WASHINGTON — In 2015, Angel Gregorio took a leap of faith and stepped away from a career as a principal to open a spice shop in D.C.
Over the years, the Spice Suite evolved past spices which served as an incubator for women. Gregorio hosted a tribe of "Spice Girls" who sold their ware and helped Angel run the shop which became an incubator for dreams.
The Spice Suite outgrew its Takoma Park space and Gregorio wanted to secure and make an even bigger impact in the community so in Dec. 2021, she bought a 7,500-square-foot commercial property in Northeast DC’s Langdon Park neighborhood.
“It was like a super ugly, two-tone green, dilapidated building. And then I saw somehow the vision to be able to update it."
I saw it with the walls down, I saw it with the lighting, I saw black paint on the floors and immediately put myself in this space knew I had to have it," she said.
It's called “Black and Forth" and this first-of-its-kind strip mall in D.C. uses shipping containers to grow small Black female-owned businesses with big ambition.
“We’re not bartering, but in some ways we are. And I’m like going back and forth with Black people. I’m going "Black" and forth and It was like, this is cute, I love it," said Gregorio.
Black and Forth is a campus with a bold and daring mission to use shipping containers to create an affordable commercial space for Black women, Black men and for business.
“I don’t know that I hear folks talking about how do we create an economic empowerment and freedom through business and commercial spaces in cities like D.C., where it’s almost unrealistic to be able to rent anymore,” Gregorio said.
Little by little, the former educator and world-traveling spice curator decided to sprinkle something different in her community. The new Spice Suite has more space to encourage taking even more risks with our food.
"So if you are making our cornbread mix, you need vanilla, and I’m not going to let you leave with plain vanilla because that’s boring so you’re gonna leave with a cinnamon vanilla, or a raspberry or champagne vanilla," she said.
The Spice Suite has always been a destination for more than just flavors on a plate. Angel hopes what she’s serving up in these new containers will continue to push more boundaries in her empowerment zone.
She's created a destination and in the next few weeks, a hair salon, brow bar, braid bar and nail studio will open.
Gregorio is hoping to inspire others to build and create a legacy of their own.
“I want someone to say like, you know what, there’s this property I’ve been looking at in Southwest of another part of town, I think I want to do it so that us helping each other in this way and supporting each other as relentlessly as I do, becomes the way that we all show up for community.”
Angel’s model has always been to support emerging businesses so women owners called “Spice Girls” will continue to help her business, she’ll have Community Business Education at Black and Forth and she’s looking forward to holding Farmer’s Markets in her courtyard space as well.