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(danielbeckphoto)

Atlas Edibles Brings Art to Cannabis

For Ezra Malmuth, incorporating local artists into his edibles brand was a no-brainer.

After all, he came from an artist background himself: culinary arts. Malmuth, 29, was raised in Berkeley, where he inherited his passion for cooking from his Italian grandmother.

“It’s the typical, cliché cooking story,” he says, “but she was an amazing chef. Half of my family still lives in Italy, so I was very fortunate growing up to visit my family out there and really fall in love with food.”

At 17, Malmuth’s passion for cooking led to an internship at the world-renowned Chez Panisse — where, in addition to shelling beans and other grunt work, he says he was given a crash course in the philosophy of food. While in school, Malmuth traveled to places like Spain and Israel, and found that cooking was the ideal gateway for understanding a city’s culture.

“Really, any time I could travel, I ended-up just cooking,” he says. “I think the dinner table is the best place to meet people. I think the trip that really opened my eyes was when I was cooking in Singapore. I saw all this global diversity within a small city, and it just really made me understand that there were flavors and flavor profiles that could stretch the imagination.”

Inspired by his travels, Malmuth began Atlas Edibles a year ago as a brand focused on healthy ingredients and delicious flavors. It’s his second business venture in the cannabis industry, and Malmuth says seeing the medicated treats a friend consumed while fighting cancer is what pushed him to develop products that promote wellness — but not at the cost of taste.

“I was looking at a lot of the edibles he was eating a few years back,” Malmuth recalls, “and a lot of them were just packed with sugar and preservatives and ingredients that I didn’t think would help his well-being from a health standpoint. There’s nothing wrong with brownies in Zip-Loc bags, but I wanted to create a more mindful and health-inspired snack.”

Currently, Atlas Edibles has four flavors of clusters available. Origin is a Mexican chocolate indica cluster with pepitas, puffed rice, and cacao. Ember is a sativa cashew caramel with cayenne, turmeric, and apricot. Nimbus — which Malmuth describes as the company’s “classic” flavor — is a dark-chocolate cluster with hazelnuts, pecans, and dried currants. Finally, there is Stratus, the newest flavor and second-place finisher at the 2017 High Times NorCal Cannabis Cup, which consists of blueberry, poppy seeds, toasted almonds, and ginger.

In addition to the distinctive ingredients in each cluster, Origin, Ember, Nimbus, and Stratus are also packaged in individual designs commissioned by local artists. Malmuth says that the cannabis industry’s welcoming stance on culinary creativity made him feel it would naturally translate to visual artists as well.

“When I got into this space, a lot of my artist friends started getting displaced,” he says. “It inspired me to offer this outlet, to engage local artists to expand their horizons.”

To help his plan come to life, Malmuth turned to his friend Chris Huth. Now Atlas Edibles’ Creative Director, Huth decided to offer the company’s packaging as a blank canvas of sorts to nearby designers.

Nigel Sussman — the illustrator responsible for Ember’s isometric pattern of machine parts — saw the commission as a welcome opportunity to go beyond the parameters of normal branding work.

“Utilizing actual local art adds another level of interest and meaning to the product,” he says. “I was really pleased to see the final product. It is refreshing to see professional and considered packaging, especially in the cannabis industry.”

For Huth, planting roots in the Bay Area by collaborating with local artists is part of a vision for the company to be more than a mere provider of medicated edibles.

“We want to be seen as a viable member of the community,” Huth says. “We are teaming with different regional artists who we feel tap into the same community-oriented ideals as we do. We don’t just want to just use their graphics on our products — we aim to curate unique collaborations that can be used to cross-promote our products, their endeavors, and also community-based events like concerts, gallery openings, and fundraisers.”

For now, Atlas Edibles is still getting its feet wet. Apothecarium in San Francisco and Seven Stars in Richmond carry its products, as do delivery services like Mr. Nice Guy and Ona. While Malmuth is eager to see product availability expand, he is more concerned with ensuring the rollout is done properly.

“We’re definitely growing, but at our own pace,” he says.

Still, the early results of Atlas Edibles’ four initial artist collaborations have given the young company a promising start.

“It was a real treat to work with the creative team behind Atlas Edibles,” says Oakland artist Jeff Boozer, designer of the Stratus packaging.

“The growth of medicinal-marijuana product lines in the U.S. has posed an interesting challenge for artists and designers,” Boozer says. “Ezra and Chris helped bridge the gap between too ‘token’ or predictable imagery and a more motivated and unique take on both the benefits of the Stratus product and their already strong brand image.”

Asked to name the best part of being the main force behind Atlas, Malmuth acknowledges that playing mad scientist in the kitchen and working with local artists have been immensely rewarding, but there’s another opinion that matters most: that of Malmuth’s grandmother. Suffering from neuropathy of the foot, she’s become Atlas Edibles’ biggest fan.

“If the biggest thing I accomplish from this business is giving my 86-year-old grandmother a product that she appreciates, and one that relieves her pain, that’s fine by me,” he says.