Budtender Feature: Evangeline Barry

To be effective and build a trusting relationship with their patrons, Budtenders learn as much information as possible about brands and products carried in their shops. It’s more than just pulling a product off the shelf or picking the highest THC. Consumers have specific needs, and Budtenders often find themselves playing a game of matchmaker to help them find the product that would best suit their customers. But it’s all in a day’s work.

To learn more about the day-to-day of being a Budtender, we reached out to Evangeline Barry, a Budtender from Yerba Buena in North York, Ontario. Throughout our conversation, it’s clear to see that despite the sometimes strange questions that arise, Budtending is a rewarding experience filled with constant learning. 

How long have you been a Budtender?

EB: Not very long. This upcoming July will make it a year since I’ve been working at Yerba Buena.

What’s your favourite thing about Budtending?

EB: I would say trying different products and telling our customers about them and educating them at the same time. I feel like since cannabis has been legal there have been a lot of studies and a lot of changes. There are new things to learn and things that most people aren’t aware of. The illicit market wasn’t very educating – it was more of a ‘get the weed and get high’, but now it’s so much more.

We’re talking more about how cannabis can impact your mental health, and how it can help you in your day-to-day life. It’s not just about smoking flower. It’s not just about the THC. There’s CBD, edibles, topicals… it’s so much broader and I love being able to educate people about that.

WROG: I feel like you were listening in on my thoughts earlier from earlier today. I think we all had that legacy market experience where it was really focused on getting high and not a lot of information about what you were smoking. There is so much more education that has come through, and it’s great that you are able to share that with people who are coming into the shop looking for products. Given that education is a part of what you appreciate, how would you describe your Budtending style?

EB: I just like listening to what the customer is looking for and what they need. From there I try to match them with what they’re looking for. If we don’t have what they need, I usually suggest something similar, but I also don’t believe in pushing products. People are free to buy what they want, and I don’t think it’s helpful for me to push products onto people rather than work with them to figure out what they want, find something similar and make sure they are ok with what I’m recommending.

WROG: That makes sense. Now that you’re coming up on a year as a budtender, I can only imagine you’ve heard and seen a lot of different situations. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from working with cannabis?

EB: I would have to say it’s terpenes. I’ve always known different effects, but I didn’t know about the word terpene itself and I feel like that has helped me so much more in how I choose what to smoke. When I used to buy weed, I never looked at the THC percentages, I would just look up strains on Leafly and then decide. But it is so much more helpful to put the effects and the names beside it. It’s so much more helpful now. I feel like terpenes are a blueprint to figure out what you need and how it will work for you.

It’s funny when people come in and say, ‘Just give me the highest THC’ and I always ask – ‘What kind of effect are you looking for? Are you looking to be couch-locked? Are you looking to still be creative?’ It really helps to interact with the customers. It makes them feel like you are interested in what they do in their daily lives, and you can help them make their day better. Or they come in after having a bad day and you sell them something only to see them come back and tell you that it’s helped them so much…. I think that’s very rewarding to hear.

WROG: Terpenes – they’re in everything. I can see how that’s important in navigating experiences, especially with flower products. But clearly, lots of information is needed on your end to get the job done. That said, what’s the best way for brands to convey their product information to you?

EB: I would say samples and then a PK session – a blend of those. Once I try something I’m able to sell it and talk more to it, more than just reading a description. Don’t get me wrong, I can read a description as well, but you are more convincing once you tried something than when you’re just reading off a sheet.

And then listening in to LP’s when they talk about their products, especially once you’ve tried the product, it really brings everything together and makes more sense.

WROG: So, you’re saying samples first – to have the first-hand experience with the product, then the PK session to fill in the gaps.

EB: Yeah.

WROG: We’ve implemented a Sampler Program recently, where we’re sending true-to-taste samples of non-infused candies to stores. We want you guys to try the product to really get a feel for the texture and taste.

EB:  Yeah, you sent some to our store and I tried them all and they were good… I mean really good.

WROG: That’s great to hear. What’s the craziest question about cannabis you’ve ever been asked?

EB: That’s a good question. Probably … What would create a good sexual experience. It’s not something I’ve ever thought about. But sometimes people also ask for something that would help manage diabetes or an extreme health condition.

I know that there are certain oils that help with pain relief for someone who has cancer – but … we’re not doctors. I think it’s so interesting.

I feel like now a lot of people are straying a lot more from pills for more natural ways to help with the issues that they are having.

WROG: So, what you’re saying is the eventuality of Budtenders will include medical degrees.

EB: Yeah…right?

WROG: Other than fielding crazy questions, what would you say is the hardest part about being a Budtender?

EB: Giving recommendations. Because sometimes some customers have this expectation that because you said something was great for you that it will work for them. If it doesn’t work, then there is a little bit of disappointment. I would say that is difficult sometimes.

I use my words very carefully when I make recommendations and I’m also very honest. If I haven’t tried something, then I’m not going to say that I have. I will refer to the experience of other colleagues and let them decide whether they’re going to get it or not. I think that’s also connected to not pushing products on people, especially if you haven’t tried it.

I do think that on the plus side, if the person does come back and they are accepting of trying to figure out what their niche is, then it’s good at building that relationship and getting them to finally figure out what works for them. When you’ve come all this way in trying different things with your customer and then you finally find it, … it’s such a good feeling. For the customer and for me. I feel like I’ve accomplished something and helped someone in a meaningful way.

WROG: You’re right. It’s a great way to build relationships with your customer. They learn to trust you, and will recommend you to their friends because you’ve helped them. This goes back to what you were saying about really listening to your customer and really helping them on their journey. I think that’s the key to being a great budtender.

