As mounting political pressure makes the legalization of recreational cannabis in New York likelier by the day, the founder of a popular brunch spot known for its family-friendly, wholesome vibe is getting ahead of the curve.
Bubby’s owner Ron Silver, who founded his original upscale diner-style eatery in TriBeCa more than 27 years ago, has introduced the drug’s legal cousin to his menu as a sweetener in coffee, tea and lemonade.
“CBD is like the penicillin of the 21st century,” Silver, 55, says of cannabidiol, the chemical compound isolated from both cannabis sativa and hemp, a variety of the plant that’s legal in New York. Unlike THC, the cannabinoid that produces effects most commonly associated with pot smokers — euphoria, relaxation, the munchies — it isn’t psychoactive and doesn't get you "high." Users say, however, that CBD offers therapeutic effects like reducing pain, inflammation, depression and stress, and some initial scientific studies back those claims. (The jury is still out on whether it can potentially cure cancer and seizures, as Silver suggests it can.) That’s made the extract an increasingly popular wellness supplement.
At a Wednesday morning launch event at Bubby’s TriBeCa location, Silver unveiled his new CBD-infused product line as attendees noshed on restaurant staples like flaky buttermilk biscuits and fluffy silver dollar pancakes. Azuca, which takes its name from the Spanish word for sugar, is poised to enter the edibles market with a whole range of hemp- and cannabis-derived sweeteners that its creator says offer fast-acting, consistent effects. It’s the outcome of four years’ work for Silver, who characterizes himself as having always had “a passion for cannabis,” but dresses more like a hip dad than the stereotypical stoner.
The marijuana enthusiast has taken what he calls a “chef-like approach to solving a big problem in the industry,” namely the lack of consumer control. For example, edibles can take hours to kick in, Silver says, and drug absorption varies.
“The whole thing about these products: you know exactly what your dose is, and you really know how long it’s going to take effect, which is a big thing in this kind of medicine,” the entrepreneur said in his pitch to the breakfast crowd. How can Azuca deliver on that promise? Silver explained the company’s patent-pending technology as “putting a little wrapper around the molecule to make it more water-friendly, so it doesn’t have to go to your liver… It just absorbs into your digestive system.”
So far, the sweeteners are only available in diluted form at Bubby’s, which has New York locations in TriBeCa and the Meatpacking District. The restaurants are charging $10 for a lemonade, coffee or tea containing a 25-mg dose — one ounce of sugar in the former, one teaspoon of sugar in the latter two — that should kick in 15 minutes after drinking. A sample of the sugar itself had no aftertaste.
Bubby’s isn’t the only food business serving CBD-infused beverages in New York (among its peers are the cafes Caffeine Underground in Bushwick, Patent Coffee in the Flatiron District, and Flower Power Coffee House in Glendale), but it does stand out as a neighborhood institution, catering to a more domestic audience with its distinctly simple, homestyle food.
To those who would question whether it’s the best launchpad for Azuca, Silver draws a contrast to the alcohol served as his establishment: “It’s a lot more family-friendly than whiskey.” The father of four also anticipates middle-aged and older women seeking pain and insomnia relief — a demographic particularly vulnerable to opioid abuse — as a target audience for his edibles.
While Azuca will limit its products in New York to sweeteners infused with CBD from hemp plants (for now), the company has ambitions to expand to markets where THC is legal.
Of New York state laws that criminalize the possession and sale of marijuana, with the exception of specific medical purposes, Silver says “the benefits are so obvious, that it’s sort of a joke. The law really has always been… about racism and industry.” (In New York, data shows that individuals from predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods are arrested at a higher rate on marijuana charges than those living in white neighborhoods, and analysts say that cannabis legalization poses a huge threat to the $200 billion alcohol industry.)
“People have used cannabis for thousands of years,” he adds. “I think it’s a natural part of being human.”