NORTH KINGSTOWN – For Joe and Donna Dubé, owners of Wickford Gourmet Factory Outlet, a typical day could often mean running two or three businesses at a time.
Ideas for new ventures could pop up anywhere, Joe Dubé said.
“We would go on vacation somewhere, and we’d see something and say, ‘That would work in Wickford. Let’s try that,’” he noted.
“We followed trends from around the country and found a niche where no one else in Rhode Island was doing what we were doing,” Dubé added, noting that the business would draw visitors from as far away as cities such as Boston and Hartford.
It was this attitude that motivated the Dubés through four decades of eclectic business ownership.
Now, after 41 years in the North Kingstown business community, the Dubés, who run the their kitchen factory outlet from 21 W Main St., have decided to retire.
“I’m going to be 80, Donna is going to be 79, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s just too successful, and we can’t do it anymore,” Joe said. Instead of fielding a few packages of goods per day, as they did in the business’ earlier days, the business, which sells deeply discounted kitchenware sourced from promotional or overstock suppliers, now receives multiple pallets per week.
Before marrying and starting their businesses, Joe, who grew up in Scituate, and Donna, who is from New York, met while students at the University of Rhode Island. Joe worked for Libbey glass manufacturing for a time in the company’s engineering department before switching over to marketing, then sales – a career path he was initially reluctant to pursue, but soon developed an affinity for.
But he reached a point where the only way forward with the company was to move to its headquarters in Ohio, which neither he nor Donna wanted.
But while temporarily in the area, the couple drew inspiration from a sales trend they found in the Midwest — coffee, tea and spice shops that would sell high-end goods that customers couldn’t find in a typical supermarket. The Dubés started with this idea and added cheeses into the offerings, and the business, was a success from day one, Joe said.
But this early success was soon threatened: While the Dubés were away on vacation, a fire almost entirely destroyed the store’s main brick and mortar location.
While the building’s roof was destroyed, its four walls remained, Joe said, and he and Donna looked at the loss as an opportunity to completely renovate the building’s interior. When they reopened, they continued expanding the business’ scope, adding baked goods, a coffee bar and catering services.
And they didn’t stop there: Over the decades, they opened a year-round Christmas-themed store, an old-fashioned candy store, shipped nearly 3,000 gift basket purchases around the country in a year, and opened bath and body care shop, Beauty and the Bath, which continues today under different ownership.
It’s a fate that the Dubés hope Wickford Gourmet could soon share. Though Joe and Donna are stepping away from a long career in the North Kingstown business community, with their last day in business planned for next month, they’re looking for someone to take over the business and are currently in talks with at least one prospective buyer.
“It might be the beginning of new ownership, rather than shutting down,” Joe said.
Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.