Gilbert business

John Fitch, left, and Sarok Shareef are co-owners of the MadHatter HealthShop and Kava Bar in Gilbert. (Courtesy John Fitch)

Bartenders at Mad Hatter Health Shop & Kava Bar, a new Gilbert business offering organic kratom and kava products, are whipping up drinks with effects that the owner claims you have to see to believe.

“I can put any feeling and any mood into any cup you want,” said co-owner Sarok Shareef.

Located at 81 S. McQueen Road, Mad Hatter Kava serves concoctions with anesthetic, euphoriant and sedative properties. The shop recently extended its hours to 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“I’ve literally had people roll in here on a wheelchair and walk out,” Shareef continued.

While running his sister company, Ambedo Naturals, Shareef and co-owner John Fitch noticed that as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, general stress and anxiety levels rose.

Simultaneously, drug and alcohol consumption increased nationwide.

The opioid crisis worsened as overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 69,000 people in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same year, 10.2% of Americans aged 12 years and older had Alcohol Use Disorder, with 45.7% reporting increased stress as a reason for their increased drinking, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.

These observations led Shareef and Fitch to create a space where individuals could access safer stress and pain relief outlets. Originally, the pair planned on creating another health-conscious smoke shop to provide natural alcohol and drug alternatives, but ultimately opened a shop and bar in one on Jan. 17.

Mad Hatter Kava primarily serves various kava, kratom, kombucha and cold brew coffee drinks, including some with CBD. Kava, which is made from the root or the stump of the Piper methysticum plant, originated in the South Pacific and has been used for hundreds of years in social gatherings, traditional medicine and cultural practices.

It has been found to relieve stress, anxiety and insomnia in some cases, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Kratom, which is derived from the Mitragyna speciosa plant, is indigenous to Southeast Asia.

Like kava, it has a long history of medicinal and ceremonial use. Kratom is best known for its opioid-and-stimulant-like effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Though studies on the two are mixed, and there is controversy surrounding both kava and kratom due to much about its short- and long-term health and safety impacts still unknown, many people report that the plants have helped them manage drug withdrawal symptoms and cravings, relieve stress, alleviate pain and more.

Shareef and Fitch said they witness benefits from kava and kratom every day in their shop.

“People say to us, ‘You guys literally saved my life,’” said Fitch, who noted that most people who come into his bar are recovering alcoholics.

Fitch and Shareef recalled numerous occasions of people trudging into Mad Hatter Kava in pain and skipping out happy.

One time that especially stood out to Shareef is when a man with a fentanyl addiction walked in seeking help, then came in every other day for weeks – each visit looking better than the last – and finally said something to him that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

“The last time I saw him, I asked him if he wanted his usual and he said, ‘No, I just came here to shake your hand,’” Shareef said. “He told me that he had beaten his addiction and that I had completely transformed his life.”

Shareef and Fitch said that their drinks, which are aptly named after “Alice in Wonderland” characters and scenes, such as “White Rabbit,” “Tea Party” and “Queen of Hearts,” have given back life to those who were stuck in a downward spiral.

Upon entering Mad Hatter Kava, guests will immediately feel welcome as they witness others casually laughing and talking with one another over drinks, games and music (sometimes live). Like the bar in “Cheers,” this really is a place where everybody knows your name.

“It’s a community and a culture here,” Shareef said. “A lot of times people are sharing stories across the bar.”

Past a comfortable seating area and a psychedelic “Alice in Wonderland” inspired mural is “the rabbithole.” Inside this tucked away smoke shop is an impressive selection of glass bongs, as well as an array of vape liquid, CBD, kratom capsules, extracts and more.

“The reward [of working here] is that not only are you able to make a living doing this, but you’re also able to see the results,” Shareef said. “You’re promoting good feelings and good vibes. You’ve got people who are debilitated and you’re giving them a very affordable supplement that works.”

Mad Hatter Kava’s website will be available in the next few weeks. For updates and more information about the health shop and bar, follow Mad Hatter Kava on Instagram (@madhatterkavaaz), Facebook (@madhatterkava, and TikTok (@madhatterkavaaz).