Pot for thought: marijuana’s impact on local food businesses

Amherst's eateries may soon thrive thanks to the munchie-driven masses.

January 30, 2019

(Ryan Van Lenning/ Creative Commons)

(Ryan Van Lenning/ Creative Commons)

Smokers aren’t the only ones excited about the legalization of recreational marijuana. Restaurants in downtown Amherst hope that ‘the munchies’ will drive business to their doors.

With bans on smoking recently lifted statewide and the construction of one of the few retail marijuana stores in nearby Northampton, students and local residents alike have been rushing to satisfy their cravings at some of the many popular eateries in the Pioneer Valley.

An active ingredient in marijuana called tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, stimulates appetite and intensifies flavors, making it a struggle for users to avoid snacking. And now, businesses in Amherst such as Insomnia Cookies and Antonio’s Pizza say they are being bombarded with business by starving stoners.

Insomnia Cookies manager Jeryaliss Santiago often notes that the cookies behind the glass aren’t the only things that are baked in the store.

“They [high customers] tend to buy a lot more than what a regular customer gets, who hasn’t smoked or anything like that. We see it a lot on the weekends,” Santiago said.

She believes the push for pot in Amherst has helped the cookie business and will continue to do so.

Right around the corner, a massive line of hungry, perhaps stoned, customers flow out of Antonio’s Pizza on Friday and Saturday nights.

Jay Carreiro, an Antonio’s employee, says it’s hard to pinpoint the percentage of marijuana users among their customers—but also that there’s definitely a stoner crowd that the venue sees regularly.

Carreiro related this surge in business to a statement by Peyton Manning about the handful of Papa John’s locations that he purchased in Denver. The professional football player said, “Pizza business is pretty good out here, believe it or not, due to some recent law changes [in reference to the legalization of cannabis].”

Carreiro hopes to see a similar boom in pizza sales at Antonio’s.

For a long time, the surrounding area has had ties to the plant  Extravaganja, an outdoor celebration that draws thousands of marijuana supporters annually, took place on the Amherst Common from 1991 until 2016. The event has since moved to Northampton, and is run by the University of Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.

Jake Aldrich, a student at the University of Amherst, believes the munchies are a contributing factor to the large crowds at some popular downtown restaurants.

Aldrich says he’s seen Insomnia Cookies drawing in customers who have the munchies, and that the venue should definitely target marijuana users.

It’s not necessarily the same for traditional area restaurants like Johnny’s Tavern or Fitzwilly’s. Despite the local optimism centered around the drug, the legalization of marijuana could have some negative impacts as well.

According to the Denver Post, many employees in Denver are leaving their restaurant jobs to the higher-paying weed industry. Workers can earn more by trimming marijuana and even baking edibles. Because of this, some Colorado restaurants have become short-staffed due to lower-demand jobs with better pay in the weed force.

It’s still too early to say if employees at Antonio’s Pizza and Insomnia Cookies will have to deal with issues like this. However, with the marijuana business expanding, it is something food businesses intend to prepare for.

Whether a user purchases a gram from a local dispensary or is driven by the munchies to go out for a cookie sandwich, Amherst cannot avoid the certain influence that legalization of marijuana will have on local culture.

Email Samantha at [email protected].

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