Photo by Lindsey Bartlett for MERRY JANE
It's been an iconic year for Andrea Drummer.
You may know Drummer as the head chef of the nation’s first cannabis café in West Hollywood, California. But she's been in the ganja game long before the restaurant opened in October, 2019. Not only is she the author of Cannabis Cuisine: Bud Pairings of a Born Again Chef, Drummer famously cooked infused meals for Chelsea Handler on the TV show Chelsea Does, and also graduated from the famed Le Cordon Bleu. All of which led Drummer to launch the nation’s inaugural consumption-friendly cafe. It’s called the Original Cannabis Cafe, or OG Cannabis Cafe, following a rebranding from Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe.
The signage is the only thing that’s changed, however. The restaurant is still always packed. Its ambience beckons local cannabis consumers and international tourists alike, with smoke billowing up to the light that spills in from the windows. Plants hang casually off the banisters. With all the bustle and haze, it’s hard to tell where the greenery ends and the patrons begin.
Head chef Andrea Drummer remains at the helm of the popular La Brea Avenue spot. Drummer’s food and cannabis menus seamlessly blend together, though both have evolved since the cafe’s opening. The cuisine changes seasonally to reflect the fresh farmers’ market-finds, and to focus on shared plates and crowd-pleasers. The cannabis menu morphs daily to include the wide array of California cannabis companies eager to get a coveted spot on the cafe’s smokable lineup.
Drummer welcomed MERRY JANE one afternoon onto a sunny, smoke-filled patio to discuss what 2020 holds for the OG Cannabis Cafe, why she won’t ever leave California, and how fearlessness was a requirement for opening this game-changing business.
Photo courtesy of OG Cannabis Cafe
MERRY JANE: What are your plans for the menu in 2020 that you’re most excited about?
Andrea Drummer: We started brunch, we’re in our third week. It’s going well. I think it’s because, during the day, we have a lot of snack foods and a lot of shared plates. We do some shared food at brunch, too, but I love it because they’re just solid plates of food you can order. We want that to translate into the all-day and dinner menus, eventually.
And because it’s brunch; it’s sweet, savory, playful. We wanted to be playful and offer those things that are familiar and comforting. French toast sticks are nostalgic and fun. They’re Fruity Pebble-flavored. There's a lot of comfort foods.
We’re being mindful of where we source our products by working with local farmers, small farms. Sourcing the best meat products, chicken, sourcing the best steak. All of those things that just enhance the flavors, make the experience better. We want people to be more mindful of consumption, how you treat your body. Your first doctor is your chef, and how you cook for yourself.
Fruity Pebble Dunkers, aka French Toast sticks, grace the new brunch menu at the OG Cannabis Cafe. Photo courtesy of Ellis Allen, OG Cannabis Cafe
Both the restaurant business and the cannabis industry have historically been boys clubs. What advice would you offer to other women in order to make it to the top in two highly competitive, male-dominated fields?
You have to have a surgence of fearlessness. I say this every time: You have to be fearless. The only thing that separates me from anyone else who wants to do this is that I went for it. I had the gumption to do it. That’s really it. My heart is there, I do it with heart, I do it with love, I do with intention. I think that’s important. But first, you have to be fearless.
For a very long time in my life and my career, there was a fear that held me back. A lot of that is related of course to religious doctrine, and not stepping out or being allowed to be the person in the front, as a black woman. At one point in my career, I was homeless — like, homeless homeless. Sleeping in the car, washing up at Smart and Final, collecting food stamps, all while I’m cooking for Chelsea Handler.
It was just that sense of fearlessness, of wanting to do something that would have an impact on society, that kept me going. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I didn’t know it was going to look like this. That was my intention, and I set that intention and I went for it.
I wanted to get your take on the cafe's recent name rebranding to the Original Cannabis Cafe. Tell me your perspective on it?
Of course. I think, initially, we wanted to open with a brand and Lowell was doing really well at the time. But right now, we want the cafe to be very inclusive of everyone and everything, including other cannabis brands.
