Hothouse Holyoke is a prospective recreational marijuana business that would cook the weed into fruit snacks resembling beef jerky for sale in local stores.
Newcomers Audrey Park and Lucas Wiggins, former school teachers, are renovating and leasing 5,000-square-feet in the former Norman Paper Co. mill at 5B Appleton St. in the Flats Neighborhood beside the Connecticut River.
“We love Holyoke. We want to make this our home,” said Park, 29.
“We’re learning a lot,” said Wiggins, 30. “I’d say most of our confidence is in, I’m the grower, she can bake.”
“Lucas and I are problem-solvers,” Park said. “We’re not afraid of problems.”
The City Council Tuesday at City Hall referred to its Ordinance Committee an application from Hothouse Holyoke for a special permit to run a Marijuana Manufacturing Establishment (MME) at 5B Appleton St.
An application for the other approval the couple needs, a license from the state, has been submitted to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, Wiggins said.
As for financing, Park and Wiggins said they have estimated they will need over $300,000 to get started and were confident of obtaining the funds, including through family and friends.
“We’re still in the process of raising it all. It’s up and down, but yes, I’d say I’m confident,” Wiggins said.
Their growing and processing of the marijuana into food would use 100 percent organic ingredients and be gluten-free, they said. (see video above)
Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat. It can cause health problems such as digestive disorders in some people.
Park said they are confident their marijuana edibles, made with apples, strawberries and organic ingredients and without gluten, will establish a niche in the fledgling market of cannabis-based products.
“I don’t think we will have much of an issue selling our product,” Park said.
The fruit snacks would appeal to marijuana dispensaries that haven’t outfitted their kitchens to be gluten-free but want to offer such a product, Wiggins said.
About 3,000-square-feet of the space would be devoted to the cultivation of the marijuana, with perhaps 1,000 plans, he said.
Ideally, they would obtain the special permit from the city and license from the state to allow for Hothouse Holyoke to begin operating this year. Sales would begin five or six months after that, they said.
The plan is for the business at first to employ only Park and Wiggins, with six to eight employees hired by the end of year one and a few more after that, they said.
Part of their confidence stems from positive dealings in pursuing the permitting process and getting questions answered with city departments, especially the Department of Planning and Economic Development, they said.
“The whole planning department was just so great,” Park said.
“We were working with Sarah (Meier-Zimbler, development specialist) and she closed with, ‘Welcome to Holyoke.’ So that made us feel good,” Wiggins said.
Park, originally from California, and Wiggins, from Texas, met while both were working in a boot-camp-for teachers program outside Fort Worth. Park taught English and Wiggins math.
“We were like kind of at our same spot in life,” Wiggins said.
“We make a really good team together,” Park said.
In 2016, they moved to Boston to seek better-paying teaching jobs. Massachusetts voters later that year approved a ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana. Voters had legalized marijuana for medical use in 2012.
“When Massachusetts passed that in 2016, we felt, wow, we came at the right time. It planted the seed in us,” Park said.
Holyoke is drawing marijuana entrepreneurs, with Mayor Alex B. Morse having been one of the first elected officials to embrace the industry as an economic development catalyst.
Hothouse Holyoke’s proposal would put the business next door to another prospective cannabis venture. Holyoke Gardens LLC, a proposed recreational marijuana cultivation business, wants to open at 5 Appleton St. Its special permit application is in the Ordinance Committee.