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The Rule Breaker: Pam Gabriel Blends Old With New At Sweet Gourmet

Before one even walks through the door at Tyler, TX-based Sweet Gourmet, the smell of chocolate hits your nose. Once the door is open, any foodie would feel like a kid in a candy store with the amount of shelf-stable foods available, the store’s homemade pimento cheese dip on the counter and a selection of, well, candy, that is enough to make anyone suddenly have a sweet tooth.

Glance to the right and it’s a home cook’s dream — cookware, aprons, kitchen tools and other housewares are merchandised neatly and efficiently, allowing customers to find just what is needed.

Within seconds of being in the store, one is greeted by Pam Gabriel, owner of Sweet Gourmet, not as if you’re a customer, but as if she is inviting you to a party.

“We like to have fun here and we are just real. Our customers see that and I feel like that connection is one of the reasons we have been successful,” she said.

Gabriel never thought she would end up in the independent gourmet housewares industry. The now-retailer was working as a salesperson for an electronics company when she said that she wasn’t having fun anymore and sought out a change.

“I remember being in the car and being really mad about something. I called my husband and told him I was going to quit. My next call was to Michael Furlinger, a friend of ours that owned Sweet Gourmet. I asked him if I could come in and work a few hours, just to be doing something, and he said I could,” Gabriel said.

But working as an associate didn’t last long. Furlinger was gearing up to leave Texas and approached her about purchasing the store, which mostly carried chocolates and gourmet food. With it being less than a year old, she was tentative to agree and struck a deal — if he would stay through the holiday season and everything checked out, she would make the purchase. A few months later, she was the proud owner of Sweet Gourmet.

“I remember the first morning when I opened the store and it was mine. A lady came in and she bought half a pound of coffee. I remember nervously putting it into the cash register and I thought, ‘Wow, this is mine’,” she recalled.

Now, 12 years later, Gabriel has taken the original store concept and grown it into a place of her own. She added housewares to the mix over time and then expanded Sweet Gourmet when the store next to hers closed. She’s divided the store into two complementary sections — things to cook and things to cook with, as she calls them.

Like the store itself, her recipe for success ebbs and flows to tailor to the strengths and weaknesses of both her and her staff, allowing each one to shine at what they do best. And, in some cases, she keeps it old school and in others, she embraces what’s new — mixing unconventional marketing and merchandising tactics with a traditional bookkeeping method. This may not work for some, but for Gabriel, this method has been the key to her success. Case in point: Sweet Gourmet is the only Le Creuset boutique shop that is situated in an independent gourmet housewares store.

“Le Creuset came to us and told us that they had this concept they wanted us to consider. So, about a year ago, we decided we could do it and decided to move forward with it. A bucket of orange paint and some new fixtures later, and we are Le Creuset’s first independently owned shop within a shop in the U.S. It’s beautiful and we are so proud of it,” she said.

For the full story Sweet Gourmet, pick up your copy of the July/August 2019 edition of Gourmet Insider.

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