As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Silver, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Azuca, and Chef and Owner of New York City restaurant Bubby’s, a renowned dining institution for nearly three decades. What started as a TriBeca-based pie shop on Thanksgiving Day 1990, quickly turned into a highly successful brunch and dinner destination that now boasts two locations in Manhattan, and seven in Japan. When introduced to cannabis executives in 2013, Ron learned there was a void in the marketplace for trustworthy edibles, prompting him to develop the three-patent-pending Azuca Technology. With chef-quality taste, Azuca allows for faster onset, enabling patients to medicate accurately and effectively. In continuation of his mission to provide the cannabis industry with understandable, easy-to-dose edibles, Ron marries his expertise as a chef, business owner and entrepreneur to create and develop new products and expand globally. Ron is author of two cookbooks, Bubby’s Homemade Pies and Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook.
Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I got my start in the restaurant industry cooking breakfast at Restaurant Florent in Manhattan, but left after a period of time to pursue what I really loved doing: baking pies. And from there, my restaurant Bubby’s was born. We opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1990 when I began selling pies to restaurants and neighbors out of a small kitchen at the corner of Hudson and North Moore St. in TriBeca. Soon breakfast followed and so did the crowds. That location quickly expanded and we now have two locations in Manhattan (Tribeca and Meatpacking District) and seven restaurants in the Tokyo, Japan area. We’re known for our emphasis on comfort foods, weekend brunches and, of course, pies.
I came into the cannabis space five years ago when I was in Las Vegas. I was in talks with a contact about potentially opening a Bubby’s there, but was then introduced to someone who was starting what he called a cannabis hedge fund. Intrigued, he and I began talking and I learned a lot about the emerging cannabis industry — what it offered and more importantly, what it was missing. At the end of the day, I came to realize that the biggest issue in the field was the lack of controllable, low-dose and reliable edibles, and I wanted to change that. Over time, I started to put together an understanding of what eventually became Azuca Technology, which, in essence, is a three-patent-pending technology that makes cannabis molecules more water friendly, consequently creating an edible that’s has a predictable and understandable effect with a short latency. In 2018, Azuca took shape and grew into what it is today. We now have breakthrough edibles products that wouldn’t exist without our technology — like infused simple syrup and raw sugar, among other things — in both THC and hemp-derived CBD-only forms.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting experiences has been the deep dive into the science of cannabis. I have an unusually in-depth understanding of cannabis, having used it all my life. I have also been cooking all my life. I never imagined the two would go hand-in-hand, I never knew that making a million gallons of Hollandaise sauce (a classic emulsification application in cooking) would inform me as to how to make better cannabis edibles. But, this is exactly what happened. Perhaps the interesting lesson is: all paths lead to Rome, even if you think you’re heading somewhere else…
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if it seemed funny at the time, but, when I figured out our edibles technology, which I called flubber at the time, and began experimenting with it, and giving to other people to experiment with, the edibles were literally five times stronger than anything any of us had ever had. Like a 20mg drink felt like a 100mg dose. It took a few times to understand that the thing I had figured out was how to make edibles work more efficiently. I guess it’s funny when a lab accident becomes the perfect solution to a world-wide problem.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Our upcoming initiatives range from product R&D to international market expansion to building out our e-commerce site, which just launched in the beginning of February 2019.
One of the most exciting projects we’re currently working towards, however, is what we call Azuca Inside, which will effectively allow other brands, both in the cannabis space and not, to use Azuca Technology as a way to infuse their goods. Our technology is really extraordinary in that it has the ability to adapt and work in a multitude of different form factors. Our simple syrups, sugars, shortbreads, chocolates, pâte de fruits — those are products that are not often seen in the cannabis space; frankly, the infused simple syrup and sugars are something I’ve never come across elsewhere, they’re truly unique.
In every boardroom today people are wondering how to put CBD or cannabis into their product because it’s something that people want. I think we have the ability to help companies answer this question; we have a solution to the edibles problem and it’s a solution that can transcend into a variety of different sectors.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Mentorship is something I have been fortunate to be blessed with. Without many, many mentors, I would be both dead AND out of business. The one person I would credit any kind of success I actually have is a person named Melissa Silver, who has the difficult task of being married to me. Here is a story: I was wearing a Santa suit at my company Christmas party. A woman was bee-lining for me, and I could tell her intentions were not in alignment with mine, and so I pulled the nearest person toward me and begged her to pretend to talk to me for a minute. That person became my wife. I am so f-ing lucky.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Our goal is to make the discussion easy to understand, and to make cannabis easy to control and enjoy. One of the best things you can be in this instance is straightforward.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Three exciting things: First, the legalization of something that should never have been illegal; second, a scientific dialogue developing that will not only offer a many-layered medicine, but will allow a change in dialogue about what medicine is, and allow patients a choice from prescribed deadly medicines; third, lots of opportunity for young people to be innovative and participate in a new industry.
Three concerns: first, that existing industries will push small players out and ruin cannabis for all of us; second, that people who have been persecuted for it will miss out on every benefit created; third, there isn’t a third concern.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. You have to look ahead to what the law might be changing to, and be prepared to shift quickly. Just when we launched CBD simple syrup in NYC, the health department started cracking down on it. We are quickly working on solutions: talking to our local representatives, making sure our labels and products are compliant, and communicating these changes within our organization and to our other customers quickly.
2. Trust but verify: not to name names, but it really is the wild west out there. Not everything everyone says is true, and a lot of it may very well be true. Do your due diligence.
3. Don’t look in the rearview mirror: there is a lot of noise in the cannabis industry, and it is easy to become obsessed with what is coming up fast behind you. We like keeping our eye on the road ahead. Sometimes I imagine ripping the rearview off and tossing it out the window.
4. Be prepared to be an expert: Everyone is in a steep learning curve. I tend to assume everyone knows a lot more than I do, but, well, often that is not the case. Many times, I find I am able to shed some light on the conversation once I am willing to realize I know more than many people who are wide-eyed and full of pep and about to get crushed in the fray. There is something about being battle-hardened that both makes you an expert and makes you want to keep your mouth shut. Be an expert if you can be helpful.
5. Make new friends and communicate with them. There is a lot of noise in the cannabis industry, and a lot of it emanates from not the prettiest sources. When you do meet someone who is smart, fun, interesting and with whom you have made a connection, lean into it. It’s a new industry. You are a pioneer. Pioneers need friends. Make them, cultivate them, cherish them, share them with other friends.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
In my opinion, this is a rare opportunity to build a new industry, and a new community that is driven by ethics, the long view, and not only for a fast fortune.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I support ideas that build communities, where health, education, wellness and fun are at the foundation, and where each member is encouraged to pursue liberty and happiness to his best ability.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!