Molly Honig simply decided to take a chance.
Back in 2013, when Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board was accepting applications for the first-ever cannabis retail license lottery, Honig’s brother convinced her to “put our hat in the ring” and see if they could win one of the two available retail licenses in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.
The process turned out to be much more complicated than Honig expected.
They didn’t win the lottery, but when the locations for the other stores fell through, the Honigs’ chance came up again, and she spent a month cold-calling every compliant location in Kirkland, finally finding a two-story office building on the edge of the city that she could buy and renovate.
A former high school English teacher, Honig says she initially did not feel like “part of the culture,” having only tried cannabis twice before. But she knew people like her — folks who might want to ask questions and not feel stupid about them — would be a major part of the success of any new cannabis shop.
“I wanted to create a shop where everybody felt comfortable,” she says. “Literally everyone comes into the pot shop: all walks of life, every age.”
Honig says she took her retail philosophy from, of all places, Disneyland.
“A Disney Princess never lets go of the hug,” she says, meaning that no matter the line, no matter the time, a Disney Princess will always take whatever time with a child that the child wants. Translating that to cannabis, it means recognizing that the customer is a real person and the budtender’s job is to find out what they need and meet it, whether it is simply grabbing a gram and sending them on their way or spending 15 minutes talking about what they want to experience.
“I have a Disney Princess mindset,” she says.
The first Higher Leaf store was transformed in the first year from a dreary office building from the 1980s to a modern, open space with polished concrete floors, high ceilings and wooden beams to make it seem “less institutional.”
Since opening in the initial rush, Higher Leaf has opened a second location, in Bellevue, and two years ago acquired two Green-Theory stores, also in Bellevue, which remain branded under their original name, making the small chain one of the state’s busiest, with almost 100 employees on payroll (up from 12 original hires).
“We’re doing better and better all the time,” Honig says.
– Baby on Board: After failing to win the initial lottery for a license, Molly Honig says she and her husband decided to have another child, which meant she was pregnant when the call came that they’d gotten a license AND when the store opened seven months later. Honig says her daughter was born soon after opening, and because she could not bring her into the shop, she had to learn to rely on her employees.
– Classroom Culture: Honig was a high school English teacher for eight years prior to opening a business and views her role in a similar way. She says both a classroom and a business are “collaborative” environments and she feels the same sense of responsibility about her employees that she once felt about her students.
– Work in Progress: The design and layout of each Higher Leaf store is always a work in progress and can be changed at any time to meet the needs of employees or customers. “You never know what ‘user-friendly’ looks like in the cannabis business until you live with it,” Honig says.
– Menu changes: Though initially the plan was to commit both Higher Leaf stores to the same menu, Honig discovered each store and customer base has its own vibe and its own wants. Today, all four stores stock different brands to meet the needs of its customers.
– Family first: Honig calls her husband a “total rockstar.” While he maintains his job as a computer programmer, he also does work for the shops, including writing the company’s initial inventory, reordering and reporting software.