Dean Armijo knows what it takes to create appetizing experiences. As a corporate chef and restaurant industry pro, Dean made sure some of the most important people in Arizona were full and happy. He has a few different things on his plate now as GM of Sol Flower Sun City and head of our Signature Cafe, and his commitment to his team and his community is stronger than ever.
We chatted with Dean about his career in food, Sol Flower’s insanely fast ticket times, and the good old days of smoking Reggie.
You have your hands full on the floor and at the cafe. What’s a typical day like for you?
When I started in July 2019, my main focus was running the cafe. I was promoted to floor manager in March, and again to GM in October, but I still swing by the cafe every morning first thing to see how it’s going, taste the food, check on orders, all that good stuff. Once they’re good I swing over to the dispensary and greet the staff, take care of emails and catch up. Throughout the day when I’m not on various marketing and retail calls I’ll swing by the floor and just keep myself busy doing whatever I can.
How was the transition from the restaurant world to the cannabis industry?
Before I came to Sol Flower I helped run four different restaurants here in the Valley. After being a manager for a while and running a business, you realize it’s mostly the same wherever you go; you just have a different product and a different customer base. I was selling food and had diners, now I sell cannabis and have patients. Still have budgets, customer service, and all the little things that go into it. My main job in the food industry was making profits so I’m able to bring that style over to this side. The main difference is in cannabis we don’t have a perishable product and we’re offering something that pretty much sells itself. All I have to do is bring that structure and customer service.
Speaking of customer service, what do you see in that aspect at Sol Flower that sets it apart?
Our ticket time is second to none in the state. We average five and a half minutes at Sun City, which is pretty impressive when you see 400+ patients a day. In Tempe we see 700-800 patients and still pull off seven minute times. So we have the bandwidth to get you in and out in an orderly manner, with some of the best customer service in town.
You also run the customer service training program. What do you try to instill in every employee?
Most of our people come here with no first-hand knowledge of the service world and we’re able to train them into delivering an experience you’d find at a high-end resort like the Biltmore or Princess. It’s simple, but the pleases, thank yous, and how may I help yous go such a long way. Not only do we have great medicine but I really believe our staff is the real reason people come back. We have a customer that comes in 3-4 days a week when he could just as easily get all he needs in one visit, but we personalize his experience, call him by his first name, and it’s that interaction with the staff that brings him back. I don’t think you really get that kind of one-on-one care anywhere else in town. We’re super bubbly here, it’s like champagne.
How did you get into the cannabis industry in the first place?
Funny story. Aaron Chamberlain, who owns Good Things Coming now, was actually the owner of all four restaurants I worked at. So I was the one who set up the GTC kitchen in 2018, ordering all the ingredients and shipping them down to Snowflake. I had the opportunity to go out there with Aaron and see the grow operation, learn how to dose the edibles and all that. I remember the day - June 1, 2018, and I sent it out into the universe that I wanted to work at Copperstate. About a year later Aaron called me and asked if I wanted to run a little cafe in Sun City. It was more like a snack shop at the time, but I wanted to be in the industry so badly that I took a pay cut and started running that small operation. Just over a year later, here I am as GM.
Where do you see yourself progressing next?
Copperstate has big goals. We want to grow beyond our four dispensaries now, and there’s no reason we can’t have 16 or more all around the state. Personally, I’d like to grow into a regional retail manager position in charge of profitability and high-level decision making for multiple locations. Hopefully I’m just at the starting point with the company and can keep adding value all the way up.
What’s your background as a cannabis consumer and how do you like to partake today?
Just like any other person dabbling in cannabis at the age of 16, I started off smoking Reggie out of a metal pipe. I’m gonna cough just thinking about it. I was introduced to quality flower at age 19, and over the years I’ve really enjoyed high end strains like Northern Lights and the original Granddaddy Purple out of SF. Right now though I’m on a rosin diet. I do set boundaries for myself though as far as when I partake. My 9 year old son is my number one hobby and I don’t like to medicate when I’m playing Fortnite, riding hoverboards or watching movies with him. But once he goes to sleep I unwind with a dime!
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