Dining Destination: Michigan's first cannabis lounge part of a bigger movement in Hazel Park's scene

Hazel Park, a first-ring suburb only 2.8 square miles wide, hasn't enjoyed the popular destination distinction of its 9 Mile neighbor to the west, Ferndale. But an innovative foodie scene is changing that.

The city was one of the first to embrace cannabis with fancy dispensaries dotting its main corridors, including Breeze which is owned by Trucenta (a Troy-based cannabis cultivation, processing, wholesale and retail company). The company’s newest venture, Hot Box Social is the first cannabis consumption lounge in the state. The venue may officially make Hazel Park a cannabis destination. 

City manager Ed Klobuchar and former city attorney Jeff Campbell explain that the decision to support the cannabis industry was easy. First for the increase in tax revenue, but also because it was popular among voters.

Nowfal Akash. Photo supplied.It's a sentiment echoed by Nowfal Akash, Chief Information Officer of Trucenta which owns Hot Box Social. “You’ve got a community where 75.1% of people voted for Proposition One — which was the adult-use bill.”

"I think that [Hazel Park] has integrated well, with the cannabis businesses, in the sense that, like, everybody supports everybody.” 

Leaf Magazine called on-site consumption lounges “more than just smoke dens where stoners go to get high – they’re hubs of sovereignty, where cannabis smoke is a physical manifestation of freedom.” 

“We took a building that was completely dilapidated and red-tagged, and threw in a significant amount of money and resources into it,” Akash says of the new space located at 23610 John R Rd.

"It's part of the community now, it feels like it's been there forever. We wanted to integrate really well. And it's definitely a venue that can be leveraged for non-consumption events, too. We have an Art Council holding some meetings there. We've had some local fundraisers as well.” 

Hot Box Social is currently only open for special events, but the plan is to be open to the public by summer. “And we're welcoming anybody from the canna-curious to the canna experts, right? So, we'll have people on staff that will help educate and hold people's hands through the entire process and make sure that everybody gets home safe.”

Hot Box Social. Photo supplied.Akash notes that Hot Box Social aims to collaborate with local restaurants and bars as a destination where people can come before or after patronizing one of its neighbors. He adds that ultimately Hot Box Social will have a dining component that will feature a kitchen in two shipping containers to provide food to the space as well as to the public via a walkup window. The food will not be infused with cannabis, but Akash envisions offering infused sauces for guests.

“We're looking at a line of condiments that will be infused at minimal dosages, ketchup, mustard and mayo, you know, ranch, whatever other types of things that we can offer that would then complement the food and you can apply yourself that would have no confusion, no mistake and no issues with somebody getting served something that, you know, they shouldn't be getting served.” 

Cannabis is bringing big dollars and visitors to Hazel Park which is benefiting other businesses in the area. Further, the city is seeing increasing homeownership and residents make up most employees at many of the city’s bars and restaurants. Like at Frame and Frame Bar. 

Frame co-owner Joe Vaughn (left), and Mark Kurlyandchik, Frame’s Editorial Director. Photo by Steve Koss.

“A bunch of the Frame staff are Hazel Park residents. One of the lead bartenders lives across the street. Both of our dishwashers are longtime HP residents. One of our servers runs a candle company with his wife out of their house in HP. And we also recently hosted a fundraising dinner for the Hazel Park Fire Department,” said Mark Kurlyandchik, Frame’s Editorial Director. “So just to be clear, it’s not just “new” HP that we’re supporting.” 

Frame, owned by Cari and Joe Vaughn is two concepts under one roof. Frame Bar is open to the public with dining options and cocktails, while Frame is a creative hub that hosts an ever-changing lineup of culturally rich dinners, guest collaborations, workshops, book events, and wine tastings.

“It’s like this clubhouse of the food world,” Joe Vaughn says of Frame. He explains that the Hazel Park location is perfect to tempt hard-core Detroiters and appeal to suburbanites who may be reticent to cross 8 Mile. 

Kurlyandchik, a former restaurant critic and dining reporter for The Detroit Free Press, is working with the Vaughns to curate unique experiences.

“Food is such a great storytelling platform, because every dish has a story, and every family who cooks has a story around why that dish is important to them,” he explains. “There's something so just like, elemental about eating.  I mean, it's like, you're literally putting this thing that I just made into your body, and it is nourishing you and it is doing something to you."

"There are so many stories of why a dish is served the way it is, it's just, I've always been fascinated by it. And I've always thought that it’s one thing to eat a sandwich. But it's another thing to know the baker.” 

Most recently, Frame hosted dinners that corresponded to food-centered films that were part of the Freep Film Festival. The last of the four-night run was a screening of "Come Back Anytime", about the proprietor of a tiny noodle restaurant that creates community in Tokyo, one bowl of ramen at a time. The film was paired with dinner by Chef Mike Ransom of Ima.

The film screenings are held in a new tent which is a private film space that will also be the site of more dinner and movie pairings at Frame this summer. 

Kurlyandchik adds that he hopes that Frame “becomes like the heart of Hazel Park and sort of already feels that way, at least, like from a food standpoint.” He adds that the cultural hub of Hazel Park celebrates not just chefs, but also artists and makers.

Akash says that Hazel Park’s growth and evolution is a collaborative process that has been demonstrated in numerous ways. He notes that the city is more welcoming. “I am definitely seeing a change and a shift in the right direction. Let's put it that way,” he adds that the city recently passed resolutions in support of people of color, transgender rights, and other LGBTQ+ issues.

He notes that many of Trucenta’s employees are moving to the city and are of varying ages, races, and genders, but adds that they have one thing in common — they are all “looking for more cool things to do where they live."

“I think that's the goal of a lot of the businesses,” he adds. “to be more welcoming, and attract people to come and shop and, and eat and walk and play and do all kinds of fun stuff.”

Taste the Diaspora Detroit co-founders Ederique Goudia, Jermond Booze, and Raphael Wright prepare dishes at Frame as featured chefs.

All photos by Steve Koss, unless otherwise noted.
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