New owners hope for cannabis cafe in Castro
by Sari Staver
The new owners of Cafe Flore hope the funky Castro hangout will become the city's first cannabis cafe.
Terrance Alan, the chairman of San Francisco's Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, and Aaron Silverman, an experienced cannabis entrepreneur, take possession of the business January 5. The men discussed their plans for the 44-year-old restaurant and bar over lunch Tuesday, January 2.
"Cannabis is definitely part of our long term vision," said Alan, an entertainment and nightlife consultant who previously served as president of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission.
For the past year, Alan, a gay man, has led the city's 22-member cannabis task force, which is advising the city on how it should regulate the industry under state Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which was approved in November and legalized the recreational use of pot. Last month, the task force approved its recommendations on how the city should implement Prop 64 (http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=72188).
Among those recommendations was that the city should consider creation of new types of licenses to accommodate "the diverse businesses within the adult use cannabis industry such as baking or cooking licenses, consumption lounges."
Alan, 64, said he and Silverman, 41, "wanted to get into the customer service and food service side of the tourist economy so we can explore what socialization and food look like in the next 10 years."
Customers won't see cannabis on the menu "for at least a few years," conceded Alan, who noted that currently Prop 64 prohibits businesses that sell alcohol to also serve cannabis, a clause Alan said was put into the legislation because of all the "uncertainty" among the public about legalization. The law would have to be amended and the city would have to develop a specific license for such a business, Alan said, two developments he believes could happen "in time."
Prop 64, which makes it legal for people over the age of 21 to possess cannabis, will go into full effect in January 2018, the deadline for the state to approve a legal and regulatory system that will enable retailers to sell cannabis.
Cafe Flore "could be the perfect location" for a cannabis cafe said Alan, who looked at dozens of locations before writing an offer for the iconic eatery.
"The Castro is the neighborhood where medical marijuana got started in this city," said Alan, referring to the first dispensaries under Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996.
Because it is currently illegal to smoke in restaurants, including outdoor seating areas, Alan foresees cannabis on the menu, infused in food and drinks. "Or used in ways we may not have even thought about yet," he added.
While such changes are years away, Alan said the new owners have ambitious plans they hope to adopt almost immediately.
"Improvements in the quality of food and service" are at the top of their list, he said.
A new front of the house manager, Denae Silverman, will work with staff "to improve the customer experience," said Alan. Denae Silverman, who has decades of experience operating restaurants, bars, and special events, is married to co-owner Aaron Silverman, who will also be involved in the day-to-day management of the restaurant. Alan, who will oversee the cannabis task force in its second and last year, will also be on the premises "quite a bit" in the first months, he said.
The menu will be revamped to emphasize shared plates, "tapas style," said Alan.
Before any changes are adopted, Alan said the new owners will hold a "makeover party" to get community input on proposed changes. A consulting cocktail mixologist will help with the beverage menu, he said. Some of those changes hopefully will be reflected on the menu prior to grand opening around Valentine's Day, said Alan.
The owners are meeting with architects and designers to figure out their priorities in spiffing up the restaurant, said Alan.
"More comfortable seating," is a must, he said.
Improvements to the outdoor cafe to make it usable year round are also a "top priority," he said.
The restaurant plans to develop a line of private branded Flore foods, such as its own line of coffees. These products will be sold at the Castro Farmers Market held next door to the restaurant nine months of the year.
If the plan to include cannabis infused foods is eventually adopted, the restaurant might develop a line of infused products, such as salad dressings, said Alan.
The improvements face hurdles, Alan acknowledged. The restaurant "in recent times" has been losing money, he said. In addition to bringing in new business, Alan said the owners face the challenge of bringing down labor costs and keeping menu prices "where they are still a good value."
Alan and Aaron Silverman have never worked together before, nor has either ever owned and operated a restaurant.
The two met while doing cannabis advocacy work in California, and when they became acquainted, realized they shared a vision of a restaurant where residents could enjoy and share cannabis while they socialize over food.
"We think if we develop the right model it can be replicated across the country," as an increasing number of states approve recreational use of cannabis, said Aaron Silverman.
While developing their plan for a cannabis cafe, the two visited many available locations before they learned that Cafe Flore was on the market.
"Given the tremendous history of community involvement here, we thought this would be really perfect," Alan said.
The two raised money from investors, enough to pay for the renovations and to carry the business until it can become profitable, said Alan. Current owner Stu Gerry and property owner J.D. Petras are staying on as minority owners, said Alan.
The restaurant will drop the word "cafe" and be known as Flore going forward, said Alan.
"You remember the definition. Flower," he added.