At first we thought Denver restaurant Ganja Gourmet’s severely limited target demographic—medical marijuana cardholders—would preclude economic success. Then we noticed its pricing—$10 per cannabis-laden brownie, $89 for a pot-laced pizza. And we further learned 90 percent of its business is takeout, meaning cardholders are buying for a much-larger circle of friends. Now we think this could be the most lucrative restaurant concept ever…as long as it remains legal.
Colorado is one of 13 states where laws accommodate people for whom marijuana use makes certain medical conditions more tolerable. That list of conditions includes cancer; glaucoma; HIV/AIDS positive; cachexia; severe pain; severe nausea; seizures, including those that are characteristic of epilepsy; or persistent muscle spasms, including those that are characteristic of multiple sclerosis. The Colorado Board of Health approves other medical conditions on a case-by-case basis.
Those who qualify are listed on the state’s Medical Marijuana Registry. They are issued an ID card (fee: $90) that allows them to buy marijuana from dispensaries. Cardholders can legally possess two ounces of marijuana and can cultivate up to six marijuana plants.
Which means that Ganja Gourmet’s nominal customer base is both sick and could grow their own marijuana if they wanted to. Yet business at the restaurant has been brisk since its early December opening. Some members of Denver City Council are trying to regulate dispensaries (which is how Ganja Gourmet classifies itself) so that customers can’t smoke or eat marijuana on site. That would kill the sit-down business, but still leave the takeout option intact.
So what’s on the menu? There are three “starters”: green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, meat or vegetable lasagna, and “Panama Red” pizza that’s topped with garlic, oil, goat cheese, tomatoes and sausage.
The menu then jumps directly into the “For Your Sweet Tooth” section. Here’s how it reads:
• Giant killer candies (double dose with coconut or almond, macadamia nut, or coffee beans);
• Creamy cheesecake (chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, cherry);
• Almond horns (“Must try, it’s an east coast thing”);
• Brownies (coconut, almond, and pecan);
• Chocolate peanut butter cookies;
• Lemon meringue tartlets; and
• Low fat banana nut muffins.
Prices, as mentioned above, are stratospheric. But at least there’s a giveaway item: “ganjanade,” a ganja tapenade, served with homemade fogata bread.
Cooking professional-level food and desserts that contain marijuana isn’t necessarily easy. The challenge is to incorporate the pot without compromising the taste of the finished item. Chefs at Ganja Gourmet handle this by first producing “cannabutter,” butter or oil containing the THC chemical that produces the high pot smokers desire. That oil or butter is then used to prepare the food. But take it easy if you try this at home. Made properly, 2 teaspoons of cannabutter have the same level of TCH as an ounce of weed. Which may be why Ganja Gourmet will serve customers only one item every 45 minutes.
So could this concept work elsewhere? Right now, 13 states, most of them in the Western U.S., have enacted laws that legalize medical marijuana. The provisions of each state’s law are not identical. But, structured correctly, the marijuana-restaurant concept could well be legal in many of these states. Just make sure there’s an escape clause in your lease if you decide to give it a try.