The spice is right: Former narcotics cops open The Spice & Tea Exchange |

The spice is right: Former narcotics cops open The Spice & Tea Exchange

Sarah Chartier and Kirstin Ruehlen were undercover narcotics cops. They retired, knocked around a little bit and opened Spice and Tea Exchange with stores in Vail Village and Fort Collins.
Special to the Daily |

Spice & Tea Exchange

164 Gore Creek Dr #138, Vail, CO 81657


All five of your senses will be happy that you wandered into Kirstin Ruehlen and Sarah Chartier’s Vail Village shop.

The Spice & Tea Exchange is a far cry from the work they did as narcotics cops for a decade and a half.

“Every cop and fire fighter has a Plan B, something they want to do after they retire,” Chartier said.

Cops to shops

Ruehlen worked for the Fort Collins Police Department, Chartier for the Loveland Police Department. They were the only females assigned to the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force, where they did all sorts of serious cop stuff — undercover work that usually ended with guns and sticks and knives, and bad guys in handcuffs.

It was wonderful tough-guy stuff, but tough-guy stuff will wear down even the strongest of us. It was time for a change.

Ruehlen retired in 2012 after 15 years, to relax and raise a family. She went into real estate and headed to Dallas, Texas, to attend a conference for work, and stumbled upon the local The Spice & Tea Exchange of Grapevine, one of the world’s original The Spice & Tea Exchange stores.

Ruehlen fell in love with the store and brought the idea of franchising one of their own locations back to Colorado, and shared it with Chartier over a glass of wine.

“It didn’t seem too outrageous to get into business,” Chartier said.

Soon after, they decided to move forward with opening a location of their own.

The former cops-turned-“mompreneurs” opened their Fort Collins store in September 2014, and their Vail store in May 2016 in The Lodge at Vail building in Vail Village.”

Chartier’s dad built out the spaces in both stores, completely changing the look and feel of the space.

Open the jars on the shelf, smell the globally-sourced tea, the spices. Let it all waft over you. The atmosphere is charming.

They hand mix 95 percent of their blends in the store, Chartier said.

Their teas are being bought 1-2 pounds at a time. They don’t want anything to sit on the shelves. It doesn’t.

Cop communication

Old habits die hard, and now that their world is spices and tea, they sometimes have to remind themselves that their clientele has changed.

Conversations transitioned from the cop-centric, “Just the facts ma’am,” to something … well, different.

Chartier said that sometimes Ruehlen will read an email, and gently counsel, “Maybe you’re coming across a little too bluntly.”

“We came from a male dominated industry. Generally, 10 percent of police officers are female,” Chartier said. “Then we come into the Spice & Tea Exchange where the CEO, CFO and all the marketing people are female. It’s empowering and exciting — and challenging.”

Being a cop was helpful, Chartier said. When they were doing long-term investigations, or on a stake out or working a case, they often were together 18 hours a day.

Doing interviews to hire people is a relative breeze. After all that time as narcotics cops, they know how to ask questions in such a way that they get the information they want.

“We know how to communicate and what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are,” Chartier said. “We are yin and yang.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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