Milford’s Spice N Flava fighting to keep doors open

MILFORD — Christine Whitely-DeMills’ dream to open her own Jamaican restaurant came to life last year. Now she is asking the community to help keep her doors open.

Whitely-DeMills opened Spice N Flava, located at 400 Boston Post Road, in May, during the height of the pandemic. And it was those COVID restrictions, she said, that helped to put a financial strain on the fledgling operation.

She has since gone to GoFundMe to call on the community to raise $23,250 over the next two weeks to cover their lease and keep the doors open — and her dream alive.

“I was an independent caterer,” said Whitely-DeMills, who started the business alongside her husband, Devin. “We catered for weddings and various parties. I would talk to Devin before he became my husband and tell him how this is my passion, and he is able to facilitate and work together with me to make this dream a reality.”

Whitely-DeMills catering business started in Jamaica. Then, she moved to New York City, where she began her catering business again until she ended up in Connecticut, where they decided to open a storefront. The couple now lives in Bridgeport.

Before Whitely-DeMills opened Spice N Flava, she worked as a certified nursing assistant and while being in the field, she would come up with different menus for her patients she was attending to.

“I said to my husband, ‘This is what we are going to do. We are going to save up most of our tax returns and all that we can accumulate to open a restaurant,’” she said. “We decided to start putting money in a savings account to have enough money to get a storefront.”

As her fifth anniversary in the medical field approached, Whitely-DeMills said the time had come to quit her job as a CNA and focus all her attention and energy on starting the restaurant.

“My husband was driving for Uber, and he found a location,” she said. “We decided we were going to invest all we had saved up and put it into the business.”

Devin said he knew this was her passion, and he believed she would do well having a restaurant.

“He was we were going to take the risk and go in with all that we had,” Whitely-DeMills said.

Spice N Flava opened its doors May 17, where Whitely-DeMills said they make everything in-house, from sauces to salad dressing.

“When we opened the doors in the summer, it was going good, but after a while, it started depleting,” Devin said. “When health officials said COVID was going to be more prominent, our customer base got a little less. So the money we were expecting to come in to pay the bills was less than what we received. So we ended up being behind with some of the bills, especially the rent and utilities.”

“We also started doing our own delivers to make it more convenient for our customers. It was a little successful,” added Whitely-DeMills.

Because of everything they’ve experienced, the couple said they find themselves in a jam with the property owner, which led them to create a GoFundMe. After Whitely-DeMills created the GoFundMe, the Black Business Alliance reached out to them to help.

“We’ve started to develop a partnership with them in terms of how we can move forward and sustain ourselves with different ideas coming to the forefront,” she said.

“We want to thank the Black Business Alliance,” Devin said. “We also want to thank those who have donated, and even if they don’t donate it, we thank them for reading our story.”

The duo had a meeting with the landlord, in which the landlord told them they had two weeks to pay $23,250. Whitely-DeMills said they will open the restaurant again to try and come up with the money from the food sales.

“Right now, we are at the phase that we might have to close our doors,” said Whitely-DeMills. “Being that we are the first and only Jamaican (restaurant) in Milford, we’ve created history.”

The Whitely-DeMills’ said even if they do have to close their doors, their dream of owning their restaurant will not stop.

“This means so much to us because we opened this business with the money we had saved up, and it came from our pocket,” she said. “When you love something, you will fight for it, and I love this.”

“Spice N Flava is not the building. It’s us who are working,” added Whitely DeMills. “It’s also our dream to have the first Caribbean dine-in restaurant in Milford.”

Devin said they will try to find a way to move forward and to make it bigger and better than what it is now.

“This is just a struggle that will push us and motive us to go harder,” he said. “We want to keep Spice N Flava in Milford, and we don’t go anywhere else because we have already developed a family relationship with Milford.”