With states like Colorado, Washington and California passing new legislation to legalize the sale of marijuana, we started to wonder: what does this trend mean for the restaurant industry? Cannabis-infused foods are more popular than ever, thanks to their availability at medical and recreational dispensaries — and although restaurants cannot legally serve marijuana yet (more on that later), businesses are finding creative ways to integrate it into the hospitality experience.
Garyn Angel is the founder and CEO of Magical Butter, a company that makes culinary devices designed to infuse soups, sauces, salad dressings and more. Garyn’s customers are mainly residential consumers and small restaurants that, he explain, love the tool for its consistency. Since restaurants can’t currently serve cannabis legally, they use Magical Butter devices to create their standard recipes but, Garyn adds with a laugh,”I’m not saying at home that’s what they’re doing.” Magical Butter technologies are also popular in dispensaries and cannabis kitchens, and last year the company debuted the first-ever cannabis food truck.
Similarly, we talked to Lisa Schneider, Director of Hospitality of the MaryJane Group, which runs two cannabis-friendly “Bud & Breakfasts” in Colorado. The hotels don’t serve infused foods, but they do allow guests to smoke around the dining table and in other shared spaces.
“The food in our places is as important as the cannabis, because everybody congregates,” says Lisa. “At the Adagio, they’ll sometimes sit around the dining room table for two hours, talking, smoking, eating, having Mimosas.”
Here’s what both Garyn and Lisa told us about their businesses, including what they’re doing now and what they see for the future of marijuana in hospitality.
What’s Happening Now
Magical Butter started a food truck last year to travel the country as part of the “Cannaball Run,” an effort to visit dispensaries and educate patients about the benefits of ingesting cannabis as a dietary supplement. Now the team uses the truck primarily for special events. Garyn is opening the truck again this year in Tampa Bay, where the food served won’t be infused with cannabis but the team will be able to demonstrate the capabilities of the Magical Butter machine. From there, he plans to expand to Denver and Los Angeles — and he says the very second that there’s a legal opportunity to infuse foods with cannabis in those cities, they will.
“People are educated now to the fact that cannabis is a dietary supplement,” he says. ”
The demand for cannabis food is off the charts. People want it in their diet.”
He’s also in discussions with groups around the world to open cannabis restaurants, which he believes will be a reality in the next couple of years (depending heavily on the results of the 2016 Presidential election). While it’s tricky in the U.S. as a whole, Garyn says he’s exploring unique opportunities that have come up with Indian reservations.
At the MaryJane Group, Lisa and her husband Joel recognized a need for cannabis lodging once the marijuana laws changed in Colorado.
“Tourists are coming here in droves because it’s legal, but they go into the dispensaries and then they have no place to smoke,” she says. “There are a couple of hotels that let you vape in your room or have a terrace you can smoke on, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re about the social aspect.”
They went door to door looking for a B&B in Denver before finding the Adagio, a Victorian house where the current owner was ready to retire. They leased the property from her and opened up another location in Silverthorne last fall. Now, they’re looking to expand to Colorado Springs, Durango, or further into Washington and Oregon.
In the Bud & Breakfasts they serve a buffet breakfast and 4:20 happy hour with wine and hors d’oeuvres — and guests are free to smoke the whole time. “We’re not a restaurant, but we are the closest thing to a cannabis-friendly restaurant that there is. Our guests rave about our food. They’re coming there because we’re 420-friendly, but they’re coming back because of the hospitality.”
What’s Off Limits
On the whole, laws are still very unclear about what businesses can and can’t do when it comes to cannabis. “It’s a very fragmented industry from state to state,” says Garyn. “The laws are different, the businesses are different, the methods that they use to grow are different.”
While dispensaries and cannabis kitchens can produce and sell marijuana-infused foods in some states, it’s still illegal for public restaurants. In some cases free samples are okay, but sales are off limits.
“We’ve learned now that it’s better to go and speak with the politicians ahead of time and work with them and find out how it can be done, rather than going to them with a plan of what you’d like to do. That’s really the easiest way to move forward.”
The only legal hurdles Lisa has faced with the Bud & Breakfasts in Denver are also related to distribution. When the businesses first opened she would put out small dishes of marijuana — one sativa, one indica, one hybrid — for guests to sample, so they would know what they liked once they went to the dispensary. The city of Denver claimed they were dispensing marijuana, so she’s had to do away with the samples for now.
“We were in no way dispensing marijuana — it was literally a little sampling, almost like a little gimmick,” she says. Now they’re in back-and-forth discussions with Denver to bring it back.
What’s to Come
We asked both Garyn and Lisa how they see the movement developing down the road, and there was one thing they agreed on: public demand is there. Lisa sees a place for cannabis lounges similar to cocktail bars, as well as infused restaurants. Garyn sees opportunities primarily in the health and wellness space, for individualized medicine and preventative care through cannabis. “I think that people want wellness centers that are also restaurants, ” he says, where people can order delicious, nutritious meals that include a specified amount of marijuana.
Garyn also sees the infrastructure continuing to be built out between states, so there’s less fragmentation and ambiguity. As legalization continues, he says, standard operating procedures from grower to grower and dispensary to dispensary will become more unified.
“We’ve made a lot of capital investments to prepare for pending legislation, and it’s difficult for companies to invest sizable dollars into something they may or may not be able to do,” he explains. “Paving the road is the most difficult thing in business. Once it’s paved, the next guy’s got it easy.”