Pam Gabriel has always been in sales — from electronics to clothes.
About five years ago, she unexpectedly went into business for herself, buying Sweet Gourmet, a gift shop in the French Quarter shopping center. Since then, she has worked to add to its product line of gourmet goods, candy and gift items. And she recently expanded the shop, taking over a second shop space to add even more merchandise.
Mrs. Gabriel, 49, and her husband of almost 22 years, Matt, a cattle rancher, were born and raised in Tyler.
In November 2005, a friend of hers from Long Island, N.Y., Michael Furlinger, moved to Tyler and opened Sweet Gourmet. After 12 years of traveling for her electronics sales job, she asked him for a part-time job, she said.
The store had only been open for about six weeks, and Mrs. Gabriel had been working there a week or two, when Furlinger offered to sell her the business because he was moving to Atlanta, Ga. She agreed to work there with the potential of buying it. “I loved it,” she said.
When she took over the store in January 2007, it had a huge New York feel to it. And although she still imports things from Europe and other places to “give it that multi-cultural feel of a big city,” she has incorporated some Southern favorites like cheese straws from the Mississippi Cheese Straw Co., she said.
After nearly six years, Mrs. Gabriel has tried different products, adding more kitchen products and it has worked, she said. When she started running out of room, she contemplated opening a second store in another town. But in July, the Paper Capers space became available. She took over the space Sept. 1 and in one week, they tore the wall down between the two stores and made it into one, she said.
She said Paper Capers was in business for 25 years, moving to the French Quarter about three years ago before the mother decided to retire and the daughter wanted more time with her young daughter.
She said the “monogram lady” that was in Paper Capers remains there, subletting space from her.
Mrs. Gabriel was nervous about the expansion, but people were so excited they were shopping out of unpacked boxes before the space was ready, she said.
The store's new products are all about the kitchen and entertaining, she said.
She offers trays, napkins, table cloths, holiday and table decorations, kitchen clocks and cutting boards. She also sells appliances and gadgets by Breville, which she had to get approved to sell; and cookware, specializing in Le Creuset.
She said they have a bridal registry for cookware, knives and small appliances, but she is not getting in the dishes business.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Gabriel still hadn't gotten everything unpacked but already had her Le Creuset, Halloween decorations, tea and soap collections on display.
She said when she first added table clothes and other linens to her merchandise in January, “they flew out the door. … This is what I'm really excited about, is going more and more into this.”
“The original Sweet Gourmet side is still going to be all of that with more space to expand those lines,” she said.
She has been offering cooking classes taught by their in-house culinary instructor and chef, Alyssa Wilhite, for about three years and will expand the class area to offer more classes, Mrs. Gabriel said. They now offer morning and night classes three to four times a week, she added.
She said they are known for their chocolates and most of them are handmade. They also have Godiva, as well as chocolates imported from France and Belgium. In April she began offering homemade fudge.
She said her concept has always been, “We want to be the first in Tyler with it, be the best and be different.” She said they sell specialty items in her store but once it goes mass market and gets into grocery stores, they discontinue it.
Mrs. Gabriel said they are more like a gift shop offering hard-to-find items.
She said they focus on customer service, such as showing customers ideas on how to decorate their tables.
Sweet Gourmet has five to 10 employees, depending on the season, and Mrs. Gabriel runs the store. Her manager, John Abler, has been with her nearly the entire time she has owned it.
And her 15-year-old daughter, Mary-Birdsong, has helped out in the shop, working the cash register and with the candy cases, while her husband helps break down boxes and take out the trash.
Mrs. Gabriel said the French Quarter has been a fabulous location and she plans to keep growing the business.
“I just want to thank Tyler for the support,” she said.