Since its opening last October in West Hollywood as the first consumption lounge in the country, the re-branded OG Cannabis Café has seen its share of challenges. Among them: a December split from original partner Lowell Herb Co. and then, last month, its forced closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because its license from the city precluded it from operating as a dispensary — meaning customers were technically forbidden from carrying product off the premises — the restaurant was unable to take advantage of the essential service designation for cannabis retailers. In the end, West Hollywood granted the Café an exemption, allowing it to become the first drive-through food and cannabis establishment.
“The city has been incredibly supportive,” says Sarah Dale, a co-owner and co-founder who compares the cannabis community to her own roots working at the legendary Los Angeles punk club Jabberjaw and as vocalist/drummer for riot grrrl band Rizzo playing alongside contemporaries like Sleater-Kinney and Team Dresch. “West Hollywood is the only city allowing and regulating cannabis lounges. And we’re the only lounge that’s actually been able to open.”
In operation daily from noon to 8 p.m., its first day open brought in a pair of TV news trucks as well as loyal clientele, with a waiting time in the parking lot of no longer than 15-20 minutes, if you order there. You can also order online at cannabis.cafe.com, and have your food and weed waiting when you arrive.
Of course, it’s not the same as what made the Cannabis Café such an attraction in the first place — the ability to consume in a public space, but it’s the best that they can do… for now. After furloughing nearly all of its approximately 40 employees, the Café has been able to re-hire 8.
“We were just starting to hit our stride when we had to close down,” says Dale. “We were about to celebrate 4/20 all month with a series of promotions, events and celebrations.”
A scan of the Cannabis Café’s menu and flower selections show that entrees are now $4 to $5 lower and herb products are now more in line with commercial dispensaries. And breaking off from Lowell has also improved the product, with top-notch grows from Glass House Farms and Famous Farms now available.
Because cannabis is still illegal federally, the Cannabis Café has been unable to secure any short-term SBA, FEMA or PPP loans, which makes the business’ situation even more dire.
“I think we’re going to weather this storm,” says Dale. “There is no other place like this. What we’re offering is unique. We’re not your local Italian restaurant on the corner. It’s all experiential — about being there — but we had to put ourselves in the best position to reopen when that’s possible. It’s still the only place where you can get a burger and a blunt to go.”
Sure enough, so far competitors have also been sidelined due to the coronavirus. J&P Consulting, previously doing business as Budberry, is one of the few companies with licenses from West Hollywood for a both a dispensary and (edible-only, for now) consumption lounge located on the exotic grounds of partner Thomas Schoos’ design studio on Santa Monica Blvd. Dubbed Monica’s House, its investors envision it as a “Stoned” Soho House for professionals. Plans for a summer opening appear to be on hold.
“We remain very positive, optimistic even,” adds Dale. “It’s going to look different, but we’re up to the challenge. We look forward to being able to provide a moment of fellowship. And we believe people will be craving that when this is over.”