Two and a half months after being sentenced to four years’ probation and 100 hours of community service for a 2017 felony pot bust during one of his famed “Philly Smoke Sessions” marijuana markets, local weed activist and pot patron saint N.A. Poe is surprisingly and refreshingly upbeat about turning a new leaf. “After playing Poe for six years only to become restauranteur is weird,” he said, laughing, as he’s poring through schematics and planning this week’s groundbreaking for his next project: Poe’s Sandwich Joint. “It’s almost honorable.”
It is here that I remind the comedian-turned-Occupy-City-Hall-protestor-turned-marijuana-major-domo born Richard Tamaccio Jr., about John Huston’s quote from the film, “Chinatown”: “politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
And Poe’s Sandwich Joint at Marlborough Street and Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, mere blocks from that neighborhood’s medical-marijuana dispensary, the likes of which he fought for (and is not part of, as he doesn’t have millions of dollars and pharmaceutical rep backing) is respectable. “I get people asking me all the time if I’m going to slip some weed into the food,” he said. “No way. This is neither the time nor place for that.”
Once upon a time, it was weed and weed alone that was on his mind. Poe and his minions (such as Marc Lawlor, a chef at Loews Hotel who is now Poe’s partner in this sandwich spot) fought to legalize pot in every-which-way, medicinally and recreationally. He even dreamed of opening a marijuana dispensary in Philly. Instead, it was during one of the earliest Philly Smoke Sessions that he met Lawler, and began embracing another goal. “We actually put an idea for a restaurant in motion back then, so that when all this went down, I would have something to pivot onto.” What “went down,” in part, was his and his girlfriend, Rachel Friedman’s April 2017 arrest in Frankford (and having their house in South Philly majorly raided) for possession with intent to deliver; conspiracy; causing or risking catastrophe; possession of a controlled substance; use or possession of drug paraphernalia; possession of an instrument of crime; and recklessly endangering another person. The other thing that “went down” was how Pennsylvania adapted itself to a new gig: the high-ticket medical marijuana dispensary business.
“We built the train tracks for legalization, and basically the train ran us over,” he said. “If I was smart and I was to evolve then, I had to get out. I mean, it was a hostile corporate takeover. The thing that we loved was taken from us. They hit me with a SWAT team, and two months later, there’s guys in golf shirts selling weed in dispensaries.” Poe is quick to add that his Smoke Sessions and various parties throughout the city were providing medical marijuana to the afflicted (most particularly, war veterans) long before the “Lindsay Snyder crowd put all their venture capital money together.”
With a sixth sense that he and his ilk would be pushed to the wayside by corporate ganja, Poe recalled having countless gigs in local restaurants when he was given an opportunity to snag a spot (courtesy his neighbor Pete McAndrews of Heffe Tacos fame) in the new Fishtown. “We would go to weed dinners in that neighborhood years ago, get done, and wonder what the hell else could we eat,” Poe said. “Plus, that neighborhood is so gentrified, it could use some down-and-dirty Philly food flair with my own particular twists.”
Poe’s Sandwich Joint will be a morning-noon-and-night proposition, with 8 a.m. opening “walk of shame” egg-bacon-and cheese munchables on Sarcone’s rolls, to his grandmother’s meatballs and sausage-and-peppers for lunch, to $3 burger boxes reminiscent of Nifty Fiftys. “We’re not doing $12 gastropub burgers,” said Poe. “Just flip-em-out-the-window burgers on a buttered, toasted roll.” On weekends, PSJ will be open until 3 a.m., and on Sundays, will serve un-fancy brunch. “I’m marketing it to the munchies demographic, but we’re for anyone who wants a classic Philly sandwich. If you catch the double entendre, all the better.”
Going through the bureaucratic nightmare without catching red flag-flack from any Philly government agency and keeping it close to his vest without blabbing to friends and press (‘You never know who is plotting to take you out”), Poe is looking forward to a late summer opening and a ground-breaking ground event this week (hit his Instagram for updates @poessandwichjoint) for his personal sandwich menu. “I started this project like I do every other: in a black composition notebook, then suddenly it’s a logo, then a restaurant. Is this the ultimate dream? I don’t know. I can still run my backpack drive every August and the Christmas presents we do [in partnership with “Tuffy’s Fight“]. I also I need to do this for myself to legitimize myself as a person and go beyond the notoriety I have. And that’s a gift.”