Along with esteemed cannabis chef Keith Brooks, Seth Yaffe helped design and build the much-loved cannabis-infused bar pizza that made headlines out of Ermont, a medical dispensary, in Quincy a few years back.
Yaffe is currently the COO of the Hub-based Society Cannabis Co., which “grow[s] and stock[s] finely crafted cannabis strains and innovative products spanning infusions, concentrates, edibles, topicals, and tinctures,” as well as a partner at EFX cannabis consulting. We asked him about the bar pizza niche and what it takes to pay homage to two cultures—pot, and that of an extremely particular species of pizza pie.
For those who may be unaware, what makes a bar pizza so special and different from, say, a Greek or Neapolitan-style pizza?
To start out I would state that I am not a historical pizza expert, although I love many different styles. My experience with bar pizza has been regional on the shores of Mass; it’s a style pizza that is served at bars, baked in a round tin with higher walls around the dish. It is usually smaller than what most people would consider a “regular” Greek or Neapolitan-style pizza, as each pan is around 6 to 8 inches. The metal pan’s high walls allow for a very crispy crust and bottom of the pizza. The size also allows each pizza to be a single-serving pizza rather than one that is shared with the table. In essence, [it’s] a way to be able to eat a whole pizza while sitting and having a beer.
When searching for a single-serving dish to infuse with cannabis, this seemed like a great option for us at Ermont.
There are a lot of bar pizza purists out there, can you weigh in?
Most fans of the genre are unbelievably passionate about what they believe is the best in the state. Sometimes more so than their allegiance to sports teams. A lot of the time, it is also a family tradition; if your parents took you there, it’s in your blood. These feelings seem to be a little stronger on this uber regional style of pizza, [more] than pizza styles that have been developed in other states or countries. Almost like the argument of who makes the best Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
What made you want to blend your passion of bar pizza and cannabis?
When we started making edibles at Ermont in Quincy, the unbelievable edible chef, Keith Brooks (formally of Flour in Boston) and I were searching for some ideas on full individual meals for medical patients. We had made Kraft-style mac and cheese kits, and started thinking about some local regional ideas. As we were located in Quincy, we would go and have lunch bar pizza at the Lynwood Cafe [in Randolph]. We realized that creating frozen bar pizza could be a great way to incorporate an infused meal into someone’s day.
What challenges did you face when creating your infused pizza?
The challenges we faced in creating unique and dynamic edibles in a very heavily regulated state was normally threefold: consistency of dosing each item in large batches for production efficiency, homogenization of THC distillate in whatever food we were creating to prevent crashouts or uneven dosing in each part of the edible; and shelf stabilization.
In Massachusetts, a sample of every batch of infused product has to be tested by a third-party lab. So an edible made today may take five to seven days in order to be sold; as lab pickups were only a few days a week, there was a three to four day turnaround time for test results, and then each item had to be individually labeled with that batch’s unique test results. This is why we decided to do individual frozen single-serving pizza, as nothing could really be served fresh.
From a consultant standpoint, what are the parallels you see between starting a dispensary and pizzeria? Can you offer any insight on the do’s and don’ts?
The similarities are: being able to stand behind the quality of the product; being knowledgeable of the menu; cooking with love; and possessing a pure sense of hospitality. Knowing your consumer base, and delivering the best product/menu to them is where it all begins.
After that, it’s about creating a culture for your staff and your guests that makes everyone feel supported and respected. If you aren’t trying to get better everyday, learn as much as you can, and have fun, then it’s hard to sustain anything worthwhile.