Photo Credit: Erin Martin
Food is the way to the soul. Go anywhere in the world, and you’ll find that food is a universal language that binds you to another person. It brings joy, unites communities and families. Guess that’s why 33-year-old Angel Anderson has found that centering her life around helping others make memorable meals with global roots, finds her lifestyle so therapeutic. Food has always been the glue that binds Anderson to her hopes and dreams, her family and her community, despite any ups and down the Washington, D.C. native has faced in her life thus far.
If you ask Anderson, a former assistant principal turned thriving local business owner, she didn’t initially recognize that her passion for food would be the path to her purpose, but a ‘For Lease’ sign and a serendipitous moment in 2015 led the Howard University grad to buy a building near her old Tacoma Park neighborhood on a whim and a dream. Less than a month later, her business The Spice Suite was born.
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“I told my husband and my best friend that I was opening a spice shop,” Anderson recalls. “They thought I was crazy. Three and a half weeks later, we opened. Not knowing what I was doing, at all. Like, no plans and about eight spices on the shelf. Just real random.”
Now, nearly three years later, The Spice Suite is not only a popular boutique where locals can find unique spice blends, but it also serves as an incubator for other local dreamers and creators. Anderson also uses the space as a place for other local female business owners, lovingly known as “spice girls”, to showcase and sell their own products free of charge, in exchange for helping to run the store.
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We first met Anderson in 2014 when she turned her passion for cooking into an at-home dinner date business for local couples. Since then, award-winning entrepreneur Anderson’s star has continued to rise within the D.C. metro area as she expands her reach and the support net she’s cast out to her community. ESSENCE sat down with the spice queen to talk about the art of following your spirit, building community, and balancing real life with big dreams.
You started with no real plan, just as so many entrepreneurs do. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to help someone get started on the right foot?
I think my advice to entrepreneurs is always start now and perfect later. You can start with what you have, even if all you have is a dream. Start small. Scale at a pace that makes sense for you. And that’s something I have to tell myself everyday, even as I get messages from people on Instagram wanting me to have more spices online and another location, and I’m like, “That’s not in the cards for me right now.” I have to do what makes sense for me, in my life, in my business right now. Also, use the resources that you have around you. My friends, family, and folks that I went to school with have these different talents. I was able to tap into them and save so much money by having a homeboy do my logo, as opposed to reaching out to this, bigger graphic design firm. Later I’ve been able to afford those more boutique services that made my brand a bit more professional.
It can be hard for women, especially Black women, to secure funding for their businesses. Do you have any advice for other Black female entrepreneurs on securing funding?
For me, I did not seek any outside funding for my business. I invested in real estate, so I had some residual income from my income property. But because I know that it’s difficult for Black women in particular, that’s kind of what helped me to shape my business model where I allow Black business owners to profit in my store every single day that we’re open, free of charge. I’ve kind of adopted 23 of these business owners, these women who I call “spice girls,” and they have become this cohort of women that I support and they support me and I allow them regular space to park up at my store. I am more of a grass roots, humanity-oriented person, so I think if more folks adopted this sort of model then we can help people. It might take a little bit longer, but I think that this is the type of community we should work towards.
You’ve built somewhat of a cult following with The Spice Suite, people are obsessed! How did you build such a devoted following?
I think social media has been powerful. Folks, want to take pictures of everything that they do, and for me, I’m grateful for that because now spice shopping is one of those experiences that folks want to document. And the chefs that have come through. I’ve had some amazing, notable chefs that cooked with 2-Chainz and Tyler Perry. Amazing chefs who come through and they send people. But, really it’s just this kind of domino effect of community. I’ve built this tribe and this community by supporting small business. Those small business owners, like their friends, become friends of this space and their friends become friends, and it’s really just this kind of circle that continues to grow and the root of it is genuine, authentic support. I also try to be very transparent with folks about where I am in my journey. I’m grateful, absolutely grateful, for every single person who bought one spice or 10 spices.
What mistakes have you made and how would you help others to avoid the same pitfalls?
I don’t know if there’s necessarily mistakes that I’ve made that I would advise against it, as much as I would just advise folks to do your research. For example, I’ve changed my bottles maybe four times because when I first started I didn’t know what I was doing. I was ordering these bottles and they were expensive, but I didn’t know any better, I just found what was cute. Then the second bottle was cute, but it wasn’t functional. It didn’t make sense for spices and it wasn’t storing them properly. The third bottle, I couldn’t find a label to fit it. Finally, I figured out what makes sense. So, my advise is, do the proper research.
You have your own little spice girl on the way and you are already mom to an amazing spice boy. If you had to give them advice on becoming entrepreneurs and following their passions, what would you tell them?
What I want most for my kids is for them to live freely and unapologetically. That’s just who I am, at the core. Before I was a spice girl, I was this rebellious little girl who just always kind of did whatever I wanted to do and wasn’t afraid to fail. My son always goes with me when I go on these spice excursions to different countries, to get spices, and he asked me the other day, “I was thinking about college and I was wondering, would you and daddy let me go to college in Egypt ’cause I really liked it in Egypt?” And I was like, “You can go wherever you wanna go.” I think I felt so happy in that moment. And granted, he will likely change his mind in 11 years, but the fact that he just feels like anything is possible – I didn’t have that. I thought I could do whatever I wanted, but it was more from a rebellious standpoint, not from this space of I have all the support that I need to do whatever I want. I want them to feel that.
What’s next on the horizon for The Spice Suite? Where do you see the business being in five years?
Hopefully I’m still loving it. That’s all I want. I just want to continue to love doing this. I don’t know that I’ve ever even sat down to think about whether there will be another location or what this space will look like, but I just know that I want to continue to love it because I really wanna be a spice girl forever.
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