That’s always been my dream — to have something for everyone. We don’t want to box [others] out [by being] one brand, and that’s what we’re known for. I noticed in the earlier interviews I would get asked a lot about that brand specifically. And that’s not the real goal here.
Anyone could be on the marquee, you know what I mean? There are really great brands involved in what we’re doing. Branding the restaurant cheapens the work, it doesn’t acknowledge the work that our director of sourcing does. He is really intentional about bringing in great product. You see him moving around, talking to brands, looking at the product, looking at the packaging, testing, understanding how each supplier grows. He is very adept to that. And no one knows that, I wouldn’t have known it if I weren’t here — I’m even learning.
It definitely wasn’t drama with the other brands, though. We’re all just happy to be part of this monumental happening, right? But more so, I am really working hard to bring some of the best products here. And all anyone could talk about was Lowell.
The Original Cannabis Cafe has been rebranded, but head chef Andrea Drummer remains at the helm. Photo by Lindsey Bartlett for MERRY JANE.
Tell me more about the current menu offerings. Why did you choose the dishes on the menu?
I’m excited to build on the dinner menu and just to create. That’s the part of it that makes me excited. Being able to create while having this blank canvas. And also having the cannabis menu that I can collaborate with, if you will. So, yeah, that stuff always excites me. Because cannabis is such a great part of it. Even though, right now, I’m unable to infuse food directly. Hopefully that will change. It’s still an intricate part of it, pairing those terpenes and those flavor profiles of the cannabis with the flavor profiles of the menu items.
Do you make all the pairing recommendations for cannabis and food, or do the flower hosts come in and help?
I definitely give pairings for them. The flower hosts are so adept, too, though. I definitely give pairings to them, but they are very proficient and so engrossed in the culture. They know. They know their product. It’s cool that I don’t always have to hold their hands through the process; they can give their own suggestions or recommendations. And they're always spot on.
Will there be seasonal menus, like a winter edition?
I love farmers markets and using some of what’s offered during the season. For that reason, I will never leave California. It’s so beautiful here. Specifically, I go home — I’m originally from Florida — and my mom's all excited. She’s like, ‘We have this farmers market!’ And I’m like, ‘womp womp womp...' It’s not like California. Florida does not support as much seasonality. It’s very tropical. So you get a lot of the same things. Papaya, pineapple, mango.
But here, we have access to so much, especially being close to Mexico and the northern states. It’s varied and amazing. You can’t get me to move back to Florida. Oh my gosh. I go to the Santa Monica Chefs Farmers’ Market. My mind is blown. Every time. I’m just still enamored with food in the same way as when I started.
A brunch smash burger is one new menu item concocted by chef Andrea Drummer. Photo courtesy of Ellis Allen, OG Cannabis Cafe
Do you use farmers market items on the menu here?
Oh yeah. Everything from our heirloom tomatoes to the lettuce and baby kale. A lot of the product comes from the local markets.
What’s really cool is that working with the Santa Monica market is like full circle for me. As mentioned, I was homeless at one point while pursuing all of this stuff. I would go to the farmers market and fill a bag with greens. Then I'd put a little salt and olive oil on them... and then eat it all out of the bag. And now I’m working with the purveyors that bring products from that market, from those same growers, to the cafe. It’s so beautiful. It’s such a beautiful thing — a beautiful experience to be a part of.
I wanted to ask more about your involvement with social equity in Los Angeles, and how you and the OG Cannabis Cafe are incorporating social equity into your business.
In terms of our hiring processes, we are actively seeking those candidates who maybe have expunged records or who have been incarnated for nonviolent cannabis “crimes,” or those who are reentering society.
I think we should all have some part in this industry, or have the ability to participate. So that’s always been important to me: To be a part of the change of this industry. Just by the virtue of having jobs for people here, that by itself, is social equity. That’s the prayer, that’s the seed that I plant. I hope what that means in the future is more people will have their records expunged, and all of that will be over. For me, that’s the goal.
