America’s First Cannabis Café Featuring ‘Budtenders’ to Open in L.A.

Hollywood Reporter [July 11, 2019]

The Hollywood-loved Lowell Herb Co. (along with nightlife impresarios Mark and Jonnie Houston) plans to unveil the West Hollywood café in August, serving up an array of cannabis along with CBD- and THC-infused cocktails and small bites.

The first cannabis café in the U.S. is opening its doors in West Hollywood next month, barring any state or county licensing roadblocks. Dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, the project is the brainchild of Sean Black and David Elias, co-founders of the upscale Los Angeles-based cannabis brand Lowell Herb Co. Building on the comfort factor of a restaurant/lounge/bar, the idea is to deftly add in a curated side of cannabis.

The company (that counts cannabis retailer MedMen as an investor) is known for its pre-rolled Lowell Smokes sold at over 300 dispensaries, as well as rustic retro packaging with recycled craft paper, and a commitment to organic fertilizers, natural materials “from seed to sale” and sun-grown products to conserve electricity. In keeping with the brand’s local and sustainable focus, core elements of the café are sourced from local artisans and everything from the wood on the tables and benches to the silverware is reclaimed and reused.

Mark and Jonnie Houston (the brothers behind L.A.-based nightclub and restaurant business Houston Hospitality) are partners in the café. So expect some entertaining musical and dance acts to come, says Black. Along with some A-list guests, given Lowell’s impressive Hollywood following. On record are Miley and Noah Cyrus, Jimmy Kimmel, Paris Jackson, Sarah Silverman, Bella Thorne, Diplo, Chelsea Handler, Mark Ronson, January Jones, Calvin Harris, Halsey, Usher, David LaChapelle, Awkwafina, Ireland Baldwin and The Weeknd.

A wall of fame in the café (an update on framed deli and dry-cleaning tributes to famous customers) will feature Cyrus, David Bowie, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Bruce and other “evangelists of cannabis,” says Black, including pioneers of the medical marijuana dispensaries in the ‘90s, advocates for legalization and the OGs of weed (81-year-old Tommy Chong and Snoop Dogg, who respectively peddle the brands Chong’s Choice and Leafs by Snoop).

In a multitude of savvy, social media-friendly marketing moves, Lowell Herb Co. launched a $55 smokable cannabis flower crown at Coachella in 2017, a $400 Valentine’s Day bouquet (one ounce of bud mixed discreetly with wildflowers and eucalyptus leaves), and a $300 holiday “tasting flight.” The brand has set up “canna-bars” for musical sister trio Haim’s Planned Parenthood charity party hosted by Emma Stone last December and singer Miguel’s wedding to Nazanin Mandi last November, complete with a custom N/M Blend.

Lowell Herb Co.’s latest innovation, the cannabis café, has been underway for three years, Black tells The Hollywood Reporter. (Smart foresight in the booming $10.4 billion U.S. cannabis market, projected by industry experts to rise to $80 billion by 2030, given federal legalization.) An integral part of the team is renowned cannabis chef and activist Andrea Drummer, who  counts Handler, Wiz Khalifa, Miguel and companies such as Spotify as private dinner party clients. Drummer has also created a CBD-infused in-room dining menu for The James NoMad Hotel in New York and appeared on Netflix’s Cooking High and Chelsea Does.

Initially conceptualized as a café serving food infused with up to 10 mg of THC or CBD, along with beverages and smokes, the opening plan has been scaled back due to state and county regulatory red tape that calls for lab testing and child-resistant packaging. So on tap for the opening is a menu of cannabis for consumption on site in the form of bongs, vapes, pipes, dabs and prerolls. They will be accompanied by “virgin” draft beverages, playing into a trend for non-alcoholic cocktails, along with some on-the-market CBD- and THC-infused drinks.

For now, food offerings will be virgin, as in sustainable, organic farm-to-table bites designed to play up a cannabis-enhanced sense of taste and smell. Think dark chocolates, bright citrus dishes and salty sauerkraut. In the future, Black hopes to add cannabis-enhanced food: “We’re trying to be conservative in our interpretation of the laws; we’re waiting for the state and county to update their laws and work out the nuances for licensing, before we infuse food live on premises.”

Officially launched in 2017, Lowell Herb Co. has its own farm in Santa Barbara County but, eschewing a mass agricultural operation, the company has signed on “dozens of small family farms up and down the coast of California,” says Black. The Instagram handle of each farm source will be listed on the café menu as it is on the preroll packaging, along with the percentage of THC. “Just like you know the vineyard before you buy the wine, you’ll know the farm before you buy the flower at our café,” says Black.

A main push of the café is the educational experience for experts, newbies and tourists alike. That translates to a “cannoisseur” or “budtender” (a weed version of a sommelier) who can advise on the nuances of various cannabis strains or get down to the 101s of rolling. If one chooses to smoke, an array of high-end accessories are presented, such as ceramic bongs and pipes by L.A. company Miwak Junior or San Francisco-based Summerland, and luxe vape pens that can be tested before dropping down hundreds of dollars for a purchase.

Keeping in mind all the states where cannabis is not yet legal, Black says that tourism is another sweet spot for the WeHo location. “While people go to places like Amsterdam for cannabis tourism, they are also coming to Los Angeles; there are beautiful hotels to stay in, but where does that person consume cannabis?” said Black. “Not in a dispensary, in the park, on the streets, in the hotel room. The city agreed that this was an unfriendly stance to take to cannabis tourism, so it created the first cannabis consumption license in America.”

The end result was a March 2018 competition by the government of West Hollywood by over 300 businesses for eight cannabis consumption licenses. (WeHo is known to be ahead of the curve in this arena, being the first municipality to have a dispensary in the ‘90s.) Among the other winners, which spanned an array of industries, are a day spa, a sex toy store and a VR gaming arcade. A sign of next-level Hollywood cannabis experiences to come.

Ingrid Schmidt

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