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The New American Dream

One of Colorado’s first, and largest, dispensaries is making big moves...
By Aaron Bible
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The New American Dream Blog Image

One of Colorado’s first, and largest, dispensaries is making big moves. Mile High Dispensary might just be a one-shop dispensary in the Denver suburbs to some, but to those in the know, it’s one of the oldest—and best-stocked—boutique dispensaries in the Mile High City. While some might describe the location as low-key, their passion for the product is far from it. In fact, it’s a mile high. The exterior of the unassuming Lakewood medical and recreational dispensary is nondescript, but venture inside and you’re in for one of the kindest experiences in the country.

Now, the leadership team of Virginie d’Andrimont, John Costigan, and Colby Bolger are on a mission to give back to the city, the state, and the people who have allowed them to break the mold as one of Colorado’s most successful canna businesses, by and for Coloradans. For now. As one of the top 10 highest-grossing shops in the Centennial State, even while prioritizing people over profits in an industry that has been facing increasingly slim margins, Mile High Dispensary is still growing—pun intended.

As anyone who’s visited Denver and accessed WeedMaps knows, MHD is known primarily for two things, by design: a personalized, high-quality experience and consistently high-quality products to match. It’s tough to find anyone as passionate and optimistic about the business as this unlikely trio. When it comes to enthusiasm for people, for the state of Colorado, for industry innovation, and for quality products, MHD is different.

While many may have found a personal passion (and a cash cow) in the cannabis industry, given the growth in nationwide legalization, expanding product categories, and increased retail availability across every part of the biz, Virginie and her legacy is unique, not just to Colorado, but globally.

IN THE BEGINNING

It’s actually an age-old lesson in doing things right: build it and they will come. Put people and passion over profits and you will be profitable. But the execution and follow-through are everything, and that’s where Virginie has excelled. In the face of rising costs of doing business and increasing regulatory pressure, the opportunities for growth and success in cannabis are still out there. And MHD along with their new product line, High Country Cones, are all in.

The integrity of the product is the name of the game. That, and as Virginie likes to say good vibes. It’s important to her and to others. MHD was one of the first Denver dispensaries to be open and licensed, first for medical and then quickly for recreational sales. And they’ve been a leader in compliance and have remained open ever since.

They’ve stayed focused on providing an exceptional product selection for the Colorado consumer—especially important to this crew of family and business partners who are all Colorado natives. (Technically, Virginie moved to Evergreen when she was two years old, but John and Colby were both born and bred in Colorful Colorado, with no intentions of going anywhere anytime soon.) Virginie’s father Ben was a Belgian immigrant, a well-known author, innovator, thinker, and doer.

He was a brilliant businessman who ran day-to-day operations until about 2018 and was a major proponent of MHD opening and operating its own grow facility. Sadly, Ben passed away from cancer in 2018. “Ben was such an inspiration to all of us,” says John Costigan, co-founder, and president of operations of High Country Cones. “We remain focused on our consumers getting what they are paying for,” says John. “This is all about time and energy and love, not just focused on the product but on the packaging and the branding.”

As the dispensary took off to become ultra-successful, at first partnering with another larger grow operation, Virginie knew she didn’t want to be in a position of relying on anyone else to provide her with the constant flow of high-quality product she needed to keep going. Her father’s genius, tenacity, and connections – which she inherited – ultimately paid off when they were able to buy into a plot of land in Colorado’s high country.

GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY DESERVE

“Our integrity is for Colorado’s sake,” says Virginie. “I knew to survive I would need my own grow to be fully integrated,” says Virginie. “We are the brand of the future. We want the state of Colorado and all of its vendors to know that we’re here for them, with a better product for a better price. “One of the main focuses of our program up here is to bring the best quality product to the table at the best price. And we’ve really focused on one major part of the industry that we wanted to go after, which was our kief cones.

We spent a lot of time and energy simplifying that process to a point where we can bring a lot of this to the state of Colorado,” says John. “And,” he says, “every one of them will pretty much tell you the same thing … that we’re one of the top-selling products on their shelf. We outsell their flower, we outsell a lot of their concentrates unit for unit, and that’s because of the amount of time and energy and love that we put into making that product.” And for them, that includes not just the bud itself but the packaging, the branding, all of those things are really geared toward just bringing a pleasant, positive, consistent, and wonderful product to Coloradoans.

“We’re a product for the people because we came from the people,” adds Colby, an Englewood, Colorado, native and CEO of High Country Cones and general manager of MHD. Colby started as a trimmer at MHD a decade ago and is now a co-owner of HCC. “It was very important for me to make sure that it was for the people and that it was the quality that we cared about. That what we were giving people was clean, and that we’re not these big millionaires coming in, just trying to make a bunch of money.”

