LITCHFIELD — Christine Pistole started developing her online retail site in late 2019. By the time it went live six months later, it seemed like most of the U.S. was stuck at home, cooking two or three meals a day and ready to spice things up in the kitchen.

Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants offers about 220 salts, herbs, spices and blends. In terms of sales, 2019 and 2020 have been the 12-year-old company’s biggest years. The growth continues.

“We’re on tap to have another banner year,” Pistole said.

She founded the company with her ex-husband in 2009 and has been running it by herself since 2013. Both of them enjoyed cooking but had hit a snag when it came to finding ingredients.

“We were having to buy our products away from Maine because we couldn’t get fresh, decent dried product,” Pistole said. “In Maine, we can get seasonal, fresh product, but when it comes to the wintertime, you can’t get them because we don’t have drying facilities, we don’t have the infrastructure to make it all work in Maine.”

Packages of spices line the shelves at Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants in Litchfield, waiting to be shipped to customers. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

They drafted a business plan, found suppliers and brought about 12 spice blends, herbs and salts to a winter market in Brunswick.

“That first market we made over $100 and we’re like, ‘This is cool! Maybe this will work.’ We just progressively kept growing,” she said.

Christine Pistole, owner of Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants, weighs Persian saffron Sept. 2 and packages it in her home-based business in Litchfield. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants is the only certified organic spice company in Maine. Its products, featuring a distinctive black and white label,  can be found on shelves in Whole Foods stores across New England as well as in dozens of smaller markets.

The labels offer background about the spice inside — everything from Sri Lankan curry powder to strawberry sugar to Peru’s aji amarillo chiles — along with recommended uses.

Pistole also makes blends for rubs and grilling. It can take four months of research and development before launching a new taste.

“A lot of times I test my blends on popcorn when I’m crafting them, because popcorn is such a blank-slate medium,” she said. “People know (after) they order, that’s when we make the blend. The pride in our products’ freshness is really what we strive for.”

Three years ago, Pistole worked with Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods” to create limited specialty blends that were offered on his website each week.

“Every single time they sold out of everything. It was a lot of fun. He’s got a wonderful mind to look beyond the basics. If you looked at ‘Bizarre Foods,’ you knew he did not eat normal. So I really had to try to put myself in his mind of what he would be eating. I’ve never been to Poland, so how would I know what they eat? I would do culinary research to figure out what their flavors were, what the main ingredients out there were to make it work.”

Pistole is the company’s only full-time worker. She has one to five part-time employees who help out as needed. On any given day, she could be labeling and filling jars, answering calls and emails from clients, and printing and packing orders. On Saturdays, she might be headed to a local farmers’ market.

Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants’ distinctive name comes in part from her ex’s family crest, and partly because they lived on one of the highest points in Dresden when the company was founded.

“Now, I live on a high point in Litchfield,” Pistole said.


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