Calm and Concentrates at Zen NoHo

For this week’s field trip, I checked out a local, compliant dispensary called Zen NoHo pre-ICO. This was my first time shopping for meds at Zen NoHo and it was an impressive experience. Their customer service was excellent, the interior was clean, roomy and orderly, the inventory was just the right balance of quality and quantity, and the location is easily accessible.

Zen NoHo
Zen NoHo pre-ICO licensed dispensary on Vineland Ave. (photo: Leafly)

Zen NoHo’s storefront is conveniently situated in North Hollywood, CA, at 5142 Vineland Ave., just south of Magnolia Blvd. There is a very small lot for cars to the north of the building and plenty of parking on Vineland and in the surrounding neighborhood. Just remember to check street-cleaning signs so you don’t get ticketed.

Zen NoHo was ranked 5th on Leafly’s fall, 2017, “Leafly List”, featuring the highest ranked dispensaries in all of Southern California “based entirely on objective customer feedback.” Zen didn’t earn this coveted spot due to gimmicks, novelties, design or specialty offerings, but was recognized simply for providing its customers with the most basic and essential dispensary services. Leafly puts it quite succinctly:

In the world of dispensaries, great service means nothing without great cannabis. Luckily, Zen NoHo has both. Serving North Hollywood since 2006, this community staple’s loyal following raves about the generous deals for new patients and returning customers, as well as their large selection of quality cannabis.

In other words, Zen NoHo exemplifies the qualities I’ve come to appreciate in the best of the dispensaries I’ve patronized here in the east San Fernando Valley over the past several months. It sounds simple, but it is amazing how many dispensaries fail to grasp the core concept that excellent customer service and quality inventory are the foundations of profitable cannabis commerce.

When I buzzed in to Zen’s lobby, the first thing I noticed was how spacious and relaxed it was, and it hit me that the lighting had something to do with it. I’ve appreciated the bright lights at other dispensaries as a gesture of transparency, reassuring customers that there aren’t any unwelcome surprises lingering in the shadows. But bright lights can also make a customer feel “on the spot” or “under the microscope” which can add stress and anxiety to the experience. The lighting in Zen NoHo’s lobby was mostly natural, from the west-facing window, and if there were lamps lit, they were very muted. The diffused light and recessed shadows of the lobby had a calming effect on me, and they also made the room temperature feel cooler. As a result, I was quite at ease as a new customer.

Zen’s intake administrator greeted me warmly as I entered the lobby and she finished up with a prior patron. With a smile and a few questions answered, the admin directed me to an iPad on a stand a few feet away. This is the second dispensary I’ve visited that uses an iPad for all the legal paperwork, and it is much easier than pen and paper. After digitally signing and initialing the customer agreement, Zen’s friendly admin directed me through another door to the dispensary’s inner chamber and wished me a happy weekend.

Lacking windows, the dispensary interior was bereft of natural light, but the muted, warm glow of the sparse ceiling bulbs maintained the relaxed vibe I’d felt in the lobby. I was greeted right away by a friendly security guard with an awesomely bushy beard and then by Ryan, the budtender on duty. There is a red rope behind which customers line up to take their turn at the counter, but as I was the only customer, I walked straight through to meet my budtender, who greeted me affably and asked me what I was interested in, then walked me over to the dabbable concentrates.

Zen NoHo’s inventory of dabbable concentrates is currently about the same that I am seeing elsewhere. As the industry continues to find its legs, dispensary shelves continue to ebb and flow with tested, compliant cannabis and cannabis products. One of the reasons I wanted to check out Zen NoHo is because their Weedmaps menu listed Brite Labs jelly wax, which seems to have sold out at a handful of other dispensaries I occasionally patronize.

An accurate, up-to-date Weedmaps menu is a positive indicator of a dispensary’s commitment to organization and professionalism and is crucial to providing superior customer service and to ensuring repeat customer visits. My budtender, Ryan, explained that Zen NoHo maintains an accurate, real-time, Weedmaps inventory by updating its online menu the moment a product is stocked or sold out. I explained to him why this is important to me, especially now, when there is so much production uncertainty. Zen NoHo’s dedication to accuracy and organization underscores their clear commitment to providing superior customer service and instilling customer confidence in the midst of a rapidly changing cannabis industry.

Brite Labs jelly wax
Brite Labs jelly wax is clean, aromatic, tasty and affordable. And becoming scarce on dispensary shelves. (Photo: Brite Labs)

I asked Ryan about the jelly wax and he listed the four or five strains they had in stock. The only other dabbable concentrate variety they carried was their house crumble. At first I was hesitant about the crumble, because other dispensaries that haven’t become fully compliant sell untested, cheap, “house crumble.” But then I remembered that this was a fully compliant dispensary selling only quality, tested products, and became interested in hearing more from my budtender about their house brand.

Ryan showed me a sample of the crumble, which looked much more like premium budd’r than other “house crumble” I’ve seen. This was also the first time I recall a dispensary providing a house concentrate brand name (“Flavor”) or THC percentage. Although California cannabis law requires that all cannabis products are tested and labeled, not all dispensaries respect the rules, and Zen NoHo’s commitment to compliance and to transparency is reflected clearly in the way they market their in-house brand.  Although I haven’t yet dabbed the crumble, Zen NoHo has given me every reason to expect it will deliver as promised.

Ryan packaged the crumble jars in labeled, sealed, pouches, grabbed the Brite Labs boxes, and brought them to the counter. As a new customer, I was eligible for Zen’s first time customer discount, which allows the patron to apply any one of the dispensary’s daily deals to his purchase. As I was buying wax, I chose their Wednesday deal, which discounts by 25% all “wax, shatter, sap and hash.” Just before making my purchase, I mentioned to Ryan that I write dispensary reviews and asked him for a brief overview of the store.

Ryan did a solid job talking about the cannabis brands they stock and where some are from, showed me the wall display of their extensive supply of vape cartridges, told me a little about their pre-rolls and edibles, talked about grower conglomerates made up of small, individual farms, and of course, about the dabbable concentrates drought we seem to be in. I asked about twax joints, which they’re currently out of for reasons similar to the wax drought, but which they will restock, and about moonrocks, of which there are currently no known compliant brands, and consequently, which they do not stock.

Zen NoHo purchases
Zen NoHo purchases: Brite Labs Jelly Wax (Jagoo & Strawberry Fields) & Flavor House Crumble (Pineapple Jack & SFV OG) (Background: Peter Walker “Rainy Day Raga” LP [1966])
I paid for my meds, thanked Ryan and the security guard and wished them well. I left feeling really happy about my purchases and about my experience as a customer. Cannabis compliance is still so much in flux that a customer-patient has to patronize more than one dispensary to be able to access the rich varieties of strains, products and brands that make up the ever expanding breadth of the industry’s offerings. Zen NoHo pre-ICO is already on my short list as a reliable, quality, affordable local dispensary with excellent customer service and knowledgeable budtenders, and when one-stop shopping and steady, consistent inventories become the dispensary norm, Zen NoHo will be the go-to storefront for committed, responsible cannabis users like me.

Primitive Zippo
Doing high dives into the California cannabis industry, cannabis culture, cannabis-friendly music and anything else cannabis-related residing in the vast expanse of my turgid cranium.

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