EB: Yes! Exactly.

WROG: Keeping the tough questions going, in your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about cannabis you’d like to fix?

EB: I still think that there is this stigma about weed and cannabis in general that once you consume cannabis you are lazy, and you can’t go on with your day because you are so stoned and high out of your mind. There are people who still think that, and I would really like to change that because I smoke every day and can say that I don’t feel myself becoming lazier. If anything, I know what to smoke during the day and what to smoke at night. Knowledge is power. Once you figure out what you can use during the day that is still going to make you productive, that makes you unstoppable.

I think once people come in and see us Budtenders working – and I work 5-6 days a week – and customers see me all the time and I’m never just sitting around doing nothing. I’m always up helping customers and fixing merchandise. And most of the time I’m high when I’m at work so that just goes to show that yeah, I smoke weed, but I’m still productive. I’m still able to get my life together and do things.

Another thing too, I would like to see more female-owned growers and cannabis stores. Since I started working in the cannabis industry, I’ve realized that there are some male customers that think women can’t give as good of a recommendation as men and I would like to see that change. I don’t know why seeing a woman in a store would automatically make someone think they can’t help them as well as a man. Gender has nothing to do with anything. Once you interact with her you will find out that she smokes and uses the products and she’s going to be able to tell you what she thinks of the products in the same way that a man can.

WROG: You know that’s one of the things I really appreciate about working with White Rabbit OG. We’re very female-focused. We have two co-founders, David – who’s Latino, and Kyrsten, our CEO, who’s a single mom. Regardless, that doesn’t detract from either of their ability to speak to the products or to the effects. I do agree with you that overall, people tend to default to the male perspective a lot in many situations. It’s something that needs changing.

As a consumer then, what’s your favourite way/method to consume cannabis?

EB: Flowers and edibles. I’ve tried vaping, and it’s not really for me. I think it would be more something that I would do in the winter and not very often. But edibles, chocolates, gummies, drinks and then weed. I stuff cones because I don’t know how to roll!

WROG: Any favourite products?

EB: Well, I used to be more of a Sativa smoker all the time, but once I started working at Yerba, I got a little bit more into the Indicas. I’ve found my daytime Indicas, and nighttime Indicas. There are some Indicas that I can smoke during the day and I’m still able to be productive. I’ve realized it’s strains with less than 21% THC. Sometimes I use CBD capsules for anxiety, and they work well.

For edibles, I’ve tried White Rabbit’s Blueberry and Sour Peach and I really like those ones. We got a sample of the Raspberry White Chocolate, and I would say that it would be my favourite in terms of taste so far of the White Rabbit OG products. I’m really excited for us to have that one in store. It’s such a unique taste – I’ve never had anything like that before. I feel like people might judge it and think – raspberry and white chocolate sounds like a weird combo but it’s like a raspberry white chocolate cheesecake.

WROG: That’s exactly where the inspiration for this flavour came from. And as a product, I think it lends to the image of an enhanced reality because we’ve created this edible that, I’d say, plays tricks on you from the moment you see the name on the package.

EB: The Blackberry Merlot, I liked as well. It tastes very fruity, and I appreciate that. I’m not really a fan of gummies that are covered in sugar. I like the SOURZ by Spinach, but I wouldn’t have those very often – it feels so unhealthy eating too much of them. These ones I just feel like I’m eating actual fruit and tasting what the flavours are.

WROG: You are! There’s a lot of fruit puree that goes into our gummies. A lot of other brands use only flavours, or juice concentrate. We use juice concentrates too, as an addition to the whole fruit that makes up the bulk of our gummies.

You said before cannabis is more than just THC. With that in mind, THC, CBD, CBN, CBG and everything in between – what’s your go to and why?

EB: So far, I seem to lean towards balanced options, and CBG. I’ve only had a few but I’m slowly getting into it. I just feel like it’s something I would use if I were having a lot of problems sleeping or if I have extreme pain.

I like balanced options because I do feel high, but it’s just relaxing. I feel… balanced out. It’s not too much of one thing, which I think is good for usage all day and all night too.

WROG: When it comes to edibles, what do you find customers asking for?

EB: We have more and more people asking about vegan options and sugar-free options. From there people like to focus on products that will help them sleep or manage any type of pain or anxiety.

I’ve also noticed that when the weather is nice outside and once, we started opening back up again, people come in and ask for products that would be good for going to dinner, or parties or hanging out in the park with their friends.

I’d say it is evenly distributed across all those options.

WROG. Interesting to know. In terms of onset times, we know there aren’t many options out there. Is that something that you find consumers are asking for or do they accept the reality of the products available?

EB: Everyone asks how long it takes for edibles to kick in. Overall, they’re looking at 30 mins to an hour. Some consumers want 15 minutes, but there’s nothing that will act that fast. Maybe 30 mins. I think that there needs to be a lot more options. I’ve seen White Rabbit, Wana and one or two others. Everything else takes longer.

WROG: Fair enough. Now just to wrap things up with a fun question, if you could design your own gummy flavour, what would it be?

EB: A Mango Key Lime pie. I’m obsessed with anything mango, or anything on the citrusy side of fruits, but also sweet at the same time. I would probably want to see that as a balanced option. And if I had to choose a CBD option, I’d probably pick something with pineapple. But I can’t think of something to match that with.

WROG: That’s good to know. Without giving too much away just yet, I want to say that as we look to expand our products, we’re kind of having the same fruit vibes. Makes me excited for the things to come.

You can find Evangeline at Yerba Buena (Sheppard location) in North York or find her on Instagram at @1andonlyevie.