Spicing it up

Not one but two spice shops make their homes downtown

By mid-morning, things are getting pretty spicy in Old Town Fort Collins, where the two spice shops located only a block away from each other both bustle on a perfect September Saturday.

“When you think about it, the spice trade is one of the world’s oldest professions,” said Old Town Spice owner Sean Godbey. And just as salt is such a basic need that it was once used as currency, these shops have been staples in downtown business since they were both started within months of each other in 2010.

Godbey said he and his family took a long look at creating their store, including going the franchise route taken by Susan Kirkpatrick, the first owner of Savory Spice, but declined to buy a franchise with the extremely successful Savory chain. Kirkpatrick, a former mayor of Fort Collins, tells a slightly different version of this story (it was a competitive situation, she said) but the end result is that downtown consumers have the best spice options from two very different business models.

Kirkpatrick, who was coming off a stint on Gov. Bill Ritter’s cabinet, said the decision to go with the Denver-based Savory Spice was based on sound business fundamentals, mainly the need of a dependable supply chain.

“Starbucks institutionalized that supply chain for coffee, but that had not been done in the spice business,” she noted after a BizWest video interview.

And that worked out for Kirkpatrick, and is also working out for Chris VanDenBerg, who bought the store along with his friend since childhood, Chris Grattino, in 2021. “It’s one of the most successful Savory Spice stores on the Front Range (there are nine),” VanDenBerg said. VanDenBerg is new to the spice game, but Grattino was the long-time owner of the Aurora franchise.

Godbey ended up with a strikingly different business model for his store, including resisting his more entrepreneurial brother who thought that franchising stores was the way to success. Instead, he built business relationships with importers, created his own grinding and mixing facility and built a business that relies more on distributing its own spice blends.

Early on his client list included the CSU dorms and kitchens. However, he rapidly expanded that list to include many other spice shops, restaurants, beer crafters and distilleries. In fact, the company turned the table on brewers, who made beer tasting like coffee, and has a coffee brand – Hopped Up Coffee – that is based on gourmet beers.

Today, Godbey distributes across the nation and has extremely close relations with the importers he does business with; in fact, he has considered getting into the import business himself. The retail outlet is still very important to the overall revenue scheme, he said, with distributing, online sales and retail accounting for about equal thirds of the business.

Savory Spice is not without its own distribution business, but VanDenBerg acknowledged that retail is the more important business sector. He said a solid group of employees are largely responsible for its continued success, especially as he continues to work remotely for a tech management firm based in Dallas.

VanDenBerg and his wife, Julie, actually decided to move to Colorado from Dallas when their daughter, Grace, enrolled at Colorado State University. Their son, Trace, soon followed them up to these cooler climes.

The connection to downtown, VanDeBerg said, has been one of the more rewarding aspects of the store ownership and that includes his relationship with Godbey, which is friendly. Both stores participate in the the Fort Collins Foodie Walk, which Godbey co-founded.

“We’re all promoters of the whole downtown business (scene) and the foodie business,” VanDeBerg said. “And the retail food business downtown is a great thing.”

Old Town Spice Shop
Mortar and pestle set at Old Town Spice. The shop does a tremendous business in procuring its spices wholesale, and then mixing and bagging its own distributed blends. But it also offers the tools that foodies need to mix their own spices. Levi Tassin for BizWest

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