Rachel King: What it’s like to be a mom running a cannabis edibles business
Pastry chef Rachel King spent a decade working at some of San Diego’s top restaurants before joining the cannabis edibles world in 2016. As a founding partner and director of development at Kaneh Co.King now focuses its baking on gourmet cannabis infused treats including truffle bars, brownies, blondies, cookies, fruit jellies, chocolates and granola bites. In the latest edition of Voices in food, the mother of two shares her experience dealing with the stigma associated with the cannabis industry and her thoughts on being seen as a vital employee during the pandemic.
On the difference between working in high-end restaurants and the world of cannabis edibles
I went to law school for a year and hated it. I was always looking for recipes online when I was supposed to be concentrating in class. So I gave up and – much to my parents’ chagrin, because of the lifestyle and pay associated with restaurants – went to culinary school. I focused on the pastries because I am quite detail-oriented.
I was a pastry chef in restaurants in San Diego for about 10 years before this opportunity [at Kaneh Co.] introduced himself. At first I was like “No way”. I wanted to try something new, but I had nothing to do with cannabis – I didn’t even smoke. It was an interesting transition because when we started the business it was a gray market and definitely taboo. We were in kitchens where the owners knew what we were doing, but the neighbors didn’t. We had to go in through the alley and make sure [our facility] did not feel. Now, due to zoning, there are only a few areas in San Diego where our facility can be located, so a lot of companies around us are doing the same with cannabis.
For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing because I didn’t want to be judged. And in case that didn’t work out, I didn’t want to be blacklisted to go back to the restaurant. Now there are more people entering the cannabis space with different skills, and there are a lot of chefs other than me who are.
“Employees, owners and people of the cannabis industry are treated so differently. We are considered essential workers, but I bought a house this year and was not eligible for a federal loan because of what I do. “
All of my business partners came from a variety of backgrounds, but my main business partner, our CEO, has a background in cannabis. I created all the recipes by working in the kitchen to prepare everything, then he and my other partners taught me more about cannabis. It has helped that they have ties to the community to be in the business for so long.
Business was pretty good last year because people are bored at home, which turned out to be a good thing for us.
On how cannabis edibles are so much more than gummy bears
For Kaneh Co., and with my background, taste is our number one priority. I hope everyone gets bored of gummy candy soon because there are so many ways to consume cannabis – be it flowers, vape, tinctures, or edibles. But if you choose an edible product, you want it to taste good. There are some companies that take a different approach and they’re actually trying to improve the flavor of cannabis – and while some consumers enjoy that, I don’t think the majority do.
In terms of taste, it’s much easier to disguise 10 milligrams of cannabis rather than 100. In California, with our regulations, we cannot include 1,000 milligrams. [of cannabis] in a small bite.
If someone is making food at home, it’s usually a brownie because it’s easy on them and masks the taste. For the older generations, most people think of cannabis edibles as brownies, but you can really add cannabis to anything. In most of our chocolate products, you can’t taste cannabis at all. In our fruit products like our jellies you can taste it, but the fruit brings nuance and really complements it. For me, it’s more of a luxury experience, so instead of getting the cheapest candy on the market, I would go for a good chocolate. But to each his own.
On employees in the cannabis industry considered essential workers
Since the start of the pandemic, California has decided that we are essential workers. It affected me in many ways. At this point, I’m very open and proud of what I’m doing, so I’m not trying to hide it. But employees, owners and people in the cannabis industry are treated so differently.
We are considered essential workers, but I bought a house this year and was not eligible for a federal loan because of what I do. I was finally making enough money for my husband and I to buy a house, and although I have gone through so many live scans, background checks and fingerprinting, I am not eligible. We spent so much money on licenses and taxes to make sure everything [with the business] is honest, so it’s extremely frustrating and confusing.
“In my heart, I feel like women just do shit. … My right arm, our COO, is a mother of two, and I know I can always count on her to do what she says she is going to do.
On the flip side, I can get the COVID shot now because I am considered an essential worker in health care. We were thrilled and a little baffled to be seen as essential employees, as the stigma of the industry is still there. So it’s everywhere. I wish it was clearer, especially for producers who are allowed to do everything right.
On the challenges within the cannabis industry
Compliance and legalization has been wonderful in so many ways, but it’s not perfect – and it’s very, very expensive. There is a lot of paperwork involved in running one of these businesses so I think entry is difficult and staying afloat is difficult. We cannot ship any product by post. We have to use authorized carriers and distributors to get them to stores, and we cannot sell directly to consumers. The taxes a cannabis business must pay depends on the county in which you live. San Diego is in a much higher tax bracket, but there are counties where you pay no tax. There are a lot of challenges, but I hope it will be worth it.
On the representation of women in the cannabis industry
At least half of our 50 employees are women, including managers and directors – and many of them are moms. In my heart, I have the impression that women are pissed off. We’re used to having so much on our plates and juggling everything. My right arm, our COO, is a mother of two, and I know I can always count on her to do what she says she is going to do.
There are a lot more women in the cannabis industry now. For a lot of the old school players of the game – like 15 years old – it’s still a boys’ club. Coming from the restaurant industry, notoriously male dominated, this is nothing new and doesn’t bother me. The saying “nobody cares, work harder” is true. I just broke my ass and always have.