Liz Landry of Kitchen Sink Candle Company Groton’s Newest Retailer
by Barbara Scofidio
As we explore her new Groton boutique together, Liz Landry of Kitchen Sink Candle Company picks up a candle that smells like freshly mowed grass. “This is our newest scent, I have to smell it every time I walk by,” she says with a hint of excitement, almost like a kid in a candy store.
It really does smell like a just-mowed lawn, as do all the scents: pumpkin spiced latte, jasmine, apple cinnamon.
The big surprise for someone seeing her store, which opened in June, for the first time is that candles only make up a fraction of its offerings. Yes, there’s a big wall full of dozens of scents, and reed diffusers and classic melts. There’s even a rustic candle that’s been poured into a long antique wooden bowl, which you can picture as the centerpiece of a beautiful farmhouse table on Thanksgiving. But the store also features everything from artisan jewelry to dog collars to novelty kitchen towels and pillows with the names of Groton and the surrounding towns. Liz says she goes out of her way to find local companies and artisans as part of the store’s mission.
Rewind a few years back to a road trip Liz and her husband Matt took along the East Coast, where she found a candle in New Orleans that changed her life. “I couldn’t stop smelling that candle on the way back!” she says. (Sound familiar?) It was on that drive, in that car, that they cooked up the idea to learn how to make candles and sell them as a side hustle. They even came up with the company name: Since both were accomplished chefs (for a while, Matt had his own restaurant and Liz had attended Johnson & Wales University and spent 21 years with an upscale catering outfit in Somerville), they aspired to create food-inspired soy wax candles in every scent “but the kitchen sink.” They got home, figured out how to make candles in their kitchen, created a web site and started selling them to family and friends.
They did that for a couple of years and then the pandemic hit. Liz, who was now a sous chef in the prepared foods section of Wegman’s with 90 people under her, was working 16-hour days, including helping on the grocery side when she was asked, and commuting from Fitchburg to Chestnut Hill. “I did whatever they asked of course because that’s what they needed at the time, but it was very intense. It was a rough period, and nothing really got better even as the pandemic got better.”
That’s when the couple saw a retail space in a historic home in Bolton and decided to open a retail shop. “We were tired of working and not seeing each other so we decided to take a huge risk,” she says. “Everyone thought we were absolutely insane. ‘You’re going to open a candle shop in the middle of the pandemic? You guys are out of your mind.’ We just didn’t listen to any of it.”
They opened right in November of 2020. Matt left his job at Wegmans, where he also worked (and where the couple had met) and she continued working there so they could have a steady income.
“We kept saying, ‘We’re either going to do this and be successful or do it and we fail, but at least we tried, and we’ll go get a job somewhere else.’ Why not? Life is way too short.”
Adding the Groton store has been a bit overwhelming, she admits, and this will be the first holiday season with two stores. “And on top of starting another retail store, we still make all the candles. We rent a space in an old mill building in Clinton. We also do farmer’s markets and events every weekend.” (Look for her September 24 at Grotonfest.) But I’m so used to working 18-hour days, it doesn’t faze me.”
She does find it hard to relax sometimes, especially at night. “When you have a retail business you have to be on. I struggle a lot with sleeping, I can’t shut my brain off at night.”
Though the summer was slow, with so many people traveling for the first time since the pandemic, business has picked right up. “We’ve gone from 0 to 500 overnight, we are so busy.” she says. “Wholesale orders are flooding it, and we have a lot of fairs coming up.”
But she never wants to be so busy she can’t take time to get to know her customers. “Because we’ve both been in the industry for so long, customer service is so important to us. One reason we feel we’ve been so successful in Bolton is because people come into the shop just to chat. And we’ll sit and chat with them for 45 minutes. We’re so passionate about our products and we love chatting with them. It’s the best. We have the best customers.”
That sense of gratitude comes from doing something she loves—though she didn’t always know what she wanted to do. After spending a year at college in Maine and realizing that wasn’t for her, she started waiting tables—something she considers an invaluable experience because it taught her about customer service. “Then one night I asked my boss if I could try a night behind the line, in the kitchen. He actually laughed at me, they were all men behind the line. And I got behind the line and I just smoked everyone behind the line. I fell in love with it that night. And within a month, I knew that being a chef was what I wanted to do.”
She also learned that she was not someone who could leave work behind at the end of the day. “Even as a chef when I left work, I still thought abut it. That’s just who I am. I care very deeply about my work. I don’t understand the point of doing something if you don’t care about it. I’ve never done anything just for a paycheck.”
And now, in this second career as a retail store owner, she gets to work every day with her husband of five years. “We just don’t argue, we’re so happy to be together,” she says of Matt. “We understand that life is too short. It’s just not worth it.”
She also acknowledges that they each bring certain strengths to the business. “We’re both where we are because of each other’s support and knowledge of certain aspects of the business. We wouldn’t be where we are without each other.”