This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2016.
Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In this edition, we hear from a restaurateur who makes ends meet through less than legal means.
Most restaurants are barely making it. To survive financially, a lot of restaurants will engage in shady tactics like paying employees off the books or underreporting earnings to avoid paying taxes. And while I’m not against any of that, I prefer to stay legit on the books, and choose to have a side hustle of selling weed instead.
I knew that there would be a lot of unanticipated costs for running my own restaurant, but wasn’t until I was the boss and paying the bills myself that it really hit me. Rent, gas, electricity, food costs, trash services, linens, staff payroll—these are just some of the things that are fixed costs. But then there’s paying the florist, lawyers, PR company, insurance, workman’s comp, and everything else the restaurant needs to function daily.
As an owner, my salary doesn’t get taxed out. So at the end of my second year in business, I was tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt to Uncle Sam. One way for me to have paid all that back was to borrow money, which would just put me in more debt. So on top of the tens of thousands of dollars I’m in debt because of the restaurant, I have to borrow more?
So, what’s a faster way to pay everything off? Sell weed.
I’ve been smoking pot regularly since I was 16. I’m always going to have weed in my life, no matter what. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to start selling, and I pondered it for a while. I asked myself, do I have the connections? Do I know growers with good quality? Can I acquire large quantities of it? Getting weed is easy, but getting a big amount of weed is a different ball game. Now you’re having to deal with bigger quantities, which means bigger risk, and that means more jail time. At the end of the day, however, I’m also taking a risk by opening a restaurant.
Maybe you don’t buy enough drugs, but you don’t ask drug dealers questions like that—ever.
I try to do things as smartly as possible. I don’t do stupid things like sell to a thousand different people or make it public that I’m selling. If you sell to people you don’t know or that you’ve never met before, that’s when issues arise. I have a group of people who I know that I sell to, and that’s it. I’m not here to be the biggest fucking weed dealer in the fucking world. I’m here to be able to pay my fucking bills and maybe have a little extra money on the side.
Let’s talk about numbers: I can buy a pound of weed at my cost for $2,000. If I sell it by the pound—if it’s good quality, depending on the market—I can sell it at $3,000 to $3,500. When you’re selling in bigger quantities, you have to know who you’re selling to, and that’s always the risk. Or you can break the weed down into smaller portions. Say I break down one pound of weed into 16 ounces, with an ounce of weed typically going for $300 to $400. So let’s say I sell 16 ounces at $300 per ounce—that’s $4,800. I just doubled my profit. Dividing it takes longer to sell, on top of holding on to the product longer. And that increases your risk of getting caught. So it’s like, do you want to sell the pound at once and get rid of it fast but take a risk with having harsher legal consequences by selling to someone who could potentially fuck you over, or do you break it down and make a bigger profit? If you have the time, you break it down and sell it by the ounce. And that’s how I normally do it.
All my customers are contacts I get through my friends. I text them to say, “Hey, I have some herb to sell.” That’s it. When I’m selling to these people, they have no idea I’m a chef and own my own restaurant. I know I’m a public figure who’s regularly in the food media because of my restaurant, but why would these people know me? To them, I’m just the guy with the weed. If I don’t fucking know you and you’re asking me, “Hey, so what do you do?” that’s not drug dealer etiquette. Maybe you don’t buy enough drugs, but you don’t ask drug dealers questions like that—ever.
Selling weed works for me, but it doesn’t work for all people. The first time I sold, I was nervous—walking into the guy’s apartment, thinking, This guy could be a cop. Those nerves never come to me anymore, though.
It all goes back to the risk and reward. Be it legal or illegal, weed is not going away in my life.
As told to Tae Yoon