Hey MISTR, the company pioneered by Tristan Schukraft, is planing to open two West Hollywood locations.
Schukraft, a former West Hollywood resident, spoke with WEHOville from his home in Puerto Vallarta.
Hi Tristan -Thank you for joining WEHOville from your home in Puerto Vallarta. There’s a lot to talk about. We’re gonna start with the meat … the meat is the two new stores opening in West Hollywood. Tell us about the company ‘HEY MISTR’ and then we’ll get into the two new retail locations.
MISTR started just under five years ago to focus on increasing access and adherence to to PrEP. There’s a lot of barriers to getting on PrEP but essentially MISTR is a telemedicine platform allowing people to get on PrEP. We offer free at-home delivery. Actually the entire service is completely free and we are live across the US in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico.
I noticed that you previously wrote an op-ed in WEHOville five years ago. And it is amazing that from OpEd, and conceptional idea where you wrote people should have PrEP to today. So how did you get started?
At first I was helping a handful of friends that were saying it’s so hard to get on PrEP. I heard it from more and more friends and so I started helping out of goodwill, and then a couple of friends became 100 friends and then it seemed like 1,000 friends. It was clear that there was a need. At the same time I was invited to participate in the HIV commission in Los Angeles. I went to one of the meetings there and realized the uptake in PrEP was dismal. There was a lot of great impassioned people in the room.
Some were trying to attack PrEP in an old school manner. The old way was you go into the doctor office every three months, wait for your lab results and then come back to the doctor to pick up your medication and then you’d go to the pharmacy. You could have the best insurance in the world and maybe there’s a $200 co-pay. Many times the patient would leave the medication and not going to pay the $200 or $300 dollars when there’s a program that will cover that that medication. The pharmacist may not be aware of the program or wasn’t willing to help that user-the patient fill out the form or direct them how to fill out the form.
I think this is the first time where we have a real opportunity to eliminate HIV. I mean if everybody that’s positive is virally suppressed and everybody who’s negative is on PrEP we can eliminate HIV/AIDS infections to to near zero. I think that was my main motivator. I’ve known people in the past that have died of AIDS. Very few people die of AIDS nowadays, which is great. When I started helping friends get on PrEP and realizing all the barriers, when a couple became 100 and 100 became a 1,000, that’s when I decided to to launch MISTR.
I don’t know if I should ask this question or you want to answer but are you positive? Or is that not part of motivation?
That’s not part of the motivation. It’s just one of those things, I have lots of positive friends and I think all of my positive friends wish they were negative. So being on PrEP, if they had the resources. maybe knowledge and whatnot PrEP was my motivation to help prevent new HIV infections.
Back to the to West Hollywood locations. The first West Hollywood location is at the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente at the old Rounderbum space. What are you gonna be doing there?
So we have two locations. I’ll start with 8700 because that will be essentially our kind of flagship store. It will be an opportunity for people to come in and pick up their script.
When you say 8700, you mean the Coco Queen space at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Westbourne?
Yeah so that’s really going to be our flagship store where people can come in. And as I said every with MISTR you can do everything online. You log on, answer a health questionnaire and assuming you’re a viable candidate for PrEP you can choose to do the required labs in-person or you can choose to do our at-home testing kit.
98 percent of people choose our at-home testing kit. That is mailed to the user, they prick their finger, oral swab, urine sample and then they send it back to us. Those lab results are fed back into our system and the doctor reviews. They have a video consult with the doctor. After that the prescription is sent to one of our partner pharmacies and it’s mailed or shipped directly to the user free of charge. If there’s any back and forth required of insurance we handle all that on behalf of the user.
More importantly if the user is uninsured or underinsured there’s two different things. You might have great insurance but a huge co-pay — we’ll go back and forth at the insurance and we’ll take advantage of various patient assistance programs to ensure the user has no out of pocket. So you don’t need to come into a MISTR or store for any of that obviously but for some people it’s more convenient to pick up their medication.
We were talking about the the flagship store at the old Coco Queen space at 8700 Santa Monica Blvd. — what about the other store on the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente?
The other store is a branding opportunity. It is an additional space for us as well, for company operation. We plan to also utilize that as a community space. If there’s an LGBTQ entrepreneur that wants to maybe utilize it as a pop-up shop or an artist the same thing we will extend that opportunity to them free of charge.
So they have to be gay? Or they don’t have to be gay?
They don’t have to be gay. It’s a community space.
When do you anticipate it to be open?
Within a couple of months. I expect both of them to be open within the next six to eight weeks.
Will these stores have employees?
The store on Santa Monica and San Vicente will not have any employees. It’s more to further expose the brand. It’s right there on the corner of gay and gayer. So there is great value of branding, and then the space itself will not be open on a regular basis per se. We might do some community events there as well in the future to be determined.
How’s all this free? Right the PrEP is free to the customer if they qualify. how’s it all financed?
We leverage CDC funds and various grants as well as patient assistance programs to to make it free. The entire process is free. The doctor visits, the labs, the medication, the shipping, everything is free.
Is this financed by the government or is there a limit to how much how many people you can serve?
No there’s no limit to the number of people who we can serve. Some of it the government funds on a local level, regional level, national level, some of it is grants come from all different sources. And then patient assistant programs are sometimes government-backed. The majority of them are are financed by the drug maker.
Will you be able to fill out that paperwork in the store at 8700 ?
Nope that’s all done online.
Will there be a set up there like an Apple store to fill it out these forms.
The purpose of the stores is not to enroll in our program. You could, but the the purpose is to come in and pick up your PrEP. If you want it we do offer free STI testing and we’ll be offering some additional services to be announced in the future.
How often do you make it back to West Hollywood?
I would say once a month. I’m constantly traveling in the US.
Are you opening other locations in other cities?
We are yeah. New York is our next location. We’ll be opening up in Hell’s Kitchen.
What else can we add? How’s West Hollywood changed when you come back to it?
The pandemic, I feel like took the spirit out of West Hollywood. But I feel that it’s coming back. I guess you could say that about every every neighborhood around the country. My greatest concern about West Hollywood I’m excited to see some new businesses like Stashe and Heart weho, that that makes me confident the neighborhood is solidified. But like with any neighborhood in the in the country, I worry about gentrification.
Both of those you mention are majority owned by straights by the way.
They are yeah, I don’t mind if they’re owned by straight people as long as they’re gay establishments. There’s a lot of development and I mean I’m excited about West Hollywood and all the development that’s going on. I think that it’s good, some people might be concerned about the amount of development but as long as it doesn’t lose its charm. What I love about West Hollywood is that you can walk everywhere. You go to Pavilions and bump into people, you go to the Abbey you bump into people, the dry cleaners and so as long as that sense of community isn’t lost with all the development and it stays true to its roots as a gay city.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Hopefully your readers are well versed on PrEP and if not I encourage them to check out our website. I think the other thing I’ll emphasize is a lot of people look at MISTR’s something for those who don’t have insurance but it’s really for everyone. Those individuals that are insured help carry the load of the uninsured. It’s important that those that have great insurance come utilize the platform because when they do they’re actually helping those who are uninsured. We support a lot of LGBT causes across the country from after school programs and in LA to gay adoption, Transgender health care, you name it.