A recreational cannabis dispensary long planned for 1914 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town could open in early 2023. Credit: JP Calubaquib / Provided

WEST TOWN — Fifty/50, the group behind a handful of West Town bars and restaurants, is partnering with former 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar on a project that aims to bring good food, medical care and relaxation to the neighborhood.

And it’s not going to be legal until Jan. 1.

Fifty/50 co-founder and co-owner Scott Weiner confirmed Tuesday his group is partnering with Pawar on a cannabis restaurant, wellness spa and medical clinic — a project first reported by Crain’s.

Ameya Pawar Credit: DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Weiner said the joint venture will exist somewhere in West Town, but he couldn’t specify where, exactly.

He did say it’s an idea that will holistically blend cannabis-based medical care, spa offerings and, of course, food.

“I’m aware it’s still somewhat polarizing to some people,” he said of cannabis use. “This isn’t some stuff coming from the black market that just gets ya high. I don’t want to feel high. I wanna feel like I just had a really incredible dining experience, where I was connected to the food and connected to the people in a different way.”

Pawar, a former alderman who unsuccessfully ran for city treasurer this year, told Crain’s he hopes to snag one of the 75 new licenses to operate a retail dispensary in Chicago once marijuana becomes legal statewide Jan. 1.

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Additional partners to join Pawar and Weiner include:

  • Dr. George Chiampas, an emergency room doctor and medical director of the Chicago Marathon
  • Nikki Hayes, president of Laborers International Union of North America, Local 1001
  • Hanah Jubeh, a political consultant and fundraiser.

“We’re focused on total wellness,” Pawar told Crain’s. “It’s going to be a place where you could get a massage or take a yoga class, get a bite to eat and stop at the dispensary on your way out.”

Pawar could not immediately be reached.

In his research on cannabis-inspired restaurants in Amsterdam and in states where weed is already legal, Weiner said he has not come across a project that combines food with medical care and spa services.

“Dr. Chiampas is a very, very special doctor,” he said. “He is equally as important in this project, and I dont think that exists anywhere.”

Weiner, who is on the executive board of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said he generally opposes bringing organized labor into the food and beverage industry, because wage increases don’t always jibe with the demands of keeping the doors open.

In the case of the cannabis industry, however, Weiner said he’s glad this project is involving union leadership from the outset.

“This is one time where I truly feel organized labor, government, business, can all be on the same page here,” he said. “Everybody needs this to be successful. … If the business fails, nobody will get any tax revenue.”

“This state’s only gonna get one chance at legalizing cannabis recreationally,” he continued. “We don’t have a monopoly on this. That’s why I feel organized labor will make a great parter in this because our interests are all aligned.”  

Over the last 18 months, Weiner said he has attended nearly a dozen “underground” cannabis-infused dinners, where chefs have prepared everything from cannabis-infused swordfish ceviche to broccoli cheddar soup.

“Different strains, different styles [of cannabis] can do different things to food,” he said. “Some have medicinal qualities, or uplifting things. It was eye opening when I started to realize it. So for me, that’s a part of it.” 

RELATED: With Legal Weed, South Side Neighborhoods Hurt By War On Drugs Will Get Economic Boost, Officials Say: ‘This Is Reparations’

Illinois is the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis use, and the only state to attempt to address racial disparities head-on.

Currently, 81 percent of owners and founders of marijuana businesses are white, and 73 percent are male.

Gov. JB Pritzker’s new law calls for $12 million from the Cannabis Business Development Fund to be set aside to assist people of color in the industry. 

The bill also tackles criminal justice, making 770,000 marijuana conviction records eligible for expungement, according to State Sen. Heather Steans.

Pritzker’s office has said it will create a $30 million low-interest loan program to defray startup costs. The state will also offer “social equity applicant” status for those who live in areas affected by the war on drugs, or have been convicted of minor cannabis offenses.

Pawar told Crain’s he plans to apply for social equity applicant status and aims to hire more than 50 percent of his staffers from areas affected by the war on drugs.

Weiner confirmed that information Tuesday, adding that a handful of his employees already hail from neighborhoods that might fall into that category.

Many of the workers at West Town Bakery, for example, commute from Englewood.

“So for me, that’s an easy one,” Weiner said of Pawar’s 50 percent workforce goal. “The restaurant industry is a place where people can gain a solid footing and build a life without necessarily having to have a master’s degree.”

The Fifty/50 group manages several restaurants and bars throughout Chicago, but neighbors are most likely to recognize the following West Town staples:

Owners Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner opened Roots in May 2011.

Since then, the group has added a second Roots in Lincoln Square at 2200 W. Lawrence Ave. Construction is underway at two new Roots locations, according to Fifty/50’s website; one at Piper’s Alley in Old Town and another in the South Loop.

Jamie Nesbitt Golden contributed to this report.

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