Above Stephanie Hua in her kitchen hangs a newspaper clipping with a photo of a young man dressed in a chef’s hat and preparing food with a giant cleaver. The photo, which first appeared in the January 28, 1970 edition of news day, belongs to Hua’s grandfather, Antonio Lee, at his New York restaurant.
“Food is kind of in my blood,” she says, and when asked about the food her family grew up with, the stories flowed. Hua was educated at the San Francisco Cooking School and previously had her own food blog. “Every Thanksgiving was a running joke, because my grandfather basically cooked every animal except turkey. We would have a 10-course meal, and it would be this incredible mishmash of Chinese dishes, as well as the things that had to be there because it was Thanksgiving .
Her childhood always ended with a well-balanced meal served piping hot by her mother, who is also a talented cook. “Cooking is kind of our love language,” she says.
But food isn’t Stephanie’s only passion. She also loves cannabis, and she has fused her passion for baking and baking with her gourmet edible marshmallow brand, Mellows. For Hua, the combination of the culinary world and the cannabis world seems obvious. “Food people are just some of the most generous, loving people you will ever meet, and the only rival to the generosity of food people is weed people,” she says.
The brand has three core goals: to destigmatize, normalize and elevate cannabis, and to do this it sells low-dose, aesthetically pleasing marshmallows in a sweet assorted box. Available in flavors like Birthday Cake, Chocolate Malt, Cookies & Cream and S’Mores, the Mellows are decorated with everything from sprinkles to sesame seeds.
Better yet, the candies are handcrafted from seed to sale in San Francisco. The infusion is made with solventless ice water hash from Gold Seal SF’s Red Congolese – a clear-headed landrace strain that, especially when bred by this brand, has become a coveted smoke for the canna connoisseur. Then Stephanie and her little team decorate each individual mellow and wrap them in a cute cupcake-style paper wrapper for consumption.
“We wanted to de-stigmatize cannabis and really create something that was so beautiful that you’d want to give it to your mom or grandma, or take it to dinner, without feeling like it was taboo,” Hua says. She says that’s why she went with a low dose of 5mg per mallow – so Mellows could be a safe, approachable introduction for new consumers dipping their toes into the edible scene. When she founded the company in 2015, edibles were typically 20-50mg per dose, rather than the 10mg per dose limit now set by California cannabis laws. “It was just too much — I would never want to send my mom a 25mg edible product,” she says. However, she is working on a 100mg marshmallow product for higher tolerance consumers.
For Hua, Mellows is about more than her two interests, culinary arts and quality cannabis: it is an expression of her whole being. Flavors like black sesame, inspired by her mother’s own tangyuan, and a recipe for cannabis-infused black sesame cupcakes she published in 2018 are sneaking their way into limited edition candies. A devoted ice cream lover, her Strawberry Shortcake flavor is made to mimic the outer layer of a Strawberry Shortcake Good Humor bar. Her favorite dishes, she says, are attached to her favorite “food memories.”
Its progressive politics also marks the brand’s social media. Hua is proudly owned and operated by the WOC and regularly advocates for anti-racism and equality in the industry and our city at large through the company’s platforms. She is also a proud #cannamom, who believes that cannabis should be treated with the same safety measures as alcohol in the family home rather than kept as a dirty little secret. By showing the different faces of cannabis, you can show that it is a substance used by ordinary people, not criminals or lazy teenagers. It’s about “breaking that stoner stigma,” she says.
A center of decades of cannabis activism and a sought-after dining destination, San Francisco serves as the perfect home base to do just that. Not only is she inspired by the region’s best growers, she’s also inspired by local chefs and farmers. The two industries share a similar passion for their craft, according to Hua, reaching for the same “oohs and ahhs” one gets when they present a stunning dessert at the end of a meal.
“To be able to bridge those two worlds, here in San Francisco, the birthplace of medicinal cannabis, is really a unique opportunity as an edible maker that I am grateful to pursue,” she says.