It was a well-dressed crowd that toasted a new store opening last month on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, a shopping corridor home to some of the world's best-known luxury brands.
"Location is very key," MedMen spokesman Daniel Yi said. "I think it makes a statement when you have a marijuana store across the street from a Lord and Taylor on Fifth Ave. in New York."
A medical marijuana store, to be precise. Inside the new MedMen dispensary, the aesthetic is sleek and modern. With iPads arrayed on wooden display tables and a cheerful staff in matching red t-shirts, the place has a familiar feel.
"We've been compared to the Apple store. We've been compared to the Starbucks of weed," Daniel Yi said. "We've been called the Barney's of weed here in New York."
MedMen doesn't have quite those companies' imprint. But the fast-growing retailer, with 12 stores in three states, boasts a valuation of more than $1 billion, and is set to go public in Canada. Daniel Yi said MedMen aims to demystify the experience of buying marijuana by providing an inviting environment.
"I know when I come in and there's a sales associate with a t-shirt, I know that person is there to help me. I know there are menus. I know there's information. I know that there's labels. Versus, you know, going to a head shop, and you have no idea where to start," the MedMen spokesman said.
But the store isn't why MedMen came to New York. In fact, it's almost certain to lose money.
Since New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, its licensed operators, of which there are now ten, have struggled. The highly restrictive program doesn't allow for smoke-able marijuana; MedMen sells tinctures, gel caps, and vape pens.
One company, Etain, is trying to expand its appeal with a newly-approved powdered form of the drug.
"You just put it in your liquid, and you can see that it just dissolves and becomes completely homogenous in this," Hillary Peckham, the founder and chief operating officer of Etain, said as she dropped the powder into a cup of tea. "So you could put it in a soup, you could put it in a smoothie, you could put it in chocolate syrup. Any kind of liquid, it will dissolve in."
Etain is also rolling out lozenges and lotion, and plans to sell the powder in California, where recreational use is legal, while it waits for the lifting of prohibition in New York, when it might market to New York's restaurant industry and begin turning a profit.
"New York leads in a lot of fields globally, not just for our country, right?" Daniel Yi said. "But when it comes to cannabis, I've got to say, New York is way, way behind."
For now, the MedMen store on Fifth Ave. is largely a curiosity. But it's not about the now. By planting a flag on Fifth Ave., MedMen is making a bet on the future — a future where pot is legal in New York and the stores are a common sight.
"God willing, no, this will not be the last MedMen store in Manhattan, hopefully," Daniel Yi said.