Angel Anderson is a former educator turned entrepreneur whose love for good food and people led her to open an interactive spice bar in Washington, D.C. called The Spice Suite.
The Howard alum tells Because of Them We Can that her passion for food and cooking quickly turned into a business when she stumbled upon a “for leasing” sign a few doors down from her nail salon four years ago.
“I had never called about a commercial space ever,” she says. “I was an assistant principal at a high school. I loved it, and I had always been an educator or working around youth violence intervention. But, for some reason I called and I don’t know what prompted me to call about this space.”
When asked by the landlord what she wanted to do with the space, Anderson blurted out that she wanted to open a spice shop.
“I don’t even know where that came from,” she says. “I just said it to really get him to engage in a conversation. But, about four weeks later, I opened The Spice Suite. And then, a month and a half later, I left my job. That was almost four years ago.”
Anderson admits that in the beginning she wasn’t quite sure what her vision for the business was, and so she relied on the resources around her for help. She says that after a brainstorming session with her best friend, she eventually came up with a name. From there, she reached out to a mutual friend who put together a $25 logo, which is the same logo she still uses today. Then, she says, she got on Etsy and found somebody to do a sign for her.
“Things came together so quickly,” she says.
When the shop officially opened, Anderson initially purchased her spices wholesale. But, when her friend visited Dubai and sent her a few spices from abroad, a light bulb went off showing her the way to grow her business moving forward.
“When he sent those spices I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so different from anything we have here. They are so fresh,’” she said. “I thought it was so amazing that I said, ‘I should go travel and get spices.’”
From there, Anderson explains how “that became my business model where I go and travel the world for spices and spice inspiration about six to seven times a year.”
So far, the D.C. native says she’s travelled to about 17 countries for different spices including Egypt, Morocco and India. “Its been amazing,” she says. “I’m like a real life spice girl.”
While her spice business alone has helped her to build a successful customer base, Anderson – who has long played an active role in her community – says she knew she had to add an aspect to her business that included giving back.
“When I got The Spice Suite, I was in there kind of by myself in the beginning because it wasn’t crazy busy,” she says. “So, I was like I should share this space with other small businesses and host pop-up shops.”
Putting her plan into motion, Anderson opened up her space, free of charge, to other small businesses who were looking for an additional way to sell their products. Now, she says, she’s rebranded her business to be a spice shop/dream incubator that helps other Black-owned businesses thrive.
In the beginning, Anderson says she only held pop-up shops on the weekends. But now, as the demand for her space continues to grow, she hosts pop-up shops every single day that her business is open.
“That is my way of inviting community, my way of paying it forward and just kind of connecting with other dreams who want to share space and ideas,” she says.
As a result of her pop-up shops, Anderson has also developed a tribe of about 20 women, who she refers to as “spice girls.” These women, who started out selling their products at the pop-up shops, are now a critical part of Anderson’s support system.
“I invest in them and they invest into my space,” she explains. “So, we have kind of like a barter model where they do pop-ups in my store regularly and then I’m able to get time away from my store. In some ways, it’s like I get employees, but they’re definitely not employees. They’re women who support my store and work there, while I get a day off. We share the space and they don’t have to pay anything.”
Outside of sharing her space with the women, Anderson also hosts the women at her house once a month for professional development workshops because she says, “I want them to grow too.”
“When I host the spice girls, I invite women experts to my house to host workshops around branding,” she says. “And I’ve pretty much hosted every workshop you can think a small business owner would want expertise on.”
While the success of The Spice Suite has brought about several changes to her business model, Anderson says she’s happy that she didn’t allow her initial uncertainty to block her from starting. That’s why, she says, she advises anyone who is toying with a business idea to just “start now and perfect later.”
“I opened having no idea what the market said about spices,” she explains. “But, I opened and since I’ve been in this space I’ve been trying to perfect it and build on it.”
Anderson’s ability to learn as she goes along has led The Spice Suite to being named the D.C.’s number one spice bar since 2016. In 2018 it was also named D.C.’s Small Business of the Year by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
She wants any aspiring entrepreneur to know that there is beauty in not being afraid to live a new dream.
“I thought my dream was to be an administrator in the school system,” she says. “Now, I’m living a totally different dream that has allowed me the freedom and flexibility to still be with my kids and to be in the community, but in a much different capacity.”
To learn more about how you can support Angel and The Spice Suite, check out their website at www.thespicesuite.com.