Recreational marijuana use was legalized in New York State in 2021, decriminalizing the act of purchasing or consuming weed, allowing New Yorkers to light up freely in public.
Officially, there are three legal weed dispensaries operating in New York State, one in Binghamton and two in the city. However, weed, gummies, brownies, other edibles and concentrates containing THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects, have quietly proliferated in wellness shops, smoke shops and corner bodegas.
Entrepreneur Darren Davis, CEO and founder of Smoquito Brooklyn LLC, has capitalized on the market by creating a line of infused beverages including coquito (a coconut cream or milk-based drink native to Puerto Rico), juices, sodas, non-alcoholic beers, tea bags, and dry drink mixes that require customers to just add water and shake.
Davis came up with the idea of creating an alternative to prescription pain medication almost three years ago after seeing an older relative become dependent on the pills after a major operation.
“I wanted an alternative to the pharmaceutical pain medication in a natural cannabis-derived drink which I felt would be easy to consume,” he says.
Perfecting the right formula and process took about six months. During this time, the relative had another major surgery and was once again given prescription opioids.
“The timing of the second surgery coincided with me finally being happy with the formula and I gave my relative the nonalcoholic version of coquito. She no longer needed to use the pain medication and one 12-ounce bottle of the juice went a long way,” Davis says.
His relative told Davis that in addition to the pain relief, she felt less sluggish and became more mobile. She asked him if he could make more juices for her friends who had similarly undergone surgeries.
Davis took on the challenge and expanded the line from the coquito drink to include ice teas and lemonades, and a business was born.
With catchy names such as “Nice Tea” for an ice tea flavor; “Loud Lemonade” for strictly lemonade; “Hawaiian Haze,” a strawberry lemonade; “Buddy Blue,” a blueberry lemonade; a passion fruit lemonade called “Piff Passion”; a fruit punch lemonade known as “Zoot Punch”; and finally a tropical lemonade dubbed “Perp Terp,” rounded out the line.
Through word of mouth, Davis started to get more orders from the under-60 set. He established an LLC, naming the company Smoquito playing off the coquito name and the smoky connotation since it was infused. He also set up an Instagram account. He sourced the bottles, caps, labels and most importantly developed an eye-catching logo of smoky eyes that adorns every bottle.
Davis, who has a background in corporate sales, started selling the juices from tables he set up at farmers market, the West Indian carnival and other festivals and events around town.
While direct sales to customers proved profitable, Davis knew he would get more business by having his juices in stores. He first approached smoke shops and wellness shops in his Brooklyn neighborhood and was elated when he quickly amassed stores that would carry his juices. “I don’t do consignment and every order is custom so it was surprising and gratifying that stores were willing to take a chance on me,” he says.
Although the business is just three years old, Smoquito Brooklyn products, which have now expanded to include other beverages like sodas, ciders and nonalcoholic beers, are carried in 90 businesses across the five boroughs as well as Connecticut, New Jersey, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Davis is selective about where he places his infused drinks. “My drinks retail for $25 and up and I hope the customer who walks into a high-end establishment looking for THC or concentrates sees my product and knows it will be quality.”
Frequent customer Ryan Lucas, 40, who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has been a loyal Smoquito customer from the beginning. He heard about the juice offerings through word of mouth.
“His soda was the very first thing I had and that soda blew me out the water. And the juices are by far some of the best THC-based drinks out there. It’s his use of terpenes [which are responsible for the aroma characteristics of cannabis] because really no other company really does it. I’ve tried drinks from multiple markets and there’s no comparison.”
Lucas continues, “I’m not picky when it comes to his flavors since they’re all really good. I might be partial to the sweet tea.” Lucas reflected on the legalization of marijuana and how it has changed the market. “I know that I can get a safer product and there was a generation of people waiting for legalization, me included.”
Similarly, Leah Jenell, owner of High Society Vape & Smoke Shop, has been doing business with Smoquito Brooklyn since it opened in 2022. The store, located on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, carries a variety of products including those containing THC, CBD and related accessories.
Jenell met Davis when he approached her one day in the store.
“Darren is what I would define as a hustler. He really doesn’t have a problem getting out there and wherever he goes, he introduces himself, brings his products and shows you which other stores are carrying his products. He told me about the product and he is a Black man and I’m a Black woman so I was willing to give it a shot.”
Although High Society has stocked the juices, coquito, sodas and cider, “The juices by far sell the best with people coming in and asking for them and buying three/four at a time,” Jenell says.
While the instagram orders and in-store businesses are thriving, Davis hopes to open a small storefront later this year to offer exclusive products.
“I will have several more product offerings that customers would only be able to find at a Smoquito Brooklyn store.”
Marissa Acevedo, 26, a paralegal, heard about the brand through one of her co-workers who couldn’t say enough about the coquito drink.
“I immediately tried coquito and then the other products. I’m a young, social person who has tried all of the sodas and juices including the beer and cider. When I’m having a party, I custom order a two-liter bottle of juice or coquito.”
Acevedo continued, “I enjoy the drinks more than lighting up. There’s no smell, it’s easily transportable and you can share it with friends.”
Find Smoquito Brooklyn on Instagram.