Angel Gregorio’s The Spice Suite is a $1m foodie’s retail paradise and support system for Black women start-ups
The Spice Suite is a foodie’s retail paradise, nestled in the heart of the nation’s capital. It’s also, in the words of owner Angel Gregorio, “a love letter to Black food and culture”. Inside the painted brick storefront, cast iron skillets and cutting boards carved into the shape of continental Africa line the shelves alongside handcrafted blends of sumac, chili, and thyme – spices individually sourced by Gregorio from around the world. Each of her products proudly bears the stamp: “Made by a Black woman in Washington DC”.
From its launch in 2015, Gregorio has approached her business as a culinary tribute to the Black diaspora. Thanks to sheer word-of-mouth from within the Black community, The Spice Suite has grown to surpass the $1m mark in annual net revenue and boasts customers like Taraji P Henson, Kelly Rowland and Stevie Wonder. Along the way, the business has also become an incubator for an entire ecosystem of Black women entrepreneurs.
A former high school assistant principal, Gregorio launched The Spice Suite in 2015 without a loan or investors. Instead, she kept her day job while the store got off the ground. She carefully scaled the business without the use of credit, instead supplementing its growth with income from two rental properties she kept as a financial cushion.
“I didn’t feel like I needed a loan or investors because my plan wasn’t huge,” she says. “We’ve done this solely with the help of Black people.” She’s never even spent a dollar on marketing, though her accountant recommends she start – “for tax purposes”,Gregorio explains.
Now, Gregorio shares her business knowledge with SpiceGirlin’, the social enterprise she launched out of The Spice Suite in 2016. SpiceGirlin’ is a support system for Black women launching startups; any Black woman looking to sell a uniquely sourced or handmade product can apply.
Using The Spice Suite as a home base, SpiceGirlin’ hosts monthly professional development seminars led by Black women with practical expertise to share, whether in finance or photography, merchandising or marketing. Each session is available at no charge for all SpiceGirlin’ members.
Members of the cohort are also invited to hold recurring retail pop-ups out of The Spice Suite, an opportunity to test drive the experience of running a brick-and-mortar. And, since July, SpiceGirlin’ members have sold their goods from their very own collective storefront: SpiceGirlin’ Marketplace, a temporary pop-up located in downtown DC through the end of the year.
Since opening The Spice Suite, Gregorio has hosted more than 500 individual pop-ups for local businesses. She says that in a city experiencing gentrification, helping other Black-owned businesses is important. In many respects, SpiceGirlin’ is the heart and soul of her mission.
“My business is about supporting Black businesses,” she says. “I think I bust the myth that Black people don’t support Black businesses.”
Being a part of SpiceGirlin’ has been transformative for Stacie Moore and Samantha Simms, owners of the vintage clothing and accessories brand Instant Vintage 78. Since joining the group five years ago, the brand has hosted a monthly pop-up at The Spice Suite while also selling their wares out of the SpiceGirlin’ Marketplace.
Moore has no doubt that SpiceGirlin’ has contributed to the success of her and Simms’ business.
“When we started to implement strategies from the monthly meetings, we started to see a dramatic increase in our sales and our profitability,” Moore says. The skills she and Simms acquired leveled up their merchandising and trademarking acumen and, critically, led the pair to make smarter financial decisions for their brand.
Simms recalls one particular workshop – in which the duo learned about the “profit first” accounting strategy developed by business author Mike Michalowicz – as especially game-changing. “That was a pivotal moment in our business,” she says.
Jamila Lake – the owner and chief designer behind the homewares line, Yellow Bag Designs – calls SpiceGirlin’ “a blessing”: both a “free business degree without the student loans” and a judgment-free group of women who understand the grind of running a business. She would rather keep running pop-ups as a member of the collective than set off to run her own standalone store.
Lake, Simms and Moore all say that the group’s magic comes down to Gregorio. The care she pours into each of the women is palpable and her wisdom is sound. As Lake puts it, Gregorio prevents other women from making potentially hazardous business decisions; together, they support each other’s dreams. It’s a sisterhood.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have that many women around you that want to see you win,” says Lake.