Colby was a high-school dropout who was given this opportunity when his mother passed away. “That’s why for me personally it’s so important that we have integrity, that our product is clean, that it’s above and beyond, and that we really truly care. As somebody who was one of the consumers and one of the people that started from the very bottom, it’s incredibly important for myself and I know for our company that we follow that dynamic,” he explains. Colby came to MHD around 2011.

John started down his path in cannabis and with MHD in 2008 as a trimmer and budtender, but his strengths were in sales, business development, marketing, and now, growing.

FILLING A HOLE IN THE MARKET

Colby and the team quickly came to realize a massive opportunity in the marketplace. “Americans like convenience … DoorDash, Grubhub … all these things that are right at your fingertips, people are gonna want something convenient,” he explains. “In 2018 there were really no good cones out there; there were trim cones, house cones from shake-out of pound bags, not a highly sought-after product.

We saw an opportunity to find an untapped market within the market, and went full tilt toward it.” When they first started people thought they were crazy, stuffing full pounds of award-winning weed into a blender. “We put full big giant beautiful buds in our cones because we knew it was going to make such a massive difference,” says Colby—the man John describes as a “brilliant, shining light.” Now, they are selling 30,000 units a month to more than 70 vendors in every part of Colorado, and in many stores, they are the top-selling units on the shelf.

When it comes to packaging, HCC probably spends more than anyone else in the industry. HCC joints are perfectly hand-rolled every time. They are all strain-specifi c like a single-barrel bourbon: they’re not mixing in kief from other plants.

The cones are never undersized or improperly rolled, they are hand knocked, and hand cut, and even the labels are placed by hand, in what some are calling a wonderful addition to the industry. HCC cones are kief-infused to increase the potency and flavor and to keep it strain-specific.

To make the magic their small team will blend the bud, mix in the kief, and knead it together like cake batter. Hand-rolling with love is the name of the game. They give a damn, and the care they take is evident when you crack open the package; even the stickers on the packaging are collected as works of art. They’ve grown from being in six stores to 70 within a year and a half, much of this due to John’s cold calling and driving to reach every dispensary in the state, delivering free samples, and ultimately delivering every order themselves.

GROW YOUR OWN

When Virginie and her father came into an opportunity in Fairplay, Colorado, 10,000 feet in elevation and 120 miles from home, they knew it was the right move despite the obvious obstacles ahead. With a few starts and stops, when John and Colby took over the growth in the existing 5,000-square-foot warehouse, things immediately began to take off. While the distance and the weather of the new location had its drawbacks, it also had its benefits. Elevation promotes higher trichrome development, something they recognized right away.

They are able to take advantage of the cold crisp air, reducing their electricity costs in cooling. And of course, the fresh Rocky Mountain stream water, which is now being recycled in a closed-loop system. It took a hell of a lot of ambition and heart to pull this thing together.

They took the grow over, doing all of the hands-on plant work for more than six months, took on a few enthusiastic workers, and eventually John and Colby returned to what they do best—sales and running a quickly growing company. But taking over the growth and having their hands on each plant got them closer to their roots, not just a perfect analogy for the original MHD business, but in line with their entire way of doing business.

Now, they have completed work on a brand new 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art grow facility next door to the old building, designed from the ground up. A marijuana machine, as Jen likes to call it. It might be out in the middle of nowhere, but when it comes to safety, the remoteness actually worked in their favor.

Their passion for the product starts with the plants (“In this business, you work for the plant,” says Virginie), and for them, that love and care also extends to the environment. Starting from the ground up with an eye toward sustainability allowed them to create the most energy-efficient building possible, recycling heat and water with fi ve highly engineered chambered spaces.

The two-foot-thick insulated exterior walls, french drain system, temperature and humidity sensors, and dehumidifiers and condensers that feedback into a circular hydrology system that saves thousands of gallons of water per week, create a modern grow facility. They are also currently exploring more recyclable packaging options and looking into take-back programs to keep packaging out of landfill.

PERSEVERANCE AND INTEGRITY FOR THE PEOPLE

“We believe so much in our brand and what we have built here, we know we can duplicate it, and we’re ready to move into other parts of the industry, other states,” says John. “We’ve all taken steps when they’ve needed to be taken.” He says they will continue to roll further into the industry (yes, pun intended), looking into adjacent product categories such as rosin cones and hemp blunts. This rags-to-riches story may sound fantastical to some but it’s really quite simple.The New American Dream blog image

This company was started by a few people who came up from the bottom. “And we’re not looking for a ceiling,” says John. “This brand and what we’ve created is everything to us. We’re bringing the best product we can because we are one of those people. It’s taken a lot of faith and a lot of love. We just recognized we make a pretty good team. Enough of a team that we invested everything.”