By Michelle Miller, Contributor
Two-thirds of Americans think that marijuana should be legal for adults, and with more cities and states legalizing cannabis, we can expect to see a boom in cannabis cafes and restaurants in the future. However, running one isn’t as straight forward as the average independent restaurant, and there are plenty of cannabis-related issues to settle.
With sales of hemp-derived CBD products projected to top $1 billion this year in the U.S., restaurants and bars are eager to capitalize on growing consumer demand for all things hemp. This came into the picture when fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. announced that a single Denver location would sell hamburger topped with a sauce infused with hemp-derived CBD oil.
This one-day campaign attracted national media attention and brought into the spotlight the future of restaurants – cannabis-infused coffee, tea, donuts, hamburgers, pizza and more with hemp-derived CBD to appeal the growing segments of consumers.
As CBD comes with a lot of benefits, there is a huge demand for all things CBD in the restaurant marketplace. So, there are a lot of business opportunities as well as other chances to make both money and space. Moreover, the restaurant owners eyeing CBD are betting on long-term consumer interest in the segment.
America’s First Cannabis Café
Lowell Café is the first restaurant in the U.S. where you can openly smoke cannabis and it has a few things to sorted out.
Firstly, they offer a “Flower Host” – a sort of sommelier for cannabis. These employees are different from the server and possess budtending experience. They’re available to recommend different varieties of indica/sativa to guests, from the menu of flowers, pre-roll packs, vapes and edibles.
The café also has a $30 “tokage fee.” It is similar to a corkage fee that the guests pays for BYO weed. Guests who choose to get high on their own supply can pay for a Flower Host to roll their joint at the table.
However, one major drawback that Lowell Café needs to resolve is how to turn over tables faster.
"We definitely have to figure out a process of gently getting people to leave,” says executive chef Andrea Drummer, who sees lines out the door of her restaurant and reservations nearly fully booked a month out. “[Guests are thinking], ‘I have food, I have cannabis, I’m gonna want to order more food,’” Drummer says. “[Guests] just want to hang out.”
Creating the Guest Experience
While allowing guests to smoke and dine is the main draw for Lowell Café, they still take the time to create a relaxing atmosphere and amazing guest experience.
At first glance, likewise any other café, Lowell Café is any other scene-y rooftop restaurant in Los Angeles. The cafe's herbal scent and smoky atmosphere is made less so with fans, ventilators and air-purifying plants, making it stand out amongst other cafés in the proximity. The perfect blend of wooden accents, dozens of hanging plants, high ceilings, and collages of vintage photographs gives the restaurant an altogether rustic and chic vibe, perfect for guests wanting to share their adventure on social.
The café also has worked to build an extraordinary approachable staff. The goal isn’t to just serve guests but to have guests feel like they’ve made new best friends. The result is a business that has people standing outside in a queue for their turn.
For food, Lowell Café serves a mix of trendy comfort food -- such as fried chicken sandwiches, banh mi and vegan nachos -- that are meant to complement the THC (Flower Hosts can recommend pairings) and satisfy even the worst cases of the munchies.
How the Cannabis Restaurant Concept is Molding Itself to the Law
To sell food and cannabis legally, restaurants sometimes have to get creative.
For example, there’s a rule in California that only dispensaries may sell cannabis products and paraphernalia. So, technically, Lowell Cafe is a dispensary at the state level that operates as a “cannabis consumption lounge” on the city level. This is because cannabis is still illegal under federal law.
To abide by the laws, Lowell Café technically keeps its farm-to-table kitchen and dining area separate from its cannabis consumption area. The guests are allowed to seat themselves at either location to order cannabis and/or food.
Also, the food and cannabis are separated. Since there are laws against alcohol and cannabis being consumed at the same location, there is no bar. Other rules that Lowell staffers follow include asking patrons to finish cannabis products on-premises. Also for cannabis purchases, the transaction needs to be done in cash because federal prohibition makes some financial institutions wary of processing state-legal cannabis transactions.
Lowell Café has also planned to open an outdoor section for non-smokers. They also hope to infuse cannabis into the entrees.
Looking Toward the Future
Lowell Café is the first of eight businesses to be granted cannabis consumption licenses in West Hollywood – the only city in the LA-area that allows on-site consumption. Shortly, seven more cannabis-friendly properties could open in the area soon.
With more cities and states legalizing cannabis, seeing more shops like this around the country is all but here. How exactly it’ll play out will be determined by local and federal laws and regulations, but it’s clear that cannabis restaurants and cafes are going to become a new sub-type of the industry.