Selling spices by day, saving lives by night

Selling spices by day, saving lives by night

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Loretta Criscuoli keeps herself busy as the new owner of Port Jefferson’s The Spice & Tea Exchange. But there is more to this local entrepreneur than just owning a business.

When the store located at 106 W. Broadway closes at night, Criscuoli heads home to Kings Park where she starts her second shift as a volunteer EMT ambulance driver and 1st lieutenant for the Kings Park Fire Department. 

She said she has been with the fire department for 12 years.

“So, I’m here all day, and there all night,” she said. 

Loretta Criscuoli in full gear volunteering with the Kings Park Fire Department at the height of the pandemic last year. Photo from Loretta Criscuoli

Criscuoli was furloughed from her full-time real job during the COVID-19 pandemic and that’s when she realized she wanted to start something new. A fan of the brand, she found out through the franchise there was an opportunity in New York where the doors to the village’s spice and tea shop had been closed for about a year. She decided to take over as its newest owner.

This West Broadway location is the first and only store in the state.

“I jumped right on it and it happened very fast,” she said.

After signing the paper work in October, she officially opened up her doors on Nov. 13. The Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce — of which she is a member — hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony April 15.

The Spice & Tea Exchange franchise was founded in 2008 and offers 140 spices, 85 exclusive hand-mixed blends, over 40 exotic teas, naturally flavored sugars, salts from around the world, gourmet gifts and accessories. It also houses a tea bar serving dozens of hot and iced teas with classics like chai, and unique flavors with names like the Berry Bouquet, Chocolate Caramel Candy Bar and Hazelnut Cookie. There are more than 70 franchises across the United States.

“Our blends are made in-house and we have over 75 of them,” she said. “We do everything including peeling the lemons, oranges, limes, we dehydrate them, and we grind them and add them to all the different recipes.”

Criscuoli said she always loved to cook and was always a tea lover. This opportunity was a perfect fit. 

“I love it all,” she said. “Our guests are wonderful — it’s everyone who is into cooking and it’s working out really well … I am enjoying it.”

Part of the shopping experience there is to enjoy the aromas of the different smells. 

“All the jars are here to be open and to smell,” she said. “That’s an important part of it. It really goes to all your senses. So, you have to come and experience it. It’s like a field trip coming through here where you get to smell all the fragrances and see the ingredients.”  

The store will be open now Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.