The move to legalize marijuana in Connecticut has a New Haven entrepreneur eyeing his next move: Marketing a homegrown marijuana-infused barbecue sauce. And becoming “the Heinz ketchup of the cannabis industry.”
The entrepreneur, Ricky Evans, is already known for his barbecue and his sauce. He owns Ricky D’s Rib Shack and he was spotted at the state Capitol last week looking to convince lawmakers to legalize recreational use of marijuana this year — so he can start selling a new version of his patented sauce that will get fans of his ribs buzzing even more than they do now.
Five years ago, he was selling his popular barbecue from a food truck. Now he has a restaurant on Winchester Avenue and is selling his own line of Kansa-Lina barbecue sauce and dry rub in local grocers like Elm City Market in New Haven, T & J IGA Supermarket in East Haven and at The Spice Mill in Manchester and on Amazon, where you can get his Rib Shack starter kit.
But the idea to create an infused sauce as another means for diversifying the business came about during a lull in dishing out his signature brisket, pulled pork, and ribs last fall. Rising meat prices and other competitive pressures are requiring him to think of new product lines to stay in business.
“My brother and I do a lot of brainstorming,” he said. “And I was like ‘Yo, what if we had marijuana-infused barbecue sauce?’”
The idea hit him like lightning. Evans has a medical marijuana card. He was aware that there are all kinds of ways to consume marijuana. For those who prefer not to smoke, there are tinctures, vapes, and edibles.
“I’ve been in a few dispensaries. They have cookies. They have brownies,” he said. “They don’t have sauces. How come my sauce can’t be the first?”
Because he manufactures and distributes his own brand of barbecue sauce, Evans has some experience with that end of the business. But to move into Connecticut’s budding cannabis industry he was going to need some help.
Luckily, his brother remembered a business card that someone had left at the restaurant.
That card was from Kebra Smith Bolden, of Women Grow Connecticut and Cannabis Consultants of Connecticut. Evans gave her a call.
Before that phone call, Evans said, he had no clue what it meant to infuse his sauce with marijuana.
Smith Bolden, who was up at the Capitol at the start of the legislative session last week with Evans and other advocates, recently told the Hartford Courant, that she believes legalization in Connecticut to be inevitable given the paths of Massachusetts and New Jersey and the overwhelming support for such a move in the state.
Through Smith Bolden, Evans participated in meetings and classes where he learned about the different components of marijuana. He learned that he would not just chop or grind up weed and add it to his sauce — at least not yet. But that he could add CBD, a compound found in marijuana that is legal to sell on its own in most cases, as an extract.
“It doesn’t get you high, and it can be used for medicinal uses,” he said. Evans said his understanding is that selling a sauce with CBD extract would be perfectly legal in the state.
With the state legislature gearing up again to consider legalizing recreation use of marijuana, Evans sees greater opportunity for his business. If legalization passes, he would infuse his sauce with marijuana, which would have THC, the compound in cannabis that actually makes you high
Evans’ regular, marijuana-free barbecue sauce retails for about $8 for a 16-ounce bottle. His marijuana-infused sauce, which he is calling Canna-Lina, would retail for about $40 a bottle. He said he already has interest coming out of Massachusetts where the recreational use of marijuana is now legal.
3.0: Pot Mayo?
Eventually, Evans said, he might add infused ketchups, mustards and mayonnaise. While Evans currently makes and bottles the Canna-Lina sauce himself, his regular sauce is made and packaged with Onofrio’s Ultimate Foods here in New Haven. He also works with a local printer to provide his labels. He would seek to source the cannabis for his sauce from a homegrown cultivator who could help him pick a strain that best compliments his recipe.
“It might be funny, but I could be the Heinz ketchup of the cannabis industry,” he said. “Why use this sauce? They could just have somebody make their own sauce; they don’t have to use me. My argument is: I have a sauce that is tested every day. People enjoy the food and the product I have. I say that humbly. I’m still a small business. These gaps here of no customer coming. My expenses tab is still running.”
“As a small business, as an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for innovative ways to drive business so I can keep the lights and gas on,” he added.
Last week Evans joined Smith Bolden up at the state Capitol for the opening day of the new state legislative session, when legalization is again on the agenda. He said it was his first time making such a trip, but it won’t be his last this session.
“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do keep my business going,” he said.