Mindy Segal paced around her popular Bucktown cafe on a sunny Tuesday in late September, unboxing kitschy vintage dishes and talking about weed.
The James Beard Award-winning pastry chef uses pot to treat severe migraines and manage chronic back pain, favoring vape pens over smoking dried cannabis flower.
From her pot to her dishware to the seven types of hot chocolate on the menu at her restaurant, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, Segal is particular and likes things her way. So when she combined some of her passions and launched a line of cannabis-infused edibles in 2015, she wanted to do it on her own terms.
“I felt like, not only was it something I wanted to do, but it was something that I wanted to make a statement about,” Segal said. “Like here’s this James Beard chef, owns her own restaurant, people know who she is, she’s written a cookbook and wow she’s doing cannabis.”
In one fell swoop, Segal shook up the worlds of cannabis and cooking by partnering on the project with River North-based Cresco Labs, the largest marijuana cultivator in the state. The move was lauded as a welcome change for the budding pot business, which has long been hamstrung by stoner stigma.
Before becoming the sought-after celebrity chef known for her punk rock attitude and matching tattoos, Segal studied at Kendall College and worked at the now-shuttered Lincoln Park hot spots Ambria and Charlie Trotter’s. Next came her namesake restaurant, located at 1747 N. Damen Ave., and the coveted 2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
With all that behind her, Segal used her experience and bestselling cookbook, Cookie Love, to craft the recipes for Mindy’s Artisanal Edibles: a smattering of brittles, toffees and cookies made with top-grade marijuana.
“It was a pretty risky move for me,” Segal said.
But the gamble seems to be paying off.
In August, Cresco launched another batch of pot-laced treats bearing the chef’s name. The new line — dubbed “Mindy’s Kitchen” — includes gummies, hard candies and fruit chews that are more accessible to the average pot user than her more gourmet offerings. Segal’s edibles are now sold in all Illinois dispensaries.
Cresco has recently hired more personnel to keep up with the increased production at the company’s Joliet cultivation center, where Segal’s sweets are manufactured and packaged in Illinois.
Matt Rowbotham runs the kitchen at Cresco’s Joliet facility and likens the operation to a “gummy factory.” He’s even taken to calling himself “Weedy Wonka.”
Like Segal, Rowbotham learned his chops at upscale restaurants in the city. Before taking the job with Cresco more than two years ago, he worked at decorated West Town neighborhood haunts Next and The Aviary, which are both co-owned by Michelin Star chef Grant Achatz.
“I’d spent quite a number of years in the fine dining scene in Chicago and just kind of got to a point in my career where I was a little burnt out in the kitchen,” Rowbotham said.
Segal admitted she’s learned a lot about making edibles since hiring Rowbotham, who has a background in molecular gastronomy.
“The way I would make edibles, I would throw a bunch of flower into butter and cook it for 10 hours and burn it and scorch it,” she said jokingly.
Segal no longer works in Cresco’s kitchen, leaving Rowbotham to oversee the bulk of the production process. She now seems perfectly content running her restaurant and managing her growing empire, which also includes Mindy’s Hot Chocolate Bakery at Revival Food Hall in the Loop.
On top of adding the new product line, Cresco has started selling Mindy’s products out of state, a major move for the growing brand. Nevada, Cresco’s second market for Segal’s edibles, legalized recreational pot last year. Sales in the state have since soared past expectations, bringing in nearly $70 million in tax revenue in the first year.
Segal’s edibles are now available in 30 Nevada dispensaries, although a Cresco spokesman said they would likely be sold in every pot shop in the state by year’s end.
“My brand is killing it,” Segal said.
Once Cresco gets new facilities up and running, likely by the start of next year, Segal’s products will also be manufactured and sold in Ohio and California. While Ohio lawmakers have only approved a medical cannabis program, California is primed to become the world’s largest pot market after voters in the state backed a ballot initiative to fully legalize the drug in 2016.
“I am an absolute advocate for legalization of marijuana on all levels. I completely believe that it has medicinal qualities and I believe that it has a great recreational value,” said Segal, who often discusses the future of the cannabis industry with Cresco CEO Charlie Bachtell.
“It’s going to be like the Wild West,” she noted. “A lot of people, including large corporations, are getting their feet wet already and getting in the game.”
Cresco, of course, is one of those corporations. Aside from having cultivation and dispensary facilities in Illinois and Nevada, the company has similar operations in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Cresco’s advance into Ohio and California marks yet another step in its development as a national presence in the pot industry.
“I know that Cresco’s really planning on expanding and becoming a very large company,” Segal said.
“I’m very excited about the future of this industry,” she added. “I’m glad that I’m a part of it and that I’ve sort of almost laid a foundation for other people like me.”
Sun-Times Cannabis Info Guides:
- Cannabis 101: A guide to medical marijuana in Illinois
- Cannabis 101: CDB Oil, what is it, how does it work, is it legal in Illinois
Our coverage also includes:
- Dogs and cannabis: Some pet owners are using it despite vets’ warnings
- Illinois women working to break the cannabis “grass ceiling.”
- Chicago’s epilepsy community ‘ecstatic’ after FDA approves first cannabis-based drug
- Ex-Navy SEAL from Chicago area leading veterans’ battle for cannabis access
- South Side activists push for equity in the pot business
- Teen with Crohn’s disease returns to Illinois after years as a cannabis exile
- Meet the Chicago chef cooking pricy, pot-laced meals for the stars
- Chicago-based magazine cooks up pot-infused recipes