Aug 9, 2021
‘We want to be a positive member of the community’
Andrew Wesley, 44, and brother Martin, 49, can’t recall ever fighting as kids. And now, as the VTown Farms’ ownership trifecta that includes pops Chuck Wesley, the 6-foot-3 siblings don’t need to arm wrestle in the decision-making process.
It’s never about disagreements, Andrew says. More about “just finding the solution,” offered Martin.
The brothers agree they found the solution for their latest adventure into the cannabis industry following on the heels of Rio Vista Farms and, in Antioch, CoCo Farms: The 25,000 square foot site at 5184 Sonoma Blvd., former home of Food-4-Less.
“Perfect,” said Andrew when the Wesleys were introduced to the location.
“We were sold,” added Martin.
A week after the doors opened — with the official Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting at 4 p.m. Aug. 12 — the two see nothing but potential for the business, with 10,000 square feet up and running as a seven-day-a-week, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. dispensary featuring more than 800 products, including, as Martin proclaimed proudly, “The Wall of Weed.”
The Wesleys purchased the entire property, including a sushi and a Mexican food restaurant, hoping to add an ice cream shop and coffee café at the nearby property, a former haven for abandoned cars.
“There are neighbors around here who were thankful because it’s been cleaned up and is safe,” Martin said, reiterating that the property “is 100 percent ideal. Parking is the key. We have other high-volume shops and we don’t have this much parking.”
Though it’s too early to determine demographics and customer residences, Martin said there has been significant business from Marin and Napa counties.
“We’ll end up drawing a lot of people who are now going to San Rosa. We’re a lot closer and our prices are phenomenal,” Martin said.
The Wesley brothers agreed that the roughly dozen “mom and pop” dispensaries in Vallejo will survive. “There are enough (customers) to go around,” said Andrew.
“It’s like BevMo and smaller liquor stores. And there’s Costco and small grocery stores,” added Martin,
Martin learned early in his working days that treating employees right often means the customer is treated right, which is good for business. So VTown Farms pays $20 an hour with benefits and has hired 65 of the expected 200 available positions via job fairs at the site.
“You have to take care of your employees. If you have happy employees, it will permeate to the customers’ experience,” he said.
Some employees, including a few husband-and-wife teams, “are looking for employment,” Martin said. “Others are working at other places making $14 an hour with no health care. We pay a living wage and have benefits, which enabled us to get some great employees. We have a lot of pride in our employees.”
He recalled his first job: Selling newspaper advertising.
“I think the lesson I learned was ‘make sure you have a product people want and it works for them,” Martin said.
He definitely believes in his product, be it tinctures, flowers, edibles, extracts and even VTown Farms T-shirts.
“This will be one of the top shops in the state,” Martin proclaimed.
Right now, it’s one of the biggest, with 36 Point of Sale available registers as budtenders, assistant managers, managers, and supervisors slide bar codes of each item through the system. And, unlike pre-state legalization when it was a total cash business, debit cards are accepted, Martin said, hoping for a welcoming ambiance.
Music is always playing, with several metal art objects spaced around the considerable lobby. Woodworking around the shop was done by one of the hires and the promotional artwork was done by a Vallejo artist.
“We have a lot of pride in our employees,” Martin said, believing customer service and an extensive menu equal success.
“We offer a great product at a great price,” he said. “We’re not trying to pay the rent on one transaction. We make it affordable for any budget.”
The Wesley brothers had a marketing tech data and analytics background when they opened Rio Vista Farms in 2017.
“We decided we wanted to get into something new. We pushed all the chips in and went for it. After that, there was no turning back,” Martin said.
In the cannabis business, forget about any five-year plan. Long-range is more like three to six months, Andrew said, because of constantly-changing laws, ordinances and the market.
“It’s like if this was a football game, you plan a quarter at a time,” Andrew added. “The industry changes so much. As soon as you make a long-term plan, something changes and the market shifts. And you don’t know what the politicians will change. You have to be agile and ready to shift gears.”
During a Times-Herald tour late morning Friday, each employee was masked. The dispensary will adhere to whatever the Solano County policy dictates, the brothers said. Martin praised the city — notably senior planner Johnathan Atkinson — for its cooperation. “He was a lot of help through the process,” Martin said, waiting for “word of mouth” to kick in.
“Once we get this fully ramped up, we expect the city to benefit about $4 million a year in tax revenue,” Martin said, emphasizing that VTown Farms is prepared to contribute heavily to worthy local nonprofits.
“We want to be a positive member of the community,” Martin said. We want to maintain a clean, safe, fun environment and want it to feel like any other retail shopping experience.”
The Wesley family isn’t done. A similar-sized dispensary is expected to open in December or January in Concord. Sure, Martin said, it might siphon some business from CoCo Farms in Antioch.
“If you cannibalize yourself, nobody else can. That’s a lesson I learned,” Marty said.
One other thing. VTown Farms?
“It took us about three days” to come up with the name, Martin said.
“There were a couple of other ideas. Then someone referred to Vallejo as ‘V Town’ and our dad picked up on it and that was that,” Martin said. “I like the name. It’s definitely brandable.”
VTown Farms is in Meadows Plaza, 5184 Sonoma Blvd., Vallejo, opened daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more, visit vtownfarms.com.