Over the last decade, the Herbal Chef owner Chris Sayegh has developed a following by preparing cannabis dinners throughout Southern California. Because of their success and popularity, Sayegh is now gearing up to open his first bar, lounge, and restaurant in Santa Monica called Nostalgia. The arrival not only gives Sayegh a permanent home, it reopens the discussion of cannabis consumption lounges across greater Los Angeles.
Sayegh has taken his culinary training (including under chef Josiah Citrin at Michelin-starred Mélisse) and applied them to creating cannabis meals that can stand on their own, while also harnessing the addition of CBD and/or THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. The upcoming Nostalgia is a culinary take on foods from the 1970s up to the early 2000s. “A blast from the past, but more modernized,” says Sayegh when describing the food and drinks. Initially Nostalgia will be more of a lounge-y hangout, with plans to develop into a full service restaurant over time.
When it opens in either December 2021 or January 2022, Nostalgia will have a fairly short food menu. That might mean a caviar-topped lobster roll or branzino fish and chips. Sayegh will serve dips and vegetables that change by season, while dessert features an ice cream push pop, a nod to the childhood treat. The food will not contain any CBD or other cannabis.
Sayegh will, however, utilize CBD and terpenes in the drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. CBD and terpenes contain the non-psychoactive element of cannabis. Bartenders will adjust old fashioneds according to the season, using summer peach or winter melon. There’s also boozy versions of childhood drinks, including one that tastes like Otter Pops and another similar to Capri Sun. Readers might recall that CBD cocktails were essentially banned in 2018. Recently, California Assembly Bill 45, which passed in October 2021, made it legal to serve them again.
Despite Proposition 64 legalizing recreational use of cannabis in 2016, it’s unclear whether it’s fully legal to serve cannabis-infused prepared meals, in even private settings. While AB 45 allowed the serving of CBD cocktails in public establishments, cannabis-infused food is still off the table. For years, chefs in the LA area have been preparing private cannabis dinners with murky legal grounds. Savegh plans to host hosting private, members-only dinners at Nostalgia at a cost of about $295 per person. In comparison, West Hollywood’s currently-closed Original Cannabis Cafe allows on-site cannabis consumption without a membership fee in the form of smoking, vaping, or drinking (though the food itself does not contain cannabis).
West Hollywood remains at the forefront as a cannabis-friendly city. As adult use was legalized in 2017, WeHo officials developed a process to promote cannabis businesses. This made it possible to consume cannabis products on-site within the city’s borders. The Original Cannabis Cafe — which opened in 2018 — remains the first and only establishment of its kind throughout Southern California. More lounges were due to follow, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to much of that for now. Still, Original Cannabis Cafe proved that cannabis consumption is very much here to stay.
In Orange County, there are still plans to open a consumption lounge at Santa Ana dispensary Planet 13. In Nevada, several other consumption establishments are expected to open in Las Vegas in 2022. At the moment, cannabis food is limited to private residences and not in public spaces, with Las Vegas’s Cannabis Regulation Commission mainly focusing on city dispensaries and regulation.
Over the last few years, Sayegh has been hiring chefs to prepare private cannabis meals throughout California, Florida and Colorado. He has plans to expand into New York, Arizona, and Illinois, states that recently passed their own adult or medical use cannabis laws. The tasting menu process is one that Sayegh has been streamlining over the years. Sayegh works with experienced chefs, but provides guidance from his experience cooking with cannabis, and how to pace the meals.
“The Herbal Chef has grown so much,” says Sayegh. “We’re getting 200 emails a month from people around the United States. We’re hiring chefs in other states, training them, and giving them cannabis knowledge. They’re very well accomplished chefs already. We’re basically implementing the cannabis portion of it all, showing them our steps of service, and how we operate.” In a way, he’s able to outsource the information and elevate the implementation of cannabis into high-quality food across the country.
The Herbal Chef team took over the shuttered Speak Easy space nearby Santa Monica College. It’s a substantial property, with a 3,000 square foot interior and 3,000 square foot patio. Also next year, Sayegh plans to publish his first cookbook and release an edibles line that will be available at dispensaries. Once open, Nostalgia will keep daily hours from noon to 2 a.m.