Back in the 1930s, roving pot parties called “tea pads” sprang up in major cities across the country, bringing reefer-loving friends and acquaintances together to get high and listen to jazz.
In Southern California this month, a group of cannapreneurs opened the doors to Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, the first combo on-site consumption lounge and farm-to-table restaurant in the U.S., tipping its hat to those pre-prohibition era gatherings while putting a modern, Hollywood-style spin on the venture. Execs behind the cafe say they want to provide a social setting for cannabis users and a blueprint for other businesses in the space.
Though recreational cannabis sales are allowed in 10 states, it remains illegal to smoke in public. A few marijuana-friendly cities like San Francisco and Denver are early adopters of lounges, which came to fruition after lengthy and complicated government approvals and a host of restrictions.
“Cannabis consumption shouldn’t be relegated to the backroom of a dispensary,” said David Elias, co-founder and CEO of parent firm Lowell Herb Co. “It should be celebrated. We hope this is a turning point for what the industry will look like in the future.”
First of its kind
The white tablecloth restaurant in tony West Hollywood, open to those 21 and over, will serve locally sourced fare all day and plans to offer music in the evening. It will also have budtenders (the weed version of a sommelier) available to help customers pair its available cannabis strains with small plates and sweet treats. Lowell Farms’ high-profile backers include Miley Cyrus and Chris Rock, along with retailer MedMen.
More than 300 businesses applies for licenses from the Beverly Hills-adjacent city, but only 16 were approved. Lowell Farms is the first to open, after a vetting and regulatory process that lasted two years and required a 75-page application. Other consumption spots are expected to launch within the next six to 24 months and include a day spa, a VR gaming arcade and a sex toy shop.
Lowell Farms started booking up the moment reservations were made available in late September.
Andrea Drummer, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and known for her cannabis advocacy, is the resident chef, planning dishes like white bean and avocado hummus with seasonal vegetables, fried chicken sandwich with kale slaw and homemade smores.
“We’re showcasing cannabis as a communal experience, pairing it with food and offering both in a relaxed, nonjudgmental way,” Drummer said. “Since there is no template for a business like this, we’re creating it.”
Establishing a tourism hook
Bringing cannabis into an elevated social environment “adds an entirely new dynamic to the industry,” said Cynthia Salarizadeh, founder of luxury cannabis brand House of Saka and co-founder of Green Market Media. “This is a game changer. West Hollywood is setting the example for the rest of the country, and every state that has recreational sales will want to replicate it.”
WeHo opened one of the country’s first medical marijuana dispensaries in the ’90s in response to the AIDS crisis. The city sees its on-site consumption venues as a way to serve locals and attract visitors, according to John Leonard, community and legislative affairs manager of the City of West Hollywood.
“We would like to become a cannabis destination,” he said, noting that the city will market to U.S. and international travelers. “We’re happy to be a trailblazer here.”
Cannabis tourism in the L.A. area already features bus trips to marijuana cultivation sites, dispensaries and glass-blowing shops. The Museum of Weed, a pop-up from Weedmaps set to last through the month in Hollywood, continues to draw a heavy out-of-town crowd. On the dining scene, there have been short-term invite-only parties, often with cannabis-infused food, though, before Lowell, nothing in a fixed location or open to the public.
Eyeing other cities for its restaurant concept, Lowell could become the next hot spot in a town known for its star-heavy coverage.
“People will fly in from all over the world, and they’ll want to go even if they don’t smoke pot,” Salarizadeh said. “Instead of the Ivy, we’ll start to see photos of stars coming out of Lowell Cafe.”