By Margo Gabriel
Celeste Croxton-Tate is CEO and founder of Lyndigo Spice, an artisanal small-batch line of chutneys, relishes, fruit spreads and spice blends launched in 2014. Her brand is low-sodium, sugar, vegan, gluten-free and packed with fresh ingredients.
Croxton-Tate, a native of Roxbury, Mass., started Lyndigo Catering in 2006 and operates Lyndigo Spice from CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester, Mass.
She published The Lyndigo Spice Cookbook: Full of Flavor with a Spicy Attitude, a Culinary Memoir this month and has been featured in Chowhound, Edible Boston, Boston Voyager, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and PBS’ WGBH, and The CREATE Channel.
She lives in Boston with her husband and her two sons and is also a 24-year veteran of the Boston Police Department. I spoke with her about her journey in the food industry and gathered a little advice for those starting a food business.
Tell us a little about your culinary background?
By profession, I’m a Boston police officer. June 26 will be my 24th year in the Boston Police Department. It kind of picked me. My dad is a retired state trooper. My parents had all girls and my dad wanted someone to go into law enforcement. I guess it was me.
I wanted to teach. I went to Northeastern University after graduating from Boston Latin High School. I had taken the police exam twice. The first two times they called me, I was pregnant. I find myself, at my age, trying to please my parents.
The name Lyndigo Spice is my way of honoring my late sister, Rachel Lynn, who was a victim of domestic violence. Lyndigo Catering was launched in 2006 during the recession. I started Lyndigo Spice with $2000. Later on, I applied for a Kiva loan. I launched Lyndigo Spice in 2014. That’s pretty much how I started operating out of Nuestra Culinary Kitchen and then going to CommonWealth Kitchen. My sons and family are very supportive, so Lyndigo Spice is a well- oiled machine.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
I did not renew my catering license for this year because I was heavy into [writing my] the book. I knew that there was just no way for me to do everything. I was not getting a lot of catering gigs.
All my stuff is shelf stable. I let my customers know they could still order my products online.
When COVID hit, I was fine. I could mail my products out to my customers. I’ve literally been going to the post office every day. So my sales are up. I also offered free shipping for several weeks at the start of the pandemic. I was okay.
Whenever I go into the kitchen to produce, I try to do 10 cases of whatever flavor I’m working on. I make sure I have stuff in stock. My online sales did go up when COVID started. I had a lot of my loyal customers who’ve been there to support me.
I have had to do more social media stuff, which I’m really not into, but that’s just the way of the world.
Tell us about your recently published cookbook, The Lyndigo Spice® Cookbook: A Culinary Memoir?
I actually started writing my book 20 years ago and I initially kept a journal and started writing recipes for my sons. I said when I turn 50, I want to at least start the cookbook. At the farmer’s market, I would have a picture book of all my dishes I’ve cooked using my Lyndigo Spice products.
I wanted to self-publish because I didn’t want to be on anyone else’s timeline [and] because I have a lot of other responsibilities. Then, I was out of work, because I got injured at work and had to take some time off and had back surgery. I kind of got depressed. Actually, doing the recipes and writing help me get through that.
The hardest part was the recipes because I don’t measure. It’s a little of this and that and I try to get as much as I can from my ingredients when I cook.
I would go and hibernate and just write and that’s how I got most of that done. Then having downtime at the farmer’s markets helped too. I love farmers markets and love sharing my story (smiles). Telling people how I started; I love it. So they were also like, ‘Where’s the book?’ I like to write. I spoke to my cousin in California who writes cookbooks and asked, “Print or e-book?” She said some people like a book. For me, I like books. I like to flip through the pages and holding the book in hand, because it’s an experience.
While writing the book, I got so depressed and wanted to stop the book, but I taught my sons to finish what you started. As soon as I completed my manuscript, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. This book is for my sons. I’m very proud of them.
What lessons have you learned along the way that you now share with others?
Do your research. My research was going out and buying other chutney’s so I would know what I didn’t want mine to taste like. Find out what licensing you need for your business. Find out if you need insurance. What equipment you need if you’ll be a part of a commercial kitchen. Make sure you have your proper credentials in order. Be careful what you name your company. Don’t go and register a [business] name that’s so common.
Be aware who your competition is, don’t try to mimic. Just see what they are doing. I wanted to put out a product that nobody else was doing.
Don’t sign-up for a space before you have all your paperwork together. Apply for grants. Don’t sign-up for anything that will put you underwater. Always pay it forward and help others.
We say that business is a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Knowing this as a seasoned professional/business owner. What would you tell yourself as a young entrepreneur today?
Don’t expect other people to fulfill your dreams. You have to be in it 100% percent for you. You can have goals. But, be ready to pivot.