Anthony Dindia: The Godfather Of Cannabis At Verano Holdings
I met Anthony Dindia a month or so ago at New Jersey's latest cannabis dispensary. He had just spent the past few grueling days of night and day work getting the Elizabeth, NJ location for the Verano Holdings family of dispensaries ready to open and greet their guests.
Anthony is unmistakably a key player in this remarkably fluid organization and deeply reflective time of the pandemic, Covid-19. A take-charge man who loves what he does, and that reflects deeply upon his life and philosophy for healing.
The world is his oyster.
The brand-new, sleekly designed Zen Leaf dispensary is located in historic Elizabeth, NJ. Verano made it shine against the renewal going on in the immediate vicinity.
I am a current, medical cannabis patient in NJ, so my cannabis use-card allowed me to visit the newest medical dispensary and report back from the inside. What I saw within was completely different from other dispensaries I've been to. First of all the neighborhood is a part of a massive urban renewal project. You won't recognize the area within a few months. It's simple to get to, as long as you remember that Rt. 1/9 are one way streets! GPS doesn't recognize this basic fact. The parking lot is clean and secure with a security guard, so safety of employees and guests are job one. Once inside, the comfortable waiting area beckons relaxation. Inside the dispensary, products are displayed in a fashion that reminded me of the ultra-high end dispensary named SERRA in Portland, Oregon.
Crisp lighting illuminates the space with warmth from the modern fixtures and the displays are more reminiscent of an Apple computer store, than a cannabis dispensary/pharmacy. They've done a beautiful job architecturally and it shows in every detail.
Care, empathy and compassion is experienced in small ways, with each respective and ebullient bud-tenders. They take their job very personally and professionally, their authentic smiles outshine the truly ill people who come through the door, all day and every day. It takes a special personality to help the truly ill. I admire that.
A bright light in a dark world is found at Zen Leaf.
But now, may I introduce Anthony Dindia, The Godfather of Verano Holdings.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Please tell me how you discovered the plant? Who introduced you? How old were you? Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
Anthony Dindia=AD: Times were markedly different in the late 1980's. My father was a silent owner of a bar in Chicago and they sponsored our Little League team. It was not uncommon that after a game we would stop at the bar so he could check in. Being 8 years old, I was only allowed in the basement office. The desk had a long thin middle drawer, centered above your knees if you were seated. One day after a game, I was down there alone and I opened the drawer. I was immediately struck by the aroma, and remember very clearly that there were no bags... just roaches. On long roach clips. Hemostats. I kind of knew what I was looking at, but a bar employee would soon erase any doubt, providing clarity for my young, curious mind. The bartender, Charlie was his name, came downstairs and discovered 8-year-old me enthralled in this desk drawer. I asked him what it was, and he said plainly, "that's weed." So, I guess Charlie the bartender formally introduced me, but it wasn't until 1995, having reached the established age of 13, that I first tried it. At the time, we called it 'Wildwood' because a friend of mine got it from his uncle who lived in Wildwood, Indiana.
I grew up just outside of Chicago, in a town called Melrose Park. But I also spent a few great years in River Grove as a kid. It's just the next town over, but still important to me to always mention River Grove. You can never forget where you came from. Currently, I live out in Chicago's Western Suburbs.
WB: Please tell me about what you do? Is your company vertically integrated? What obstacles do you face? What stigmas do you face in your work? How do you help people?
AD: Day-to-day I am privileged to lead a team of wonderful people. Together we operate medical and recreational dispensaries across the country. We are a vertically integrated operation. The connective tissue between our retail & cultivation/processing teams is strong, and when leveraged properly it works beautifully to both our advantage.
A primary obstacle we face on the retail side, although relatively minor in the grand scheme, is not having the luxury of implementing a cookie-cutter strategy for opening new dispensaries. The regulatory/compliance/operating and security guidelines vary in every market. With that, new SOP's must be developed constantly and the follow-through of executing different procedures everywhere requires a sturdy team.
The stigma that cannabis is damaging or dangerous is hanging on by a thread. Hopefully that thread dissolves sooner than later, so we can put the outdated and unfounded notion to bed forever.
If 2020 has taught our industry anything... People both want and need cannabis.
Helping people is the cornerstone of this business and, might I add, an absolute pleasure. I believe unquestionably that there is no greater pursuit in this life than one that intends to help all people. Every day at the dispensary level our teams are improving and enriching our patients' lives. I saw the impact we were making early on in my career and, for lack of a better term, it all clicked. We are not only improving the lives of our patients, but also the lives of their loved ones. The effect cascades. We had a patient, severely addicted to opioids and it was destroying his life. When he first visited us, he was in terrible shape. We got him started on a tailored cannabis regiment and could visibly note improvement as early as his next visit. By day 90, he was a different person. Opioids, no more – just cannabis. He pulled me aside and asked to speak privately. What ensued was a moment of sincere beauty. Fighting back tears, he insisted that we saved his life, and he was not simply referring to mortality in its purest sense. His opioid addiction was a destructive force, much like that of a devastating tornado – moving rapidly and leaving behind piles of rubble in its wake. Relationships with his wife and two young children had all but vanished. The fun dad that they once knew was gone, and his wife was on the verge of giving up. He went on to tell me that the combination of guidance and cannabis he received from us helped him not just see through the fog, but break through it. The formerly fun father and devoted husband had returned, he was able to fulfill his responsibilities to his family, and have a blast while doing it. He put it plainly, "There is nothing better than smoking some G6 then playing with my kids for two hours." It was a profoundly heartfelt 'thank you'. At that moment I knew, we are doing the right thing. The propagandized notion that cannabis is a gateway drug is ridiculous. Cannabis is an exit drug and I am happy to be in a position to provide it.
WB: What is your six and twelve month goal? What markets do you want to enter going forwards? Why?
AD: My six-month goal is to finish out the year strong opening dispensaries in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Arkansas, while continuing to improve existing operations and set trends in our current markets. My twelve- month goal is for Verano to be recognized as one of the top two cannabis companies in the country.
WB: Do you cook? Who taught you? Favorite Food memory?
AD: I absolutely love to cook. I've got some skills too. My Nonno Angelo was born in Sicily. He taught me how to cook implicitly. I watched him. I saw his versatility. His Ravioli Marinara was a thing of beauty. He baked his own bread and grew most of his own vegetables at home. My favorite food memory is watching him roll up to the stove, wooden spoon in-hand, to taste the sauce. It was so classy and cool, even mystical, for something seemingly trivial. Just the way he moved. And his reaction when he tasted it was the same every time... a subtle nod of self-acknowledgement so as to say "it's good" without saying anything at all. I miss him dearly and think about him every day. One of my sons bears his namesake. I know that he watches over us and hope that he does so with the same sense of innate pride as he exhibited when tasting the sauce. If he were to see his grandson in Forbes Magazine... Man.
WB: What is your passion?
AD: My passion, and my calling, at this point of my life is just to see people be happy and healthy. Period. Life is too short and delicate, and we all have much more in common that we think. Grab your family, your friends, and embrace them. Love strong, you know. Help people. Go above and beyond. And always find comfort in knowing that an 8th of Verano flower - and some Ravioli Marinara - is a good thing.