Top Shelf Budtending.1 Image Alanna You.Sized

Building your reputation party by party: Life as an private event cannabis budtender

Being your own boss is a dream for a lot of people, and some risk-taking entrepreneurs are turning that dream into reality in the rapidly-evolving legal cannabis space.

Andrew Mieure, owner of Denver-based Top Shelf Budtending, admits that his business – providing certified budtenders for private events – began with an unsustainable business model. He says that around one-fourth of the 50 or so events he’s worked so far this year were done for free.

“I know this sounds crazy in the business world but in 2016, the first year of my biz, I would venture to say 90-to-95 percent of the events I did were pro bono and no charge to whomever I was throwing it for,” he tells Blunt Network.

But Mieure says that, given the mindset and spirit of the legal marijuana industry, there’s sound business reasoning behind his generosity – as he builds up a reputation and client base.

Images: Alanna You

His customers, he says, will end up paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars for his services – providing a safe, fun and educated approach to cannabis consumption at parties, wedding receptions and other events. And for Andrew, establishing a good word-of-mouth reputation is key.

“When you’re jumping in with zero reputation at all you’re going to sacrifice quite a bit for people to understand who you are,” he says. “And to me that was the most logical way to do it without a lot of money and being self-funded. I don’t have a lot of money to throw at advertising.”

The Ohio native, who is about to turn 29, says he began Top Shelf Budtending after moving to Colorado at the end of 2014. He quickly got his medical marijuana card and Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) badge, which allowed him to work in the state’s legal cannabis industry.

“I did medical dispensary and budtending work and got super good at it,” he remembers, “almost a perfect fit. I was able to educate patients. I did a lot of research in Ohio before I came out here.”

But Mieure noticed that a lot of his fellow budtenders didn’t really care about educating their clientele, many of whom were experiencing cannabis for the first time or returning to marijuana after decades away.

“That’s where I saw the need for standardization and education in the newly-emerging cannabis parties,” he says.

Cannabis-themed events have become very popular in Colorado and other states with legal adult-use marijuana. Andrew originally wanted to work with a company that specialized in cannabis-themed wedding planning. The owner, who became his mentor, instead encouraged him to go out on his own and to begin his own business.

“That was the day I decided to buy my domain and figure out the (business) name and get it all surrounded with legal understanding,” he says. “Call the lawyers and make sure everything’s good with my business idea. And without her telling me to make that first step I don’t think I ever would.”

Mieure says he was able launch Top Shelf Budtending on a shoestring budget. “I’ve made a business model which works for any person with a reliable mode of transportation and room (in that vehicle) to fit a bar in. My total startup cost with everything, including website, all the domain registrations, all that jazz, legal stuff, was under $5,000.”

But Andrew did a lot of his own work, like designing and maintaining his company’s website. As his business becomes profitable – he expects to be in the black by the end of this year – he keeps himself financially afloat with another job, working in IT. He says he didn’t want to take out loans, given the regulatory and legal uncertainties currently surrounding the cannabis business.

He’s also learned the legal intricacies of staying on the proper side of Colorado’s legal marijuana regulations. As Top Shelf’s website states, “Under no circumstance will we facilitate the sales or distribution of cannabis.”

In terms of what he does at an event, “you pay for my consultation, up front, before the event starts,” he says. “There’s no exchange of money because that could be confused with exchanging cash for cannabis, which is not what we do at all. Cannabis is purchased by the event coordinator or guests prior to the event, brought to the event then given out at the event as a full donation, free of charge.”

Top Shelf Budtending is certainly raising its profile. Mieure recently worked a high-end party in Malibu, California. He has a variety of service packages, starting at several hundred dollars per event and running up to $1,200 and above.

So far this year, the company has helped bring an elevated atmosphere to a Super Bowl party, as well as Valentine’s Day festivities and several bachelor and bachelorette events. At one recent cannabis industry event in Denver Andrew says he had over 500 people visit his budtender bar.  Mieure has taken on several subcontractors as his work expands and is looking to take his concept and branding to other states.

He stresses that a big part of his work is about educating consumers – both cannabis enthusiasts and newbies – at his events, and making sure everyone has a fun and safe experience.

“Consumers are demanding a new level of sophistication,” he notes. “Without set procedures, and an understanding of how to act with cannabis in public, this whole thing could fall apart.”