Illegal Burger founder Jim Nixon's son, Jordan, used to struggle with debilitating multiple sclerosis.
"I started taking pills and was at the doctor's often. I used to get flare-ups, like, every six months. I lost vision one year, coordination, and had pain shooting up and down my legs," he recounts.
Jordan's pain pills became an unhealthy habit, and steroid injections caused massive weight gain as traditional treatments did little to help his condition. He had never been much of a cannabis consumer, but found himself working in the cannabis industry in 2011, and his boss at the time was trying to unload some CBD products.
"It was just medical [marijuana] out here at the time, so they wanted really high THC, and nothing really CBD," he remembers. "So the owner of the company was getting rid of most of the hemp and CBD products, and he said, 'Oh, I heard some stories about MS, why don't you just try this?' I did, and I had an MRI a few months later, and there were drastic changes on the MRI."
After three months of continuous CBD use, Jordan says his brain lesions shrunk dramatically, and he hasn't taken medication or had shots for MS since. Jordan's father was amazed by how CBD helped his son get his life back, and saw an opportunity to spread profitable awareness about CBD through his five Illegal Burger locations in Colorado.
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"After seeing the benefits helping my son here, we wanted to share it with the world. We felt like we have a great vehicle with the restaurants to bring that on," he says.
The Nixons initially thought about offering CBD at Illegal Burger a few years ago, but given the legal gray area surrounding CBD, they decided to wait. Hemp was federally legalized in 2018, but adding CBD to products intended for human and animal consumption is still technically banned from the FDA. However, Colorado state laws allow hemp- and CBD-infused foods to be sold for human consumption — and that's where all five Illegal Burger locations are currently located (another Illegal Burger is slated to open in Texas later this year).
Instead of finding a CBD company to partner with, the Nixons created their own line of CBD products, Illegal Brands. Their first task was to experiment with delivery systems and dosages. "In the beginning, this was kind of trial-and-error, to see how we were going to get it onto people's food. ... With cooking, the heat temperatures compromise it, as well as the sugars," Jim says. "There was that happy medium where we wanted enough CBD in there, but also the flavor. It's got to taste good."
Jim and Jordan, along with Jim's wife, Ivonne, settled on two main products: CBD-infused flavored water, and packets of unflavored water-mixing CBD isolate. With Illegal Brands products available online and in all store locations (including the one Illegal Pizza in South Florida), Illegal Burger is now the first CBD restaurant franchise.
The 15-milligram packets of CBD are sold in stores for $2 each and can be added (by the customer) to any food or drink on the menu. By having the customers add their own packets of CBD rather than incorporating CBD into the cooking process, they are able to control and adjust their dosages, Jim says.
According to the Nixons, the CBD addition has been successful, bringing in customers who visit exclusively for their CBD products. But despite the rare twist Illegal Burger adds to its menu, the family still wants to be known for its food.
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"It's not just the one thing that sets us apart. We want people to feel welcome and want to eat here," Jim says. "The product that we give out, and the choice of toppings, and buns and so forth — we go above and beyond, and that's what makes us feel like we really put our best food forward and created such a special brand."
The Nixons are looking to expand the Illegal Burger brand with more franchise locations, especially outside of Colorado. They're interested in opening another Illegal Pizza location in Denver, as well, which would also carry their Illegal Brands CBD line.
Adding more CBD products to the line isn't out of the question, but the family wants to stay in the food business. "We want to keep it simple. We don't want it to get too crazy, where you have lip balms and oils," Jim explains. "We're a restaurant. We figured we want to do stuff that's conducive to a restaurant, so we built this parallel path to have the CBD [and] the food together. It's a great marriage."
And a tasty one, at that.