If you’ve ever bought or sold anything at a brick-and-mortar retail store, you already know what makes a good budtender: friendly, knowledgeable chatter. Whether you’re selling craft coffee beans or artisanal dog sweaters, the real labor that retail workers do is fundamentally emotional, coaxing ambivalent customers to throw away their inhibitions and indulge themselves by buying stuff.
It makes sense, then, that this year’s winners for Best Budtender in Seattle both possess exceptional interpersonal schmoozing skills. It can take real psychological acumen to seduce customers into being comfortable with their own desires, particularly when the object of that desire has been taboo for most of their lives.
“Our product is not marijuana. It’s comfort and happiness,” says Jay Berger, manager and stoner supreme at Pot Stop, a former medical-cannabis dispensary that managed to ride the I-502 wave. “The cannabis is just a vehicle, man.”
Berger speaks in a friendly, pattering, medium-pitch voice. A thin, tall man with dirty golden locks sprouting from a slightly receded hairline, he vibrates with the enthusiasm of a sugared-up tween, excited enough for the both of us. “Cannabis is a cure for the human condition,” he says. “Cannabis and I became friends at 15 years old and it never went away, it just got better and better.” (Full disclosure: Me, too!) “I’m an ambassador for marijuana, and it’s a privilege to be one,” he says.
Jordan Zenisek works at Diego Pellicer, a luxury-themed pot shop in SoDo with marble columns, tile floors, soft lighting, and a mustachioed Spanish colonialist as its mascot. She also sees her job as guiding customers through a bewildering variety of cannabis products. “A lot of the older generation haven’t smoked since the ’70s,” she says, and she also gets a lot of tourists. So she educates them.
“My favorite method is dabbing,” she says, referencing a process by which cannabis concentrate is dropped onto a superheated surface and the resulting vapor is inhaled. “You heat up the nail, then dab the concentrate” onto it, she says. “It’s a lot faster, stronger, more potent,” she says. “And it looks beautiful, the concentrates. I prefer live resin for flavor and distillate because it’s so clean.” Zenisek says that while most people dab with a torch, she uses something called “an electronic nail,” which apparently is a thing—like peeking toilets and talking toaster ovens—that exists in 2017.
So how does a great budtender approach a customer? “It’s like I’m a waiter and I’m discussing dinner, but I’m already thinking about the dessert course in my mind,” says Berger, “so it can be a sensible offering to the customer.
“I get the first-time user that is now comfortable coming out of the woodwork because it’s legal, and we start at the most very basic point there,” he says. “I ask a few very generic questions, just to gauge what direction to take the conversation. It naturally unfolds from there. Through the process of elimination, I find out their hopes for the kind of experience they’re going to have, and put my toe in the water to gauge what they’re trying to avoid. If somebody has a history of being paranoid on cannabis, I tend to shift away from sativa strains. If somebody doesn’t want to be rendered useless and sit around and eat chips all day, that tells me that a sativa-hybrid is the direction to take them in.”
Berger says that between weed legalization and the Amazon boom, a good portion of his customers are stressed-out techies looking for a high to enhance productivity. “This is a whole other side to selling pot in 2017 in Seattle,” he says. “We’re a little corner of the world where a lot of the most technical, overworked minds are now closing in on us. All these Amazon transplants, people … in a new city, introduced to a legal substance that has been taboo their whole life, and now not only has it lost its stigma and people are coming in and buying it, they’re using this at home to work and be more productive.”
Berger’s recommendation for that kind of stoner? Sour Diesel. “The ‘Diesel’ is an implication for your productivity for the evening,” he says.