The popularity of cannabis in the US has skyrocketed in the past few years. Many states have decriminalized the drug and others have even legalized it recreationally. This has opened many new opportunities in the world of business, entertainment, and hospitality.
Innovative chefs have begun offering cannabis-based items on the menu. Early adopters of this growing trend in the restaurant business include millennials, vegans, vegetarians, and powerful Wall Street types. Restaurateurs across the nation are taking the term “Munchies” to a whole new level. Chef’s at restaurants as diverse as juice bars, organic eateries and smoothie shops are getting in on the trend.
Many of these entrepreneurs are using only a part of the cannabis plant, CBD. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a chemical ingredient that naturally occurs in marijuana. Although CBD is associated with health benefits that include pain management and relaxation, it is not to be confused with THC, the ingredient in cannabis that gets you high.
Many of the restaurants that offer CBD Infused food are single location, small, individually owned businesses. But, Jim Nixon, the Founder and CEO of Illegal Burger, has transformed his business to the first CBD restaurant franchise opportunity. “Illegal Burger is a Denver-based restaurant chain that is known for its killer burgers, healthy food choices and fun bar scene, but the biggest differentiator is the franchise’s exclusive line of CBD products that can be added to any of their tasty food and drink items” (Grossmann, The Hour). Illegal Burger’s mission is to help others by recruiting more like-minded entrepreneurs who want to own and operate an Illegal Burger restaurant themselves. Illegal Burger is the very first CBD restaurant franchise, which gives the franchise owner(s) an immediate differentiation in any market.
The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was a proposed law to remove hemp (defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent of THC) from Schedule I controlled substances, making it an ordinary agricultural commodity. This allowed many, including Jim Nixon to take advantage of this new playing field. With all Illegal Burger CBD products derived from hemp and containing no THC, there is no intoxicating effect. This allows for only the health benefits with no side effects. At Illegal Burger, customers have the option to add CBD to their meal by way of powdered CBD sachets, or they can just come and enjoy great food without the CBD component. Illegal Burger currently has 5 locations throughout Colorado but is looking to expand to key markets currently on their development plan: Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey and the Carolina’s.
So far, I have only discussed the CBD component of cannabis and the use of it to make food. Some people want their dining experience to be a little more. Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café located in West Hollywood has attempted to achieve this. Lowell Herb Co.’s pioneering business concept is licensed to serve both food and marijuana products, finally bringing cannabis consumption out of hiding and into mainstream society. While it is still illegal to smoke cannabis in public in all legal states, the City of West Hollywood advocated for social use and in 2017, approved an ordinance for business licenses to serve this purpose.
Inside, the 6,000-square-foot space features a dining room and lounge (open to the outside), and garden café where farm-to-table fresh, coffee, juice, and cannabis is served seven days a week. A non-smoking patio is slated to open by the end of the year with the possibility of alcohol sales pending application approval from the state. (Shapiro, Forbes). Dishes range from $10 and $30 and are designed with flavor profiles to complement strains offered in-house. The Café section is open to all ages, while the Garden, Lot, and Lounge allow cannabis consumption for adults 21-and-up.
Another pioneer in the industry is The Herbal Chef. Chris Sayegh, owner and head chef, uses his talents to infuse the THC component of marijuana with the delectable food he creates. “To me, life is about adventure and experiences. I want you to experience food, not just eat it. I want you to connect with where it came from and who made it. That is why I do what I do.” Infused and non-infused experiences are offered. Chris has put together high-profile investment dinners, large scale catering (Weddings, Events, Festivals, etc), private dinners for 2-50 people, meal prep for the health-conscious, and business catering events for any occasion.
Currently, Chris is producing gourmet edibles, frozen CBD and THC-infused dinners, as well as catered and private dinners. With the innovation of Chris’ frozen, infused meals, coupled with two shows Chris is starring in that are currently in production, Chris has already been able to solidify his space as the #1 cannabis infusion chef in the world. “A walking brand full of charisma and charm, Christopher Sayegh has pioneered Cannabis-Infused Fine-Dining in an effort to elevate the perception of marijuana through mainstream media.”
Almost all of these restaurants are in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. However, there are some outliers. In New York City, there are rumors of an underground weed-infused dinner party for powerful members of society. According to the New York Post and New York Eater, “cannabis-laced food and drink is popping off in NYC.”
The mainstreaming of CBD in food is newer to New York, where cannabis culture isn’t as far along as in states like Colorado and Oregon. Thanks in part to a growing number of U.S. states decriminalizing the plant’s consumption, and ongoing scientific research linking the botanical to an ever-growing laundry list of health benefits, the until-just-recently frowned upon “drug” is being recast in a positive new light. In addition to these legal “CBD restaurants” there are places like NSFW — a downtown Manhattan organization that bills itself as “a private members club for the adventurous.” The group’s clubhouse is weed-friendly, sexually open and, occasionally, the setting for an underground supper soiree where each of the four courses was infused with cannabis. This undetectable marijuana menu is the opposite of those weedy “pot brownies” that have long served as punchlines. However, there’s plenty of THC in each course — thanks to cannabis-infused olive oil, coconut oil, an assortment of tinctures and at least one marinade.
Only the most interesting of people attend these dinners. Michael Kaplan, a writer for the NY Post, tells of his visit to the secret dinner party. “As attendees filter in — comprising a cool, good-looking crowd of people who work in professions that lean toward media, tech and the arts (maybe don’t come here without having a cool-sounding job) — chef Ronald Santos and his crew compose the “dank” eats.” the chef makes the most delicious food and allows the customers to choose how much THC they would like in each course. “When a staffer circulates the room, asking diners if they want extra THC-fortified oil, one woman, a professional dominatrix (see: interesting occupations), says without hesitation, ‘Yes, please. As much as you can pour.'” As for the risk of actually getting busted, Santos waves it off: “In this day and age, cannabis is a communal thing. I don’t think it’s a problem.”