That same aroma that pulls customers into The Spice & Tea Exchange of Guilford is what first grabbed the shop’s owner, Cindy Wright, as she passed one of the independently owned franchises in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2008. It was also about that time that she and her husband, Greg, moved to Guilford.
By November 2014, Cindy and her daughter, Jenn Asbury, were ready to open their shop in Guilford. At the same time, Cindy was also working to find a way to give back to her new home town.
Her idea was simple: Give to charitable groups through shop sales. Now, the shop offers local non-profits the opportunity to receive 10 percent of all sales from the first Monday of the month. Groups including non-profit Guilford Center for Children and non-profit Women & Family Life Center are among past beneficiaries.
Cindy says the program got off the ground thanks in part to joining Guilford’s First Congregational Church, where she met friend Liza Catino. Liza is not only active at First Church, but is also president of the board of non-profit Guilford Children’s Center (GCC).
“I started thinking about it at the beginning of last year, but I just had a little bit of trouble pulling the trigger to get started,” says Cindy. “But we had joined the Congregational Church and one of the people we met, Liza, also came to shop a lot, and she does a lot with GCC. So I asked if she would consider having the center be my pilot program. I sent my information to GCC, they sent me their logo, and our corporate office put it all together.”
Coming in February, Guilford Community Fund will be the next to benefit, by receiving 10 percent of all sales on Monday, Feb. 6.
“We are looking forward to being able to give back 10 percent of our sales that day,” says Cindy, who encourages local non-profits to contact her to team up for future dates. “It’s our way of saying thanks to the community. We’re in it to give it back. One of the nice things I’m seeing is other companies [with Shoreline Chamber of Commerce] are starting to do the same. It’s an awesome thing, it’s easy, and it’s good to do.”
Cindy says she’s hoping to get more local non-profits lined up and encourages local groups to reach out to her to coordinate for future first Mondays. Right now, she’s in contact with a member of the Guilford Volunteer Fire Department with hopes of tying into the department’s annual appeal in early spring.
Cindy says giving back to Guilford is something she loves to do, because she loves living here.
The daughter of a wholesale grocer, Cindy grew up in North Haven and actually assisted her dad with putting prices on spices at a local A&P when she was a kid.
“What goes around comes around, I guess!” she says, laughing.
Cindy enjoyed her time as a stay-at-home mom, raising the Wrights’ three daughters in Hamden. Cindy and Greg moved to Killingworth after the kids were grown, and then found their new home in Guilford.
“We settled here almost eight years ago, and I wondered what took me so long!” says Cindy. “I just love it here.”
Knowing that she’s offering healthful, fresh products to her customers (including some perfect for gluten-free cooking), Cindy also feels she’s found a great niche for her shop.
“In Guilford, you can’t go anywhere without seeing anyone walking, cycling or jogging,” says Cindy. “People are so health conscious. We have something that’s kind of special to offer them.”
The seeds of Cindy’s odyssey into the world of spices and teas grew from that first visit to a shop in Boca Raton.
“We were walking by, and I could smell it,” Cindy recalls. “And I thought, ‘What is that? I have to go in there.’”
With her love of cooking, Cindy knew a good thing when she smelled it. After learning the Florida shop was one of a group of independently owned franchises in the country, Cindy came back to Connecticut with the idea of opening one here. Cindy’s first thought was to mull over the idea with her daughter, Jenn. At the time, Jenn was working alongside Greg at his North Haven export marketing company.
“She worked with my husband for 20 years; I told her she’d work with me 20 years,” says Cindy. “Well, fast forward a few years, and she walked in to [a franchise] in Rehoboth Beach” in Delaware.
“She said, ‘Mom, we have to do this.’ We figured it was a sign,” says Cindy.
At their shop at 80 Whitfield Street, mom and daughter invite all to “come in and smell the spices.” The shop specializes in fine spices, blends, teas, salts, sugars , and more. Much of it is packaged apothecary-style in a shop that has a rustic interior done in the style of an 18th-century trading post. But before this inviting shop’s doors could open, Cindy and Jenn had a few hurdles to clear. The first was to sell the corporate office on their belief that opening a shop in Guilford was a good fit.
“There’s one that opened a year and half ahead of us in Mystic, and one in Newport, Rhode Island, and those are the two northern-most on the East Coast,” says Cindy.
With no shops yet in New York state, Massachusetts, Maine or New Hampshire, “we’re kind of unique,” she notes.
The Spice & Tea Exchange of Guilford is unique in another way, too. Most of the shops find their niche in trendy, upscale tourist locales, where customers enjoy a vacation-time visit.
“The corporate office had most of their franchises in high tourist areas, and so they weren’t sure how well we would do,” says Cindy. “I said, ‘You just have to trust us.’ And they did, fortunately. They have been amazing in their support, since the day we opened.”
That support included having Cindy and Jenn travel to Florida for training (including earning their titles of “spice masters”). Part of the charm of the business is its interactive aspect, giving guests plenty of opportunities to smell the spices and also to watch the spice masters create hand-mixed spice blends.
Now heading toward their third year in the heart of Guilford’s popular downtown shops on the Green, Cindy says the response from the public has been wonderful, and has also helped to prove wrong any worries corporate may have had about this location.
“We have a lot of repeat business, where the other [franchises] are mostly one stop visits,” says Cindy.
A lot of Cindy’s customers are local residents who, like Cindy, love to cook. When it comes to teas, there’s always a pot on here. While coffee may seem to be all the rage, “tea is the number two beverage” in the country, Cindy notes. Each day, guests are encouraged to sample from several of the shop’s teas.
On weekends, Cindy also likes to put out some savory treats as samples, such as spiced nuts. Cindy and Jenn keep customers up to date on everything offered at the shop , as well as details including hours of operation and much more on the shop’s Facebook page (find TSTEGuilfordCT on Facebook).
The Facebook page, together with a monthly corporate-sponsored email “blast” and informational bag stuffers, are also helping to spread the word on Cindy’s effort to help charitable groups in her hometown.
For more information, visit The Spice & Tea Exchange of Guilford, 80 Whitfield Street, or call 203-453-0022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org