COCOA, Fla. - The Village Joint won't open until early next year, but it's already creating a buzz around Cocoa Village with its marijuana imagery and, well, that name.
Manager Vinnie Cancasci wants to get one thing straight, right from the start:
"Do I plan on opening a dispensary? Nope," Cancasci told News 6 partner Florida Today. "I want to sell good food and drinks. I have no aspirations to be a drug dealer." Marijuana for recreational use is illegal in Florida, and he has no plans of running afoul with the law.
Still, while buying and partaking of marijuana won't be condoned at the restaurant and bar, which is being opened by the creative team behind Murdock's Southern Bistro down the street, the name isn't meant to be subtle.
Weed, doobie, reefer, spliff, grass, Mary Jane, ganja, pot. Whatever you call it, cannabis will have a starring role at the Village Joint.
"I'm just using it as a gimmick," said Stevie Whittaker, owner of Murdock's and the Village Joint. "It's going to be a safe haven for people who don't think it's a bad word."
Cancasci will continue to manage Murdock's while opening the new place, located on Delannoy Avenue across from Travis Hardware. He has the nervous energy of a man on the run. Get him talking about the Joint, and ideas bubble out like beer from an open tap.
Framed posters from movies such as "Dazed and Confused," "Up In Smoke" and "The Big Lebowski."
TVs playing "Tom & Jerry," "Scooby-Doo" and "That '70s Show."
Black and white photos of celebrities smoking pot.
Ordering a sandwich? Ask your dealer to roll you a fatty.
Want a salad? Pack your bowl.
For dessert? Brownies, of course.
"Once we started going with the idea of it, we started cracking ourselves up," Whittaker said.
"If we don't do it, someone else is going to," Cancasci said.
Yes, the Village Joint concept is edgy, said Allan Chapman, executive director of the Historic Cocoa Village Association, but edgy doesn't mean negative.
It's an attention-grabber, he said.
The restaurant and bar is going into a prominent storefront that has been empty for years. It once housed Lea's Bistro. Paisley Vegan almost opened there, as did a tapas place that got as far as putting up signs.
"It's nice to see someone utilizing the space," Chapman said.
Backlash certainly is possible, he said, especially in today's polarized society.
"I hope people will see it as a way to get attention," he said, "an effort to be interesting and different, and support it."
Whittaker isn't afraid of edgy. When she opened the bar Debauchery in downtown Melbourne seven years ago, then-Mayor Harry Goode took exception to the name. According to Merriam-Webster, debauchery means "... behavior involving sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. that is often considered immoral."
"What was edgy about it?" she asked. "It's just a normal bar." And like with the Village Joint, Debauchery is just a name.
Cocoa city officials are happy to see an existing business owner invested in growing in Cocoa Village.
"The City of Cocoa is committed to the diversification of its economic core and the revitalization of the downtown area," said Samia Singleton, economic development specialist for the City of Cocoa. "Cocoa’s business-friendly environment is demonstrated when a current business chooses to expand within the city."
Jason Davis owns the building that will house the Village Joint.
"Yes, you can look at both sides of it," he said. "Will some people not like it? Maybe."
He understands why some might not be on board with the place, after all, the restaurant and bar pays tribute to something illegal in Florida.
Still, one wonders, is this move prescient?
Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 30 states, including Florida. Two dispensaries have opened in Palm Bay. Last week, Canada became the first major world economy to legalize recreational marijuana.
For Davis, the track record of the business people leasing his building was a major factor.
"It's the Murdock's guys," he said.
Murdock's has been part of Cocoa Village for 17 years. Since Cancasci took over as manager two years ago, the bistro has gained a reputation for good food and a carefree attitude, with local musicians on stage and tattooed servers weaving their way through a dining room filled with guests of all ages.
Cancasci works hard and demands the same from his staff. He also believes work should be fun. That atmosphere will carry over to the Village Joint.
The kitchen is limited at the Joint so Cancasci and his staff have created a menu that fits the space, going heavy on sandwiches, wraps and protein bowls. For patrons who want to enjoy a meal al fresco, picnic baskets will be available.
The kitchen will be open late, offering food well after 10 or 11 p.m.
Cancasci and Whittaker remain adamant. Even when or if recreational pot becomes legal, the Village Joint won't sell it. They stress that the name is strictly a marketing tool.
In a few years, it probably won't even raise eyebrows, Whittaker said, much like alcohol after Prohibition ended in the 1930s.
"Why not be ahead of the game?" Whittaker said.
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