Why are people incarcerated for cannabis when here I am, speaking to you? It is unfortunate. I want to be a part of changing it. I want to do more activism and get more involved, and figure out what that looks like beyond the restaurant.
If I can just inspire one person, and they get in the game, and we all just come together and make this happen — then I’ve done my job. You know, I had to change my mind about cannabis. But in doing so, that was freedom. Understanding the enormity of the “Just Say No” campaign and what that did to communities, and how it was actually the propaganda that tore families apart and damaged communities, versus the cannabis itself. When you come to that understanding, when you get it — you can’t just sit back and do nothing. Even if I wasn’t in this industry, I would want to do something about it. I’ll take the hits. As long as I can do the work.
What is your perspective regarding social equity in West Hollywood or Los Angeles as a whole? How can it improve?
The city of West Hollywood has been amazing. They’ve been amazingly supportive. Whatever they could do to help or support or push or catapult this venture, they’ve done it.
In part, that’s because West Hollywood has historically been in some way involved in social equity for the LGBTQ community — their movement, their rights. So I think they understood what that meant and what we mean to the community. It’s a matter of finding the common ground for cities and municipalities. And to understand why it’s important. And how can it become a win-win?
The conversation is of course so layered and so deep. It is the United States, our foundation is of a different ilk. There’s a lot to unearth there. We need to get to a place where we see each other as equals so that this is not a conversation. It’s so layered. I’ve seen in Jamaica, they have their own issues, but there isn’t or hasn’t been this talk around Who can and who can’t? or Should we give provisions to these certain people? It’s more about, Can you open a business?
It’s unfortunate in the US, especially when we have seen specific communities affected the most by the War on Drugs. Hopefully that changes, hopefully I can be a part of doing something to make that change. I hope to see that change in my lifetime. I hope so, I really hope so. It’s all I can pray for. It’s all that motivates me internally, even when it’s tough. I don’t associate it as being tough, rather I associate it as being part of the process. And I have to just move with that.
Brunch is new to the Original Cannabis Cafe menu offerings, available on weekends. Pictured: Shakshuka with French bread. Photo courtesy of Ellis Allen, OG Cannabis Cafe
What do you want to let the MERRY JANE readers know about what 2020 holds for the OG Cannabis Cafe, as well as for cannabis legalization on a whole?
I would love to see more concepts and ideas come forth because that helps to normalize the conversation about public consumption. That’s going to help change law and policy, and in that, it’s going to expunge records and free people. I hope to see more states embrace some form of legalization. I want to see cannabis legalized globally.
It’s a win-win. We can find common ground. Like, “organic” may not be your thing, and you’re OK with shopping organically here or there, but it might be important to me. Either way, we all gotta eat.
Let us do the thing. Let the people who are interested do the thing, let the people participate. Tax dollars, tourism, you’ll win, too. Even if you don’t care for the capitalism of it all, you’ll still have those in the industry who are dogmatic about how the industry grows. It’s not going to change overnight because one politician wants to monopolize and capitalize on the industry. We need to let that stuff go.
It’s building. It’s crazy because in California, we’ve been legal for 20-something years. Right now, if you look up how many dry liquor states there are, there are so few. You’re just like, Those states are bizarre. It's the same with cannabis prohibition states. I actually feel worse for people who don’t have who access to cannabis. I think that's horrible.
Photo by Lindsey Bartlett/MERRY JANE
What is your favorite part about the impact the cafe has made so far?
It’s just so normal. No one looks weirded out or freaked out, no one’s looking around. It’s just normalized. It’s like, this is what’s happening in homes and in other private spaces all the time, literally everyday. We should have other [cannabis consumption] places like this for ourselves.
We just have to be fearless and go for it. I was born with a knee condition, where my knees bent the opposite direction. I was told I would never walk, that I would wear braces for the rest of my life. I overcame that. There are all these things that dictate why I shouldn’t be in this place, in this space with you right now. But you can’t let anyone or anything hold you back. You just can’t.