Fate Brought Spice and Tea Merchants to Biltmore Park

Spice and Tea Merchants owner Abbey Hairston, center, enjoys working with her staff, Pam Owen, left, and Victor Ast at the store in Biltmore Park Town Square. (Photo by Sandra Barnes)

The delicious aroma of spices wafting from a shop in Wilmington led Abbey Hairston to open Spice and Tea Merchants in Biltmore Park Town Square. When Hairston walked into the spice and tea shop in Wilmington a couple of years ago, she had a high-pressure career as an attorney in the Washington, D.C. area.

Discovering the spice and tea shop marked the beginning of a life transition for Hairston.

“About a year later, I decided I was tired of the rat race in D.C.,” she said. “I decided to move to the Asheville area.”

While cleaning out her desk at her law practice, Hairston came across a card from the spice and tea shop she had visited. She called the owner of the franchise who advised her to find space next to an oil and vinegar store to open a Spice and Tea Merchants shop.

As luck would have it, Hairston found an available space next to Oil and Vinegar in Biltmore Park Town Square.

“It was one of those meant-to-be things,” she says.

Now she is owner of an upbeat business that offers customers a wealth of spice and tea selections and related products. Instead of being immersed in legal matters, Hairston now spends her days helping customers and managing the business.

“It’s a joy to talk to people,” she remarks.

Hairston also appreciates her knowledgeable staff at the store.

“Anyone who works with me is a food or tea person,” she remarks.

When she first opened the shop in December, Hairston said the holiday season resulted in a profitable month. After a bit of a lull the first of the year, she is anticipating an uptick in business this summer.

Surveying the numerous jars containing spices and teas arranged on shelves, Hairston says she sees her business as a healthy benefit store.

Among the 144 varieties of loose leaf teas are green, oolong, black, white, Rooibos and turmeric, as well as a large selection of herbal teas and flowing tea buds. Some varieties of teas have chunks of fruit for added flavor and interest.

From allspice to cloves, fennel, ginger to oregano, sumac and peppercorns, the offering of spices and herbs is extensive.

“We’ve got hundreds of spices,” Hairston says.

The shop also carries gluten-free soup mixes, blended spices and flavorful rubs for meats and fish. The blends include international flavors of Africa, India, Italy and Mexico.

Some of these spice blends are recipes of Lisa Freeman, the founder of the company based in Michigan.

Other offerings include mulling and pickling spices, cocoa and a variety of jams. Teapots and cups, as well as tea infusers and glass containers of various sizes also can be found at Spice and Tea Merchants.

Among unique products at the store is a selection of salt slabs that can be used as cook tops to sear thinly sliced meats, fish, vegetables, seafood and other foods. The slabs also can be chilled and used to serve sushi, appetizers, cold meats and cheeses, fresh fruit, vegetables and cold desserts. In the display of salt slabs for cooking are salt lamps and candle holders.

In addition to Asheville and Wilmington, Spice and Tea Merchants stores are located in Michigan, California, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois and Massachusetts. Freeman launched the business 15 years ago in Michigan where six stores are located.

Tea and Spice Merchants is at 8 Town Square Blvd. in Biltmore Park Town Square next to the Oil and Vinegar store.