Pastry chef Rachel King spent a decade working in some of San Diego’s top restaurants before joining the world of cannabis edibles in 2016. As founding partner and chief development officer at Kaneh Co., King now focuses her 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 tied to the cannabis industry and her thoughts on being deemed an essential employee during the pandemic.
On the difference between working in high-end restaurants and the world of cannabis edibles
I was in law school for a year and hated it. I was always looking up recipes online when I was supposed to be focusing in class. So I dropped out and ― much to the chagrin of my parents, because of the lifestyle and pay associated with restaurants — went to culinary school. I focused on pastries because I’m pretty detail-oriented.
I was a pastry chef in San Diego restaurants for about 10 years before this opportunity [at Kaneh Co.] presented itself. 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 company, it was a gray market and definitely taboo. We were in kitchens where the landlords knew what we were doing, but the neighbors didn’t. We’d have to go in through the back alley and make sure [our facility] didn’t smell. Now, because of zoning, there are only a few areas of San Diego where our facility can be located so a lot of companies around us are doing the same thing with cannabis.
I didn’t particularly tell anybody what I was doing for a long time because I didn’t want to be judged. And in case it didn’t work out, I didn’t want to be blacklisted from going back to restaurants. Now, there are more people entering the cannabis space with different skills, and there are a lot of other chefs besides me doing this.
“Cannabis employees, owners and people in the industry get treated in such different ways. We’re considered essential workers, but I bought a house this year and couldn’t qualify for a federal loan because of what I do.”
All my business partners came from varied backgrounds, but my main business partner — our CEO — has a cannabis background. I created all the recipes while working in the kitchen making everything, and then he and my other partners taught me more about cannabis. It helped that they had community connections from being in the business for so long.
Business has been pretty good in the last year because people are at home bored, which has turned out to be a good thing for us.
On how cannabis edibles are much more than gummy bears
For Kaneh Co., and with my background, taste is our number one priority. I’m hoping that everybody gets tired of gummies soon because there are so many ways you can consume cannabis — whether it’s flower, vape, tinctures or edibles. But if you’re going to choose an edible, you want it to taste good. There are certain companies that have a different take and they actually try to enhance the flavor of the cannabis — and while certain consumers do enjoy that, I don’t think the majority do.
In terms of taste, it’s much easier to camouflage 10 milligrams of cannabis rather than 100. In California, with our regulations, we can’t include 1,000 milligrams [of cannabis] in a small bite.
If somebody is making edibles at home, it’s usually a brownie because it’s easy for them and masks the taste. For older generations, most people equate cannabis edibles to brownies, but you can really add cannabis to anything. In most of our chocolate items, you cannot taste the cannabis at all. In our fruit-forward items like our jellies, you can taste it, but the fruit brings out nuances and actually complements it. To me, it’s more of a luxury experience, so instead of just getting the cheapest commercially made gummy, I would go for a nice chocolate. But to each their own.
On employees in the cannabis industry being deemed essential workers
Since the beginning of the pandemic, California has decided we’re essential workers. This has affected me in many ways. At this point, I’m very open and proud of what I do, so I don’t try to hide it. But cannabis employees, owners and people in the industry get treated in such different ways.
We’re considered essential workers, but I bought a house this year and couldn’t qualify for a federal loan because of what I do. I was finally making enough money that my husband and I could purchase a home, and even though I’ve gone through however many live scans, background checks and fingerprinting, I don’t qualify. We’ve spent so much money on the licensing and taxes to make sure everything [with the business] is aboveboard, so it’s extremely frustrating and confusing.
“In my heart, I feel like women just get shit done. … My right-hand person, our COO, is a mother of two, and I know I can always count on her to do what she says she’s going to do.”
On the other hand, I can get a COVID vaccine now because I’m considered an essential worker in the health care field. We were thrilled and a bit taken aback that we were considered essential employees because the industry’s stigma is definitely still there. So, it’s all over the place. I wish it was more clear-cut, especially for the producers who are licensed for doing everything properly.
On challenges within the cannabis industry
Compliance and legalization have been wonderful in many ways, but it’s not perfect — and it’s very, very expensive. There’s a lot of red tape to run one of these businesses, so I think entry is hard and staying afloat is hard. We can’t ship any products through the mail. We have to use licensed transporters and distributors to get them to stores, and we cannot sell directly to consumers. The taxes a cannabis business has to pay depend on what county you live in. San Diego is in a much higher tax bracket, but there are counties where you pay zero taxes. There are a lot of challenges, but hopefully it will be worth it.
On female representation 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 feel like women just get shit done. We are used to having so many things on our plates and juggling everything. My right-hand person, our COO, is a mother of two, and I know I can always count on her to do what she says she’s going to do.
There are a lot more women in the cannabis industry now. For a lot of the old-school players in the game — like 15 years in — it’s still a boys club. Coming from the restaurant industry, which is notoriously male-dominated, it’s nothing new and doesn’t bother me. The saying “no one cares, work harder” is true. I just bust my ass and always have.