asleep,” Bonander says. “So it was like, okay. I’m starting to even believe in it more.”

Tolin gives some insight into Body Armor Products’ process for creating their CBD options. AJ Hakala’s old college roommate grows organic hemp which is sent to Glenrock as a hemp oil.

The Hakalas then work to extract the CBD from the hemp oil and have been able to make a water-soluble form.

“As humans we’re almost 60 percent water,” Tolin says. “So our bodies can break down water better. Otherwise the oil absorbs on to the organs and it kind of just stays there.”

“There are studies showing that with the oil-based

it only gets like 5-7% percent absorption. With the water [soluble products] you can get up to 80%. It’s more bang for your buck.”

Bonander adds that the water soluble products are also absorbed more quickly, which provides more rapid pain relief.

Bonander and Tolin have painted the walls and hung images of places they’ve traveled to. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

In terms of the CBD products, Ask Wellness offers a variety of options including products which can be ingested as well as topicals, such as one which can be rolled onto the skin.

“We do have an online store,” Bonander says. “We will eventually have our website up fully running to where people can order any of our products and we can ship it.”

“We’ve shipped to Delaware. We’ve shipped to Tennessee. And so what is nice too is TSA (Transportation Security Adminsitration) has authorized it so you can actually travel with it.”

Chewable tablets are available for both people and pets from Ask Wellness. The ones for dogs feature beef flavoring.

“That’s what we started Chip on,” Tolin says.

Bonander and Tolin also went to the Beartrap Summer Festival on Casper Mountain last year.

A few testimonials are already hanging in the store. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“We also saw great results when we went up to Beartrap,” Bonander says. “You know, people bring up their dogs thinking that it’s going to be an outdoor event, it’s going to be fun for [the dogs].”

“And then they realize their dog is anxious. There’s a lot of people, a lot of noises, a lot of music. So we were giving out samples and we had numerous people come back [and say], ‘We saw instant results from our dog.’ They were calmer.”

Cats too can take the CBD products, according to Bonander. Tolin explains that people can break the five milligram tablets in half for cats or small dogs, providing a lower dosage.

Bonanander says that research shows the products are safe, but that people are encouraged to talk with their doctors or veterinarians if they have concerns. He points out that, in particular, pets or people taking other medications should talk to medical professionals to ensure there is no risk of the CBD products interacting with those medications and causing side effects.

He adds that women going through menopause might be interested in learning about CBD.

“That was an interesting thing because I actually had a gal call in and ask about going through menopause,” Bonander says. “It was information I didn’t know.”

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

He knew that women going through menopause can experience some pain, inflammation, anxiety and sleep problems.

“So I was like, okay, let me do some research,” Bonander continues. ” With anxiety, with depression, it’s very much how are you feeling. You know, as a scientific look at the medication or supplement, how it’s interacting with your body, it’s very subjective.”

“Well through menopause there’s a couple hard aspects that they can scientifically glean from it, which one of them are hot flashes. So small amounts of CBD can actually lower your body temperature while large amounts can increase your body temperature. So I thought that was very interesting.”

There are other possible benefits of CBD for women going through menopause who experience osteoporosis or bone loss.

“There are two CBD receptors, CB1 and CB2,” Bonander says. “Well, when you take CBD it hits that CB1 receptor and actually triggers restoration of bone mass.”

Since they have a relationship with Body Armor Products, Ask Wellness can request specific products be developed. Tolin and Bonander say that as customers provide feedback, they can notify the Hakalas who may be able to come up with things specifically suited to what people are looking for.

“[Hakala] has done water-based lavender oil and with a cream and lotion and he’s also formulated one for us as well, a rollerball without the scent for those that want it,” Tolin says.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

The chewable tablets come in six flavors. While these can be swallowed, Bonander and Tolin say there is better absorption if people keep the product in their mouths longer. CBD can also be mixed in with drinks or food.

They describe some of the flavors as more invigorating while some are more relaxing.

“Well, one thing that AJ has mentioned to us…if you have ideas on something, bring it to us,” Tolin says. “So, you know, one thing we are always open to is feedback. We will bring that back to AJ. As a chemist, you know, he’s always wanting to figure something new out.”

Ask Wellness also offers products which can be poured into a bath to offer pain relief for body aches. While these contain CBD, they also have other ingredients, which are all clearly listed on the containers.

“The lists are short, which I like, because you know what you’re putting in,” Tolin says.

Bonanander and Tolin have done some work inside of the building hosting Ask Wellness. Other customer at Vintage suggested they look into the space for the business.

“Steve Grimshaw owns this building because it’s part of the National Bank building but I was talking to Ed and Judy Holthouse one day in the bar and we were just talking about this business venture and finding space and they said, ‘We have a small space,’ and it works great into our budget for starting,” Tolin says. “We don’t want to go too fast right off the gun, you know, because that’s how some businesses fail, so we’re just kind of taking our baby steps.”

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

They brightened up the interior with new paint and are adding paintings and pictures they’ve collected in their time together.

“For the logo Dana, actually drew out kind of an idea of what we wanted for and we had a friend actually build the graphic and the colors,” Tolin says. “We talked and we wanted natural colors.”

The shelves holding the products were made by Barnwood Bros. Nix Signs did the Ask Wellness signs on the outside of the store.

“When people come in, there is a warm feeling,” Bonander says. “There’s a cozy feeling to it, you know, like we talked about, you know, we want to set an atmosphere when people come in, they feel relaxed, they feel invited in, they don’t feel pressured to buy.”

“We’re never going to pressure someone into buying something. We’ve had numerous people go and come back because they wanted to do more research and check into it and we respect that by all means.”

Signs will tell people about all of the products and other information resources will be available.

“We want to help the community,” Bonander says. “We want to help other small businesses. We are going to have a community board.”

Bonander and Tolin are also fans of wine. A board made using corks from wine bottles they’ve finished over the years features testimonials from customers and will allow space for other community information.

“Once we get going we have idea of expanding our business as far as more of an outreach…you know doing classes for the vet clinics,” Tolin says. “Unfortunately, it’s one of those things where their boards don’t allow them to sell [CBD products for their pets], but they can give the information to their clients.”

“So that’s ultimately a goal to do an open house for the veterinarian clinics so they can get more detail they need than maybe the average Joe off the street does.”

Similar clinics may be offered to other interested groups in Casper. Ask Wellness will offer classes where people can get discounts on products after learning about CBD and discussing health.

“Saturday we’ll do our grand opening from 10 to 4,” Tolin says. “Come on in, check it out. Ask questions. Wind City Sweets & Treats is going to provide some little nibbles.”

They’ll also have a drawing, giving people a chance to win a basket full of products. People will have the opportunity to earn tickets for the drawing based on how much they spend and Ask Wellness plans to offer discounts during the gran opening.

J. Charles Hakala will also be at the store in Saturday to talk with people and answer questions.

Ask Wellness offers more than just CBD products and plan to expand.

“Basically, we want high-quality products,” Bonander says. “You know, our society has gotten so used to Walmart products, you know, the cheap Amazon products where sometimes quality goes by the wayside.”

“So when we bring in a new product we want to ensure that it is a quality product for our customers.”

Ask Wellness plans to be open from 10 am to 6 pm Thusdays and Friday and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays. They’ll also be available by appointment.

Hours could be expanded in the future.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

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