Family-owned chain grows to 11 stores in two states
It’s been a busy couple of years for Kush21 and its CEO Michale Beraki and the Beraki brothers. After growing the business from one store to four in its first four years in operation, Beraki has overseen the Washington-based chain as it has exploded since 2020, growing to 11 stores in 3 states.
“It feels really good to see in real-time the fruits of hard work,” Beraki says. “I have a good team of people behind the scenes that do all the heavy lifting, but it feels good when you have a plan and execute for that plan.”
For Beraki, that plan began as an American Dream, decades ago in his home country of Eritrea and included not only success in the United States, but success for his brothers as well.
That dream has now come true as Beraki’s brothers, Daniel and Woldu, not only followed him into the cannabis industry, but have joined with him and consolidated all of their stores and licenses under the Kush21 banner, creating one of the largest and most-recognizable cannabis retail chains in Washington. And the company has plans to go even bigger, having recently expanded into two states with the opening of its store in Jacksonville, Illinois.
But at the heart of its growth is the Beraki brothers’ vision for how they would run Kush21 from the beginning, with a laser-focus on providing a great selection, quality pricing and the best customer service in the business to ensure that every shopper’s experience was a positive one, whether it was in the store or through the company’s bustling online order system.
“It’s all about the service,” Beraki says. “When you take care of the customers, business takes care of itself.”
The Beraki brothers’ dedication to customer service stretches back to Michale’s first time at a cannabis retail shop in Denver, just after Colorado began allowing adult-use sales. Michale found himself waiting in line for 15 minutes before reaching the store’s ID-checker, whose attitude ruined the entire experience.
“He was super rude,” Beraki remembers. “It’s just unnecessary. You can do your job, you can check ID and still be pleasant. … That whole experience was unfriendly.”
Michale knew he wanted to open a cannabis shop back in his home state of Washington, and he made a decision right then and there, telling the person he was with that his store would be a friendly place for shoppers, so no one left feeling the way he had in Denver.
Today, that idea is part of Kush21’s DNA and has helped it expand from its first location in Burien to serve every part of Washington state and beyond. The store is also careful about who it hires and runs all budtenders through a training program to ensure they are both friendly and knowledgeable.
“We try to impress people,” Beraki says.
Ariel Sanchez, Kush21’s chief operations officer, says the company likes to hire people with industry experience so they can “bring their personal touch” to advise shoppers.
“We strategically pick who is fit and, obviously, educated to fulfill our vision of the company,” she says. “From there, we back them with the training and make sure that they understand what is expected of them.”
Sanchez joined the team in 2021 and has been pivotal in the company’s growth, helping lead efforts to create Kush21’s online ordering system. Sanchez and purchasing manager Eric Latta developed a system similar to DoorDash and Uber Eats to create an “effortless transaction” for shoppers that they could access from their phones. So far, more than 25,000 people have downloaded the Kush21 app.
For regulars, the ease and convenience of the mobile system improved the ordering process, and the company watched its online traffic triple and sales continue to grow. The Berakis hired a team to focus on e-commerce, and online sales at the stores have now grown to a combined $3.5 million.
“Once we did that, we noticed a big turn because a lot of people like the convenience,” Sanchez says, noting that online ordering is part of Kush21’s focus on customer service. “We want to be able to serve them on the couch, (so they can) come in and grab their products at ease.”
The company also grew when Daniel and Woldu, who individually held cannabis retail licenses of their own, combined their efforts with Michale, and the brothers rebranded all of their shops under the Kush21 name and logo. Today, the company has a presence in every corner of Washington and is preparing for the day Washington allows delivery. Earlier this year, Kush21 expanded into Illinois, bringing the same high level of customer service and online access that its Washington customers have come to expect; its next plan is to bring the brand to Missouri and beyond, serving as many customers and creating as many jobs as possible.
Michale Beraki considers his Kush21 team a family, and especially with the addition of his brothers, the company has that feel. The Beraki brothers value and empower their employees, and Sanchez says it’s a pleasure to work in an environment that motivates everyone to do their best to help the company grow as the industry around them grows.
“To have that family culture really makes a dent into how long you want to work for a company and be a part of something like this,” she says. “Kush21 is family, Kush21 has values and Kush21 wants to succeed and create jobs.”
For Beraki, who left his family and came to America from the African nation of Eritrea in 2002 after working as a translator for a U.S. Army captain, the focus on both customer service and family is a reminder of his culture back home, where he says they have an obligation to bring others along when they find success.
“Our culture of Eritreans, we stick together, we help each other,” he says, noting that though he is the youngest of the three, his two siblings have learned to trust his business sense. “I’m always working to prove to them I’m the sharpest.”
Together, the Beraki brothers and Kush21 continue to blaze a trail for other minority- and immigrant-owned businesses in the cannabis industry that is proving America to be the land of opportunity Michale Beraki always dreamed it would be.
“I came with that hope and am living my dream,” he says.