Where and how do you practice hospitality? Today I'd like to introduce you to someone who has carried her passion for hospitality out of her home and into her workplace.
She is Cindy Jones, owner of Savory Spice Shop, which opened last month in Lafayette Village, a European Shopping Center in Raleigh, NC. Cindy and her husband, Bob made the bold move to be one of the first shops to open in this spanking new plaza and already the business has developed a devoted clientele. The selection of herbs and spices is mesmerizing and Cindy's warmth and personality make you want to savor every moment of your visit. We hit it off immediately and as we chatted yesterday, I tried to discover what it is about people who, like her, seem to have a knack for connecting.
Susan: What was your upbringing like, in terms of your family extending hospitality?
Cindy: My family is Italian; so we spent every weekend at my grandmother's house. There were at least 30 of us that she fed, plus some who were absolute strangers, people off the street. There were always people there who I didn't know and would never see again.
Susan: How did your grandmother become aware of these people needing a meal?
Cindy: I think she belonged to clubs and societies in the church, food pantries, etc., and she would come in contact with someone who had recently immigrated or fallen onto hard times and they were hungry. She just collected people.
Susan: Didn't your grandmother eventually come live with you?
Cindy: Yes, when my grandpa died, she and a great aunt came to live with us. There were seven in my immediate family plus the two of them and later on, two cousins.
Susan: How big was your house?
Cindy: A tiny, four bedroom Cape Cod.
Susan: And what was that like for you as a young teenager?
Cindy: I do remember being overwhelmed by the amount of people around, plus on any given night people would pop over. My grandmother started every day with her rosary and her missal. Now I can't start my day without quiet time first; if that gets interrupted it really throws me off. I rely on it to fill myself with whatever I might need to pour out during the day.
Susan: How was your mother able to feed all those people?
Cindy: She made tons of food, seemingly out of nothing, what she called peasant dishes – pasta with eggs and peas, polenta with red sauce and mushrooms, pasta fagiole on Friday nights. I think her budget made her creative. I remember her saying, "As long as you have pasta in the house, you can make something amazing."
Food is the way we connected with one another – it was always about the food, sitting around the table, watching grandma roll out the pasta. Today if you walked into my mother's house at 9 pm, she'd say, "Would you like some pasta?" It's like a springboard into conversation. That's how she interacts.
Susan: Did you inherit that gift?
Cindy: When I was newly married I didn't know how to cook. Mother never wanted us standing at her side, it was such a small kitchen. So the cooking part didn't come naturally, but the entertaining part did.
I can't remember when I developed a passion for cooking; it must have been after I had children. What was modeled for me was inherent and I didn't know it was there until I had to retrieve it. I couldn't even cook an egg when I first got married: it was pitiful.
Susan: I've heard you talk about always setting an extra place at the table. Do you mean physically or symbolically?
Cindy: Now that it's just the two of us, I would say symbolically, but when the kids were younger, they knew they were always welcome to invite friends over. It was a way of life. There were never just five of us at the table.
Susan: How did you and Bob go about choosing this business? Did it have anything to do with your passion for hospitality?
Cindy: Hospitality was totally at the center of our decision. Bob is a people person; that is something we share. We sat down and thought about what brings us the most joy. We made a list, put it on paper, talked about family and friends and memories of food and wine and conversation.
We looked at other opportunities but realized we wouldn't be able to interact and get to know people in those environments. When we found Savory Spice Shop, we knew this would be like having people in our kitchen, an extension of our home. People gather around the counter and share their entire lives with us; it blows my mind.
Susan: You and Bob are such warm people; that's a big part of it.
Cindy: The shop is so aromatic; it triggers memories for people and they like to talk about it. .
Susan: How do you go about making customers feel welcomed? It just seems like people open up to you. You're a good listener.
Cindy: It's more that I just have a willingness to listen. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like I've been given a gift to intuitively see people's hearts when I meet them. I care enough to ask the questions. People really need to be known.
Susan: So your "table" during this season is the shop.
Cindy: Yes. Here I am, passionate about food and having people over to our home and now I don't have time. I'm struggling with not being able to be as spontaneous as I was before, to sit down and have a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend, but really, in the shop I have the opportunity to minister to more people than I ever did in my home.
Susan: Any last thoughts?
Cindy: What I came away with through your probing is how deeply shaped we are by those things in our life; I didn't give a lot of thought to it until I first read your blog. It prompted me to remember. If more people just stopped and asked those questions – that's what's important, the willingness to ask the question.
I've been pointing people to your blog because it's about connections and what I think God wants us to do for one another. Caring enough to ask the right questions – the rest comes after that. We were designed for relationships with God and for one another.
Bob and I don't want to waste time anymore on the mundane. We want our work to be valuable and to matter in somebody's life. If it's through food and spices, we want to be able to use what God's put before us. I'm excited about that.
THE LAST COURSE:
Whether you're writing a blog, running a business, or sitting around the kitchen table, hospitality is about reaching out, in a way that works for you. Like the Curly character in the movie "City Slickers," we need to know that when all is said and done, there's "Just one thing," that really matters……connecting.
*If you missed the post Hospitalitarian….Whaaaat? then you might be scratching your head wondering if I just made up a word; it is made up, but not by me. It's a recognized word in the hospitality industry these days, originally coined by Danny Meyer, basically referring to someone who in any situation, puts the other person's interests first. Even strangers.