Well, it was only a matter of time. In a city famous for its marijuana subculture, and with a long history of stoners eating pizza, how long did anyone really think this would take? Mega ill pizzeria and cafe on Kingsway is the city’s first pizzeria/vapor lounge. Insert munchies joke.
Owners Mark and Stephen Klokeid wanted to create “a place for people to medicate.” Stephen, who also owns the iMedikate cannabis dispensary, and is himself a medicinal user, insists that the community needs a place like Mega ill. “Where else are you supposed to go? Some people live in basement suites where they’re not allowed to smoke. Are they supposed to go for a walk? A lot of them have serious medical problems where they can’t just walk around in the winter.”
Hence was born Mega ill. The idea came to them during a trip to Cambodia, where Stephen happened upon a pizzeria which sold marijuana and offered to put it on your pizza. Mega ill does not sell cannabis, but I was told that they will make an infused pizza if you have a medical exemption.
While I did try the pizza, I did not ask for the infused version. Choosing from their list of campy pizza names, with the help of the photos on their menu, I opted for the Rocketarian. This is one of a few vegetarian options and includes caramelized onions, tomato, and fresh arugula. It was flavourful, although a bit sweet, no doubt due to the caramelized onions.
Pizza purists will find the crust doughy. Many of us pizzaphiles believe that a crust should be thin and crisp. Mega ill’s is a soft, whole wheat crust, which I am told contains hemp hearts. I couldn’t detect them, but they disappear easily in something like a pizza crust. The doughier crust makes the pie more substantial, which is what one might expect their clientele to need after half an hour in the room. And for what it was, the Rocketarian was a decent pizza.
On a shelf above the counter are a number of vaporizers, which they rent out to customers. They offer grinders for customers to break up their marijuana, and it is common to see someone rolling or smoking a joint at their table. In fact, throughout our conversation, owner Mark is puffing casually on a joint. In almost every respect, Mega ill is more vapor lounge than pizzeria.
They built in an elaborate ventilation system, so as to clear the smoke. Still, I find myself wondering about the relevant WCB regulations about smoking in the workplace. According to both Klokeid brothers, Mega ill has passed numerous inspections without concern.
According to Stephen, who manages Mega ill, business has been strong. “We have been really busy. Response has been so good that I might have to hire another person soon.”
There are a number of unique questions surrounding this little pizzeria. Back in the 1990s, the Cannabis Cafe (in what is now the New Amsterdam) opened on Hastings. Mark Emery could be seen circulating the room with joints and baggies in his hands.
What it did was provide a hub for pot smokers to go out and smoke in public without having to go to a park. The food was an afterthought. But in a room full of stoners, you’re going to need food. So they sold snacks at the counter.
At the time, that area of Hastings was in rough shape. Before long, things seemed to improve. In that sense, some would argue that pot-heads revitalized that block.
Flash forward to today and there is a similar story about the Fraser and Kingsway area where we find Mega ill. Across the street, business has built up around Le Faux Bourgeois. But on Mega ill’s side of the street, buildings are in disrepair and no business seems able to get traction. The success across the street does not so easily bleed over, since Kingsway makes it awkward for foot traffic to come across.
It remains to be seen if Mega ill does revitalize that side of the street. And if it does, what does that mean for the neighborhood? It is well-known that marijuana consumers are quieter than alcohol consumers, so shouldn’t neighbours prefer having Mega ill over, for example, a bar in that location?
Are there more vapor lounge/cafes coming? Klokeid’s dispensary is one of over a dozen in the city. If Mega ill succeeds, how long until another dispensary copies the idea? Will there be a series of pizzeria/vapor lounges dotting the city? I suspect that a vapor lounge/doughnuterie is the next logical thing.
In all seriousness, the next few months will be telling. And perhaps the most serious question is this. The the main legal issues about medicinal marijuana concern barriers to access. Until now, that conversation has always been about the supply. Mega ill appears to be making the case that, without an actual location in which to consume the product, there still exists a barrier to access. And that is an interesting question.