There may not be any smoke, but there sure is plenty of fire swirling around CBD for several San Antonio-area food business owners. At least a half-dozen ventures incorporating cannabidiol (CBD) have opened in the past year, everything from juice and coffee shops to bakeries, caterers, candy makers and more.
Such businesses would have been illegal prior to a loosening of regulations that started in 2014 at the state and federal level regarding the hemp from which CBD is derived. But with the fairly new green light for CBD and the booming interest from consumers in its perceived health benefits, these pioneering food entrepreneurs are seizing the moment.
And business is good.
Joel “Tatu” Herrera and his wife, Emilie, opened Folklores Coffee House near Concepción Park on South Flores Street in October. Joel Herrera had spent the previous decade as a chef at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio and was working on plans to open his own restaurant. The Herreras visited a CBD shop owned by a friend during a trip to New York City, and those restaurant plans were scrapped entirely.
The two were so impressed with the effects of CBD that they decided to launch a coffee house featuring CBD-infused products instead. Emilie Herrera also partnered with other investors to open Lady Grace CBD Distributors next door to the coffee shop.
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The new direction has paid off. CBD-laced coffee, oatmeal and more now account for about 60 percent of Folklores’s sales, and the couple is preparing to roll out a mobile CBD trailer to sell both CBD-based supplements and food items.
Commercial CBD is extracted from the hemp plant, or Cannabis sativa, which delivers considerably less of the psychotropic THC found in the closely related marijuana. Many consumers use CBD for health benefits, but it won’t leave anybody buzzed; current law says CBD must contain less than 0.3 percent THC by weight.
CBD is a small but growing industry, projected by some analysts to reach an annual market value of up to $20 billion as soon as 2024. CBD netted an estimated $11 billion in 2018. But CBD is more than just a business hook for this wave of food-focused entrepreneurs.
CBD is frequently credited with a wide range of medical benefits. According to the Harvard Medical School, many of those benefits are oversold, but there is some evidence CBD can help with anxiety, pain, sleep disorders and seizures, although effective therapeutic doses used to treat any of those conditions remain unknown.
The Herreras have worked to strike a balance with their offerings. The nascent public appetite for CBD is still driven by novelty, hype and curiosity, and many vendors, Joel Herrera said, are more concerned about moving quantity than selling a quality product. There aren’t many regulations overseeing the quality and safety of CBD, and it can have side effects including fatigue, irritability and nausea.
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“No matter what, I’ll make money. What I want make sure of is that my products are good,” Herrera said. “I want to sell my customers a product that works for them, and they come back for more. If I tell them it goes with anything and they get sick or whatever, that hurts my business.”
San Antonio private chef and caterer Maria Lange is also reaping the benefits of CBD fever. Lange recently rebranded her business as Sage & Honey Catering and is cooking CBD into the core her company’s identity. Lange’s existing menu was already very health-driven, and she had some experience with CBD for private clients in the past.
In June, before Sage & Honey’s launch, Lange prepared a full CBD-infused feast at a public dinner dubbed “Grazing in the Grass” at the downtown restaurant Ocho. Her menu included a beet salad dressed with a blackberry CBD vinaigrette, roasted carrots finished with hemp seeds and CBD oil, a tri-tip steak with CBD-infused chimichurri and a coffee and coconut panna cotta laced with CBD.
That meal netted significant positive feedback, and Lange has booked two CDB-infused catering jobs since then. She intends to hold more public CBD dinners as a result. Diner reactions helped show her not only the enthusiasm for consuming CBD, but also its marketing power for her new business.
“CBD just has so much momentum right now. People are just much, much more informed. It’s a whole shift for the entire cannabis industry,” Lange said. “I don’t want to use the word trendy, but it is trending. With this new company and new venture, I definitely want to make that part of my brand.”
One of the common threads running through these business owners is a deep belief in the health benefits of CBD and a desire to bring that to the public.
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One such true believer is Leo Davila who left a career in retail in 2014 to attend culinary school. He opened Catch the Wave in January, a pop-up venture that sells CBD-infused jams, drinks and tacos served on CBD-spiked tortillas in addition at area farmers markets.
“This isn’t a trend for me. I blew out my ACL playing sports when I was younger. I’ve had chronic knee and ankle issues, and when I got on the CBD, it really helped,” Davila said of his own experience with the substance. “I’m in a better mood. It helps me focus. It clears my mind. I know the benefits and what it’s truly done for me and my family and my team around me.”
Erika de la Rosa and her husband, Gabriel Garza, opened Dab Hemp Cafe in San Antonio’s Five Points neighborhood last May with a lineup of hemp seed-laced “hempanadas” and CBD-infused juices. They’ve both personally used CBD to treat conditions including stress, anxiety and adult acne.
While marijuana is better known for its recreational applications, medicinal use of cannabis is nothing new.
“In a lot of Hispanic households, our mothers and grandmothers would put weed in rubbing alcohol,” Herrera said. “That’s what they’d rub into their hands and arms if they had arthritis.”
Herrera believes it was the CBD in that tincture that his relatives benefited from, but he’s also ready to lead the marijuana-infused culinary charge in San Antonio should it ever be legalized. But until then, he sees CBD as more than a mere stopgap.
“I think no matter what, there are people that want the CBD for all the medical benefits, and there are going to be people that just want cannabis to get a little high. Those are two different clienteles,” Herrera said. “I get a lot of elderly people. I have firemen. A lot of military guys. And all they want is the benefits of it. They want to be healthy. They want the bad problems to go away, and this helps them.”
For Plantyful Sweets owner Gaby Borrego, the popularity of CBD is a natural extension of the current attention being paid to anti-inflammatory and plant-based diets. She bakes ingredients like turmeric, maca root, goji berries and other so-called superfoods into her vegan and gluten-free desserts. She also infuses those with CBD, making her product stand out in a crowded sea of similar sweets.
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Borrego has been selling those goods at area markets for the past year. Bolstered by strong demand, she quit her day job at a juice bar in July to bake full time and will open a brick-and-mortar cafe along Main Avenue in Tobin Hill next month. CBD, she said, is here to stay.
“I believe in the benefits of it just like I believe in the benefits of vegan food or gluten-free food or using certain superfoods or ingredients.”
None of the CBD oil sold or used in San Antonio is grown in Texas, but that could soon change. A bill signed into law in June formally legalizing the farming of industrial hemp and the sale of hemp-derived products including CBD is awaiting USDA approval, and farming could begin as early as next year. About a third of U.S. states have already legalized hemp farming and CBD production.
Texas already hangs its hat on homegrown brisket, whiskey and beer. Only time will tell if a Lone Star strain of CBD becomes a similar point of pride.
Either way, these business owners are seeding a field that’s ripe for growth. And with Texas’s future looking increasingly green, it won’t be much of a surprise more entrepreneurs pop up like weeds.
Paul Stephen is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | email@example.com | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen