Photography by Jessica Turner.

The cannabis business in Texas is ironically stressful.

Legal cannabis is highly regulated. Products require third-party testing and lab reports. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find a banker and impossible to get a business loan. Cannabis can’t be advertised through social media, and building a website is more complicated because it requires a landing page with no mention of CBD or cannabis.

But the opportunity to get in on a newly opened market appealed to Michael Weinstein, aka the Dread Head Chef, and his fiancee, Robin Riddle. They went into business this year with their longtime friend — the Dallas public relations maven — Lisa Oldham.

Weinstein worked for a country club and a high-end restaurant, Mediterraneo, in the 1990s, and then he was the last executive chef under the original owners of The Grape.

After that, he started a business called the Dread Head Chef making dessert salsas. That business started when he was inventing a dessert for his niece who has a wheat allergy. He made corn tortilla chips dusted with sugar and cinnamon, a gluten-free take on a sopapilla, and served it with a strawberry chutney he’d whipped up. Everyone said it looked like chips and salsa.

He brought these Dread Head Chef products to markets and conventions, including a few dealing with cannabis. That inspired him to infuse his dessert salsas with CBD, and a whole new business began to blossom.

“I’ve tried other edibles, and a lot of them are not very good,” Weinstein says. 

Most are made with full-spectrum CBD oil, which he says has a medicinal taste. Some people don’t notice it, but to Weinstein, it overwhelms everything.

So he started working with cannabis flowers purchased from Oak Cliff Cultivators hemp farm to make infused butter for salted caramels. This method gives the caramels an “earthy, grassy” flavor that Weinstein prefers over the chemical taste of the oil.

The business partners attended multiple cannabis conventions in Texas, where CBD is legal and marijuana is not, and in California, where marijuana is legal for recreational use.

They noticed that the market is flooded with gummies, so they decided not to make those. The next most common edibles are chocolates and chocolate-chip cookies, Weinstein says. So that’s why they went for caramels.

“By far, they are the No. 1 seller,” he says.

Besides dessert salsas and caramels, the company also produces tinctures, scented oils, an “intimacy serum” and pet drops named after Weinstein’s bullmastiff, Harper.

A friend in California started sending CBD for Harper, who had arthritis in his back legs, before it was even legal in Texas. Although the dog has since passed away, Weinstein thinks it prolonged his life.

Weinstein, who lives in East Dallas and went to Hillcrest High School, makes all the products in a rented kitchen in Garland.

Oldham, who lives in Oak Cliff, handles the business side.

She doesn’t use marijuana and only takes CBD sparingly because she says she’s sensitive to it. But she purchased hundreds of dollars’ worth of CBD products for research purposes before starting the business.

“And I was like, ‘where is this stuff coming from?’” she says.

Most packaging doesn’t indicate the origin of the CBD.

At cannabis conventions, they heard speakers advising on how to make products as cheaply as possible. There are companies in California that unwrap Jolly Rancher candies, spray them with THC oil and repackage them as their own product, Weinstein says.

That’s why their company, still branded as the Dread Head Chef, only works with hemp growers they know and CBD vendors with whom they have personal relationships.

“We know the provenance of our products,” Oldham says.

They design all their own packaging, which requires the advice of a good lawyer, she says. Regulations are “a moving target,” so they have to tinker with the wording all the time.

“We all have really good printers at home,” she says.

This all started as a way to have something to do when work slowed down for Oldham, Weinstein and Riddle during the pandemic. Oldham says it’s been a positive creative outlet and a way to focus on problems to solve rather than the scary big-picture things going on in the world since 2019.

But they do want to make money selling their products. They found an old-school agriculture-focused bank in Amarillo that’s now carving a niche in cannabis. Their website is up and running. And they take all major credit cards.

Find the Dread Head Chef’s products here.