While historically people have largely focused on usage of legal cannabis edibles and beverages at home, as this market increasingly grows more mainstream, away-from-home usage will continue to expand, with foodservice providing a particularly unique opportunity to capture a portion of this burgeoning market.
According to a recent survey from Chicago-based Datassential, around one in four consumers are interested in buying cannabis products from regular restaurants and convenience stores—and more people want to engage with cannabis-themed foodservice concepts. While 33 percent of those surveyed are interested in buying cannabis edibles and beverages via the traditional dispensary route available in states with medical and/or recreational cannabis legislation in place, other potential options are not far behind, with respondents noting that they are interested in buying such products from:
- Cannabis-focused/cannabis-themed restaurants—28 percent
- Supermarket prepared foods sections—26 percent
- Traditional full-service restaurants—25 percent
- Convenience stores—24 percent
- Traditional limited-service restaurants—24 percent
- Bars/nightclubs—22 percent
- Food trucks—21 percent
These indicators illustrate the great potential in exploring a wider range of socially based, public opportunities for cannabis consumption.
Pioneering the Cannabis Café
The first foray into the cannabis foodservice industry has already begun. At the beginning of October, Lowell Cafe, reportedly America’s first legal cannabis restaurant, opened in West Hollywood, CA. The actors and entertainers Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock, Mark Ronson and Sarah Silverman are among the investors in the business. MedMen Enterprises has also bought a stake in Lowell Herb Co., the parent organization behind Lowell Cafe. Several more cannabis restaurant locations focused on cannabis edibles and beverages are set to open in West Hollywood.
At Lowell’s, “flower hosts” offer daily selections of cannabis edibles and beverages, as well as other forms of cannabis, while servers handle food and beverage orders. Available edibles include chocolate, gummies and mint products. Current legislation forbids alcohol in the cannabis cafés, so the drink menu focuses on alcohol-free options.
The Défoncé and Mindset Organics chocolate options at Lowell’s come in a dosage of 5 mg THC per piece in flavors like milk chocolate, matcha, vanilla, espresso, dark vegan, hazelnut, coconut vegan, mint, peanut butter and chocolate caramel. Wyld gummies come in options with 10 mg THC per piece, or 10 mg THC and 5 mg CBD per piece, in flavors like raspberry, huckleberry, marionberry, peach and pomegranate. Lowell’s offers its own brand of all-natural mints, with 2.5 mg THC per piece.
The cannabis beverage menu includes Kikoko honey shots with 10 mg THC or 10 mg CBD, and four Kikoko tea options: 3 mg THC, 7 mg THC, 20 mg CBD and 3 mg THC, and 10 mg THC. Sparkling Cann tonic water has 2 mg THC and 4 mg CBD per serving, coming in flavors like lemon lavender, blood orange cardamom and grapefruit rosemary. Keef Kola, with 10 mg THC per serving, is available in root beer and raspberry flavors. Five Two Roots dealcoholized beer options are on the menu: Enough Said (lager), New West (IPA), Tropical Infamy (wheat), Mango Dango (fruit-forward IPA) and Grapefruit Fight (radler).
Lowell Cafe has set its pricing of its edibles and beverages at a level that is very close to existing retail pricing, so diners don’t experience a dramatic markup.
Chef Andrea Drummer has designed dishes to complement the flavor profiles of the terpenes in specific cannabis strains available at the restaurant, effectively offering pairing suggestions to diners. In a prepared statement on the opening of the first cannabis restaurant in America, she said: “I’m humbled to be part of the team paving the way for this dining experience, and creating a menu unlike anything guests have encountered before. You’ll find fresh seasonal dishes and beloved comfort foods—there’s something for all dietary preferences, too.”
Colorado has also opened the door to cannabis hospitality businesses with new state legislation that was passed in May. Establishment of cannabis foodservice businesses in the state are still subject to local municipal approval.
Alaska passed similar legislation in April this year, and Oregon lawmakers are likewise crafting their own take on social, public cannabis use. Cannabis lounge concepts have also started opening in Nevada.
Legislation still requires all cannabis edibles and beverages to be made by licensed manufacturers. So, unless the restaurant business is also qualified as a legal cannabis edibles or beverages manufacturer, its chefs cannot add cannabis to menu items on their own. They must stock their menus with existing brands of edibles and beverages available in their area.
However, Kevin Brady, general manager, Lowell’s, has noted that the restaurant hopes to eventually be able to develop its own culinary food and beverage concepts featuring cannabis.
The first signs of the potential of infusing cannabis into menu items is already taking place at Mint Café, helmed by Chef Carylann Principal and part of The Mint Dispensary’s scope of business in Arizona. Current prepared foods available to medical cannabis patients—in a variety of dosages to accommodate a wide range of medical needs—include burgers, wings, mac-and-cheese, pizza, Buffalo chicken wrap, Asian wrap, cheese fries, tater tots and a mixed greens salad. Baked goods include cinnamon knots, lemon bars, brownies, cupcakes and Spaceballs.
Advent of the THC Aperitif
As the concept of cannabis cafés and lounges begin to take off, those operators will need a new generation of tools to tempt the palates of increasingly sophisticated cannabis consumers.
One product that has emerged in this area is Artet, arguably the first commercialized cannabis aperitif on the market—and Xander Shepherd, co-founder of the brand, has noted that they’re keeping a close eye on the foodservice market for cannabis that’s emerging on the West Hollywood scene.
Artet is a THC-infused, non-alcoholic aperitif made with eight other botanical ingredients. While the beverage works well as a standalone aperitif, the company has also positioned it as a launching point for a new breed of alcohol-free cannabis cocktails.
While many alcohol-inspired cannabis beverages, such as beers, are developed with traditional methods and then subjected to a dealcoholizing process, Artet was developed from the start as a zero-proof beverage, an approach that will likely gain favor as the cannabis foodservice industry moves forward.