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Is this cannabis cafe the restaurant of the future?

Lowell Farms has navigated a number of regulatory hoops to open what’s billed as the country’s first marijuana restaurant.
Photograph courtesy of Lowell Cafe

It’s not often that a restaurant lists “Is this legal?” among the questions on its FAQ.

But there’s quite a bit that’s unusual about Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, the restaurant-marijuana dispensary-consumption lounge that opened at the beginning of October in West Hollywood.

(And, with regards to that frequently asked question, the answer is yes.)

With an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the origin story of Lowell Farms—which bills itself as the county’s first cannabis cafe—could be instructive to a growing number of enterprising restaurant operators.

West Hollywood approved recreational cannabis use four years ago. But, under the city’s rules, marijuana could only be smoked in private homes—not in public or in rental housing. So one of the founders of what would become Lowell Farms joined a group to petition the city to create a license for a “consumption lounge.”

Lowell Farms submitted a 78-page application and was among eight businesses selected, said Kevin Brady, the restaurant’s director, who was previously the director of operations for Tao Group in Hollywood.

“They didn’t approve eight cookie cutter concepts,” Brady said, adding that there’s a virtual reality lounge as well as a cannabis spa. “Each is different.”

But Lowell Farms is the first of the group to open. And, after navigating strict rules about its location (which can’t be near a school, medical facility or other sensitive location), the team devised a two-part concept.

Customers can visit the farm-to-table restaurant. Or they can visit the consumption lounge, where they’ll be waited on by a “flower host” to guide them in purchasing marijuana in various strains and forms, with the option of ordering  food from the adjoining restaurant.

Originally, the restaurant wanted to infuse its food with cannabis, but California laws prohibit that, Brady said.

“All of the [marijuana] flower needs to be prepackaged,” he said. “We treat them as two separate businesses. When you sit down in the consumption lounge, you’re ordering from the business next door.”

The restaurant’s front patio is cordoned off and does not allow cannabis consumption. If and when the restaurant’s liquor license is approved, beer and wine will be served there—but not in the marijuana lounge.

Many customers, especially neighborhood residents, come in just for the food, Brady said.

But many others, whether new to marijuana or more experienced, are visiting the consumption lounge, he said.

Flower hosts have been trained to guide customers to appropriate pot purchases, depending on their prior experience. Like sommeliers, they also offer food-weed pairings.

The restaurant’s security team and its valets have received training for handling cannabis overconsumption, Brady said.

“Conversations need to happen,” he said, to gauge whether customers are fit to drive.

Through an app, Lowell Farms offers ride-hailing discounts to and from the restaurant (an appropriate coupon of $4.20 off each way) for anyone who might not want to drive after smoking pot.

So far, though, Brady has seen few problems with overconsumption of marijuana.

The cafe’s menu features a mix of California farm-to-table fare such as a baby kale salad and a vegan banh mi, as well as indulgent offerings that might pair well with pot-fueled munchies such as Jalapeno Mac & Cheese Bites and Animal-Style Corn Dogs.

“Our dessert sales are higher than I’ve ever seen in my career before,” Brady said. “We wanted to create a destination that people felt comfortable coming to not just once or twice, but once or twice a week.”

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