Sanctuary Spotlight: Hannah Groce

  • By Jake May
  • Mar 16, 2022

How did you first break into the cannabis industry? Why?

I attended the Culinary Institute of America and was in the culinary industry as a chef for 15 years; I also owned my own restaurant. After I sold my restaurant, I was hoping for new opportunities in the hospitality industry. The pandemic hit, and I found myself looking for an industry that was both essential and one that sparked my interest to the point I could dedicate myself fully. I just realized I needed to find something and not go day-to-day waiting to see if the restaurants were going to be open or not. 

Cannabis has always been something I was passionate about, but it was not recreational [at that point] in New York, where I was residing. I was incredibly interested in this field, so I sold my house, packed my car and headed to Massachusetts, where I could begin investing myself in learning and sharing my skills.

How did your path lead you to this role and, by extension, Sanctuary?

I was having some trouble getting interviews in New York since it’s such a competitive job market. When I moved to Massachusetts, Sanctuary Medicinals was holding a job fair, and I applied for a kitchen job. I remember really liking Sanctuary and knew it was expanding, but I didn’t even know that there was a kitchen piece with edibles. I thought everything was mass produced, like most other stuff in that realm. When I found out there is an actual kitchen aspect to cannabis, I jumped in there.

Luckily, I was invited to join the team and was told, if I was interested, the company was expanding to Florida. I took the opportunity to come to Florida and start the kitchen. When the opening of the kitchen was delayed, I found myself learning each room. My past experiences opening restaurants helped us organize the team and flow of the facility. From there, I grew to become the Operations Manager.

What were some early lessons learned in the industry that have stuck with you?

It was the ever-changing nature of the industry. It’s also a little bit different from the culinary industry because it’s not as fast-paced. It’s a lot of sitting down, working it out, and a lot of repetition. I learned to find functions that I enjoyed and clung onto those. I like compliance; I enjoy learning about different regulations and things like that, how they evolve and how they differ from state-to-state. I like being a contact and resource for compliance in Florida. 

What makes the Florida market unique, challenging or exciting? 

Florida has stricter regulations than Massachusetts, so we are always brainstorming new products that fit our market’s rules–I enjoy the innovative side in that sense. I definitely think [Floridians] have different views on cannabis compared to recreational in Massachusetts. It’s a lot stricter down here. I hope it will loosen up and go recreational–that’s all of our hope down here. That said, it’s definitely fun to find new ideas that we can launch in both states but also do in a more regulated market down here.

What do you love about working on the cultivation side of the operation? Any favorite functions within your roles?

I like being hands-on with the product. My favorite part of my role is launching new products. It’s a lot of work and organization to get new products to the market consistently. I find this challenge intriguing and enjoy expanding and sharing my skills. I also enjoy working on products that I know people will find useful; seeing the reviews when customers are happy with the product is motivating.

A lot of my skills in the restaurant business, starting from when I was student, actually cross over quite easily here, especially with perishable inventory. I liked that I was able to feel comfortable in the roles that I was sliding into because I’ve done it for so many years.

What are some of your short-term goals in your role? Longer-term? 

I really liked the startup aspect of starting things from the beginning, initiating BioTrack and the seed-to-sale software. I like organizing things from the beginning, even though it’s a little harder when you get going because you have to make do with less. I like forming a team and getting everybody ready for what’s about to happen.

I’m hoping for more cultivation sites. My short-term goals are to introduce our full product lineup to Florida and that Sanctuary is recognized for employing a teamwork modality. Long-term, the goal would be to organize production and execution of those new cultivation sites.

Cannabis and science are two fields dominated by men. In your opinion, where does cannabis have the most room to grow on the equity front? On the flipside, what indicators of progress are you seeing? 

I came from the hospitality industry, which is dominated by men as well. In most kitchens, I was the only female on the team. When you first get going and you’re the only woman, I feel like sometimes you have to just start showing your skillset, bringing everyone up to your level without hurting egos. I’ve learned how to navigate my way without stepping on everyone’s ego or toes, and then I just showcase what I’m all about

I have learned to showcase my skills and guide the team to accomplish the vision. Once the team starts to see it’s working, they are more enthusiastic to execute. I see this is in the cannabis industry as well; I have felt respected on many fronts of the operation and am optimistic this will continue to grow. My experience has been that Sanctuary is more focused on your skillset than your gender.

What is the personal significance of being a leader, manager and team builder in the cannabis space? How have you grown as a result? 

It’s definitely something that I’ve done for a long time; I used to open up restaurants, which was pretty intense. I feel like being a leader just comes a little bit easier to me, and it’s rewarding to see people come up to your level and take on the standards that you’re putting in front of them.

I always focus on setting standards, not only for Sanctuary but for the cannabis industry. Change can be hard for people to adapt to. When we implement change, it can be met with resistance before being attempted. I like the challenge of keeping the team focused and moving forward, all while working with all different types of personalities. I enjoy being a conduit of change in an ever-changing and growing field.

Favorite Sanctuary products?

Of course, it’s the edibles; I enjoy making them, I enjoy eating them, I enjoy the process of coming up with new products. Our chocolate chip cookies are amazing. I truly believe Sanctuary Medicinals stand by their saying of taking cannabis to “the next level” and seeing cannabis as an opportunity for enhancing your quality of life.

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