Entrepreneur Taking Leap Of Faith With Marijuana-Infused Syrups

By Evan Bush
The Seattle Times.

Jamie Hoffman pours a mixture of what looks like pond scum into a cheesecloth bag set up to strain over a plastic measuring bucket below.

“We are mad scientists!” she says to her employee, Calvin Kingsly Ward, before letting out a cackle.

Wearing white lab coats and surrounded by beakers, the two wouldn’t look out of place at Fred Hutch, or perhaps in a science-fiction film. The green substance, though, isn’t algae being tested in a lab — it’s a mixture of marijuana trim and ethanol.

Licensed recently by the state as a pot processor, Hoffman is converting the green slime into THC-laden oil.

Then, she and her employees at Craft Elixirs in Wallingford will begin infusing flavored simple syrups with the oil.

Among the flavors are Bagley Ave. Brew, a coffee and chicory variety, and Wallingford Wanderlust, which features fresh strawberries and peppercorn. She expects bottles with two servings of THC to sell for about $30.

Question: What are you supposed to do with pot-infused syrups?

A: Add them to pretty much anything, says Hoffman. Drop a couple of tablespoons into sparkling water for a soda-type beverage, drizzle them on toast or cook with them in a barbecue glaze.

For now, though, the green liquid drips into the bucket, and the plant matter separates from the ethanol loaded with THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gets you high.

“It is pretty geeky, right?” Hoffman says. “I love it.”

Hoffman, 49, is a Chicago native who pronounces “Oh My God” with emphasis on “Gee-Ahd.” She studied marketing at Northwestern and founded a rooftop and wall-gardening business called ChicagoEarth.

Last May, Hoffman took a leap of faith. She cashed in CDs and savings accounts, sold furniture and put her condo on the market with one goal: to fund her foray into Washington’s state-licensed pot industry.

Then she packed many of her remaining possessions into her Volkswagen Tiguan and set out for Seattle.

An experienced entrepreneur, Hoffman also knew a bit about pot — she’d been experimenting with edibles in her Chicago condo for several years.

Still, Hoffman said, starting Craft Elixirs has been an “excruciating process.” She had difficulty finding real estate initially.

Construction costs soared to $100,000, about double what she projected. At one point, she became so impatient with the licensing process that she sent a case of Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza from her hometown to get the Liquor Control Board’s attention.

Hoffman, who is self-financing her business, said her credit cards are maxed out, and this month will make or break her business.

She’s using the last of her money to buy marijuana trim — stems, leaves and other waste left over after the plant’s more valuable flower has been removed.

“I haven’t bounced a check since I was 22,” she said. But “if I don’t have money coming in October, that’ll be it.”

The good news: Pot retailers are excited about her syrups.

“Her product stands out,” said Tacoma retailer Don Muridan, whose business is one of at least 20 that have ordered from Craft Elixirs.

The bad news: She’s working through some growing pains in production. Because the state requires edibles to be consistent throughout, Hoffman had to hire a consultant and learn a new process for infusing pot.

She’s still refining her technique.

Although she successfully produced a small first batch of oil that was high in THC, her second was a disaster. She’d never worked with a full pound of pot before. Nor had she used trim. Everything went wrong.

First, the mixture got caught in a charcoal filter. Much of it turned black and was ruined. Then, when she transferred the remainder to a hot plate, it began to boil too high. To make matters worse, Hoffman said, the gloves she was wearing still had marijuana trim clinging to them and some of the dry pot brushed off into her mixture.

“It was a mess,” Hoffman said. “I’m embarrassed to say I wasted a pound by accident.”

Hoffman remains undaunted. “I learn from my mistakes,” she said. “I expected them.”

Friends and colleagues say Hoffman’s determined energy and creative spirit will see her through.

“I don’t think I’ve seen someone so productive,” said Joseph Harris, Craft Elixirs’ office manager. “She’ll find a way to effectively utilize anything.”

Instead of buying a secure compartment required for transporting pot, he said, Hoffman built one with scrap metal.

When her freezer ran out of space, Hoffman added a vacuum sealer to the shopping list. They’d try to compress their pot and save space that way.

When retailers said they weren’t sure about her product because they didn’t think customers would know what to do with her syrups, she held an impromptu “food porn” day with her two employees.

After a run to the grocery store, they drizzled the syrup over a bruschetta, on pancakes and as part of a vinaigrette for a Waldorf salad. Then they held a photo shoot to entice retailers.

Hoffman and Ward are developing a series of recipes that retailers can share with consumers. If you overheard their conversations, you’d think the two were producing a cookbook, not marijuana edibles.

Hoffman also has the advantage of being one of the first to market. Statewide, just seven edibles processors have had products approved by the Liquor Control Board.

“The edible market is still lagging behind. We are getting gouged on edibles,” said retailer Muridan. Hoffman’s product is “going to be very affordable compared to some edibles out there.”

As a woman and outsider, Hoffman brings a different perspective to the nascent industry.

“Men (in the pot industry) are … using sexuality to promote their business,” Hoffman said.

She wants to appeal to what she sees as pot’s “new market — people that have given themselves permission and think it’s OK now to enjoy marijuana. Not medical. Not guys who want to get really high.”

She also brings a sense of style and flair for detail.

When Hoffman hired Frida Clements, a local artist and designer she met at Bumbershoot, she asked Clements to “create a bottle of syrup that would look like you’re bringing a bottle of wine to a friend’s home.”

Clements delivered. Craft Elixirs bottles would look at home on Pinterest or Etsy.

During the holidays, elixirs will come to retailers wrapped in holiday tissue paper.

She hopes consumers this holiday season will take a chance on her syrups — and reward her for taking a chance on pot in Seattle.

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