Deliciousness has been missing from the edibles industry for far too long, according to Diana Isaiou, who opened Seattle's American Baked Co. in December 2015.
"I've never tried an edible and said, 'This tastes good,'" she said.
For Isaiou, 52, a cannabis concoction should go beyond the stereotypical pot brownie.
In a pocket-size kitchen in Sodo, Isaiou and her team of pastry chefs whip up cannabis-infused sandwich cookies (including spins on Thin Mints and Oreos), caramels, cheese crackers, and even a soup. ABCo.'s website is Pinterest-meets-pot. The confections look like they'd fit right in at a bougie soiree or even in your grandma's candy bowl. According to Isaiou, her company's products are based on classic American snack foods—but with a sophisticated spin.
"I want marijuana for adults, not for kids. There's a lot of stuff out there for the stoner crowd—and I have nothing against them—but there's also a need for people who aren't comfortable with that," she said. "There are lots of people who aren't pot smokers who are interested in the marijuana industry—[they want] 'marijuana lite.' Those people are scared away from [the culture] of everyone's a stoner and everyone's dabbing. There's more to it than that."
Cannabis users come in all shapes and sizes, said Isaiou. The industry shouldn't focus only on 21-year-old males.
"I'm used to people coming to me with a problem to solve," she said. "I'm trying to bring in people who are wine drinkers. A lot of people failed to look at [women], but it's marketing 101. They have the most buying power, and they make the medical decisions. I go to stores all over and see people from 21 to 91, men, women, all kinds of people at the stores."
Before she became a purveyor of edibles, Isaiou went to cooking school to become a classically trained French chef. She has worked as a sous chef and a baker and has even cooked alongside Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas at the old Cafe Sport.
But when she eventually got fed up with early morning shifts—"I was the worst, bitchiest baker!"—the Seattle-area native found her niche in the world of food styling and recipe development. Over the past 25 years, she has gussied up plates of food for photo shoots and has tested recipes for a number of big-name brands, including Starbucks, Tyson Chicken, and Campbell Soup Company.
As she showed me around the ABCo. headquarters, Isaiou insisted that she isn't trying to do anything groundbreaking. Like any other chef, her goal is to make great-tasting food. "I just try to fill holes that people haven't thought of," she said.
One of those gaps: the industry's lack of savory edibles. Isaiou said she was moved to create nonsugary options when she talked with friends who were going through chemotherapy to treat breast and ovarian cancer.
"They were not marijuana users before they got sick. Then they would use a lot of edibles and [there was] a lot of complaining. In general, it was, 'I'm sick of everything sweet all the time. I feel like shit and I don't really want to eat a big brownie,'" she said.
The most unexpected find in ABCo.'s savory selection of goods is a cannabis-infused tomato basil soup mix. "It's a very American thing, and it's a fun play on things. With our cheddar crackers, it's like lunch!" said Isaiou.
But Isaiou, like many other Americans, still has a sweet tooth. At ABCo., this translates into zingy passion-fruit and raspberry fruit chews, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and salted caramel squares. On a recent sunny evening, I indulged in a dark-chocolate cookie, which is basically an Oreo for stoners-in-training. The cookies, which also come in lemon raspberry and dulce de leche flavors, are sold in packs of two. Each cookie contains five milligrams of CBD, which was just enough to take off some of the day's weight and make things a little fuzzier around the edges.
Though she still works on the occasional commercial, Isaiou is now focusing her energy on navigating the edible cannabis industry with American Baked Co. Her years of working in restaurants and behind the scenes of the food industry have transformed her into a savvy businessperson and tastemaker. Isaiou unashamedly admits to being a food geek. When she's not making delivery runs everywhere from Bellingham to Bellevue, she's poring over blogs and industry reports, and nerding out over snack food flavors and taste trends. Isaiou peppered our conversation with factoids, such as the research-proven perfect cookie size (1.678 inches) and the chemicals needed to make a product taste like chicken noodle soup.
But harking back to her days as a food stylist, Isaiou knows that half of eating or imbibing is appearances. "People eat with their eyes first," she said.