Seth Oxhandler is no stranger to high-flying excitement.
The former IBM engineer has completed more than 3,000 successful sky-diving jumps, but he’s also experienced a few hard landings along the way and acquired a medical marijuana authorization along the way to treat the various injuries suffered as a daredevil.
However, when he brought home some cannabis-infused chocolate bars to show his wife, Brianna, she was appalled — not by the cannabis, but from the quality of ingredients being used in the treats. So she insisted on infusing and baking the edibles herself.
Oxhandler admits he’s biased when it comes to his wife’s baking, but says her cookies were better than anything he could find at a dispensary — or anywhere else on the planet, for that matter. When a local dispensary offered Brianna a position as its head cook, she turned down the offer — and the accompanying non-compete agreement — so the couple could pursue their own processing license. They started High 5 Edibles in Santa Fe, New Mexico in September 2016 and the company took off from there.
“It’s been a fast trajectory,” Oxhandler says. “We put our first products on the shelves in November and we’re already in 10 dispensaries.”
After a brief stint at a defunct restaurant, High 5 relocated to a 1,600-square-foot commercial space in Santa Fe. The Oxhandlers immediately gutted the building, leaving behind a two-story warehouse shell for all of High 5’s business operations. They designed the facility to include a large production area for packaging, shipping and receiving in the front, while a commercial kitchen and extraction lab divide the back half.
High 5 is perpetually refining its operations to increase efficiency and stay ahead of the competition.
“At the end of the day we’re in the service industry and if you’re producing something that is going into somebody’s mouth, then I would think that you would want it to be as fresh as possible,” Oxhandler explains.
The company maintains an inventory of extracts so it can fulfill orders from retail partners quickly.
“This way if we get a call we can fill an order within 72 hours,” he says.
He also credits two other vendors — Steep Hill Laboratories in Albuquerque and THC Labels out of California — for keeping a steady flow of products moving.
Oxhandler says Steep Hill is the fastest and most accurate testing lab in the state, which is crucial for keeping High 5 operating efficiently.
“We can’t do anything until we get lab results,” he says.
As with most manufacturers of infused products, labeling can be a major bottleneck. Prior to working with THC Labels, High 5 had to order labels before testing had been completed and hope everything matched the company’s projections. One miscalculation could leave the manufacturer stuck with incorrect labels, so the ability to print at will has been a game-changer.
THC Labels “are as important as the system and methodology that we use for extraction,” Oxhandler says. “They are the reason our logo looks so good and why we can do short order and specialty items.”
As a relative newcomer in the cannabis space, High 5 had to evolve quickly.
In terms of extraction techniques, the company started out as “cave people,” Oxhandler says. But Ecodyst CEO and co-founder George Adjabeng helped them become “space people.”
“I studied all the methods that are being used in the industry for extraction,” Adjabeng says. “After I read through the articles that had been published and from my own studies, I think in the long run ethanol extraction is going to win over CO2 and butane extraction.”
Adjabeng, an award-winning chemist, worked with High 5 to develop a faster ethanol extraction machine that uses condenser coils to chill ethanol below minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit, drawing out the plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids in less than two hours and leading Oxhandler to give Adjabeng the nickname “Dr. Freeze.”
“For us to have the eyes and ears of someone like George, with his background, having that kind of scientist in this industry definitely helps,” Oxhandler says. “I feel like the deck is stacked in our favor.”
Abjabeng built the prototype specifically for cannabis with the goal of eliminating residual solvents and the need for winterization.
“When I looked at it, the problem with alcohol extraction isn’t the alcohol,” Adjabeng says. “It was the method.”
By cooling the ethanol with a condenser coil, Adjabeng says the extraction can immediately pull the terpenes and cannabinoids from plants without requiring intense pressure, keeping the plant wax frozen in place.
“Ethanol is not able to pull the plant’s wax because it is so cold, but it is able to harness all of the plant’s materials,” Adjabeng says. “You are not leaving anything behind.”
Efficient access to extract allows High 5 to produce edibles for vendors without compromising patient or processor safety and the machine’s ability to continuously recycle excess ethanol keeps processing costs to a minimum.
Naturally Baked …
High 5’s kitchen features necessities such as two 20-quart mixers, a chocolate tempering machine, a Rosin Tech RTP press and a double-stack oven that allows the company to bake 200 cookies at a time.
But while a better extraction machine can lead to better extracts, the same concept doesn’t necessarily apply to cooking, where the chef and the ingredients have greater impact on the final product.
Anyone with professional cooking experience can attest that making the best food requires the best ingredients. That’s why High 5 CEO and head chef Brianna Oxhandler goes to great lengths to source the best available ingredients for the company’s candies, croissants and fruit spreads, among other infused delicacies. Every ingredient has been verified as organic, excluding the cannabis for federal reasons.
“We source from everywhere,” Brianna says. “It seems like almost every ingredient we get is from a different supplier.”
“All the products, recipes, time, effort — that’s all her,” Oxhandler adds. “The amount of paperwork I did to get licensed with the state pales in comparison to what she has had to do to source different ingredients.”
And it’s not just about flavor and potency. For High 5’s popular Vitamin C gummy bears, Brianna had to develop a new recipe to allow them to be transported under the intense summer heat without losing stability.
That attention to detail also extends to the company’s topical products. Having previously worked in the spa industry, Brianna tracked down a distributor that allows her to special order arnica by the gallon. Arnica, a key ingredient in High 5’s topical salve, is typically sold by the milliliter in limited quantities.
“It’s made to order and takes basically three weeks to get here,” she says. “I had trouble for months sourcing that in quantity because I wanted it to be pure. It took me four months to get it by the gallon, undiluted.”
… In Santa Fe
Despite being so passionate about the industry and their products, the Oxhandlers never saw themselves in cannabis — let alone Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was only four years ago that the couple decided to move to Lake Tahoe, but couldn’t find a reasonable location that matched their vision.
“We ended up here because with exception of the water, Santa Fe has everything we wanted that Lake Tahoe didn’t,” Oxhandler says. “When we moved here, we thought we were going to buy government-repossessed houses and flip them.”
Now Oxhandler affectionately refers to Santa Fe as “Mayberry on the Mesa,” taking great pride in explaining how he found a small town in a big city.
“Store owners pick up cigarette butts out of the gutter here,” he says. “It’s amazing.”[contextly_auto_sidebar]