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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/11/15

Sights, Scents and Stories from a Spice Emporium

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Nice! I understand that you are giving a lecture soon at the Skokie Public Library. Do you do that often? Who comes and what kind of reception do you get?

My husband and I have a very nice lecture called "The Lure and Lore of Spices" that is informative, educational and entertaining. Libraries these days are really amazingly modern places, most of the libraries we speak at now have meeting rooms that can hold around a hundred people. People love to learn and the history of spices is really fascinating so we normally have no trouble selling out these programs. Library patrons would be the regular attendees, although we do promote these lectures to our customers via our social media outlets. We are on the "public library circuit" so I would say we do at least a dozen of these library talks a year. We also speak at clubs that have a common interest, such as garden clubs, foodie clubs, etc. Another really fun event aspect for us is culinary author book signings and tastings. When an author is out promoting a new book, we make our events a little nicer than the big box store signings by cooking up many of the recipes in the book and sampling out to our guests. This past year we had Carla Hall, from The Chew, for example, Karen Paige and Andrew Dornenburg several times, and Dorie Greenspan. My staff loves these events, as many of them went to culinary school and this give them a chance to show off their cooking chops!

Shelf-full of colorful and fragrant merchandise
Shelf-full of colorful and fragrant merchandise
(Image by The Spice House)
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Cool! The Spice House has been around for a long time. What kind of press have you enjoyed over the years?

As the owner that wears the PR hat, if I really claimed the credit for all the fabulous press we received over the years, I think I could land a really nice paying job in public relations! The truth of the matter is that most of these stories come to us because we have such a unique and unusual business. We have had stories about us in most major food magazines and food sections of many newspapers not just the Chicago Tribune and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Evanston shop was named Small Business of the Year in 2000. In 2002, we received a prestigious Good Eating Award from the Chicago Tribune. In 1999, Alton Brown filmed a piece for his show, Good Eats, in our Evanston shop.

The show was new back then, and the Chicago area had not picked up the Food Network yet. He was such a perfectionist, he was in our shop for about 10 hours and our spot was edited down to about two minutes. No one said much about it. The following year, people came into the shop and talked about seeing me on television. I had no idea of what they were talking about. Then I looked online and they were airing it again because it was his classic Christmas episode called "It's a Wonderful Cake." 16 years later it is still airing, now on the Cooking Channel. How much luckier could we get? We also did a podcast with Alton Brown last year for Nerdist. One of the scariest hours of my life, that man is so smart!

We have been on the TV show Real Simple, which was incredibly challenging as they wanted me to simplify curry powder. I think the question was, if you did not have curry powder, what three things could you substitute, for which there is no good answer. We did a few NPR interviews with Michelle Norris of All Things Considered, local radio with Dean Richards recently and Rick Kogan, a Chicago icon. So many more. I think possibly the nicest feather in our cap came last year when Food and Wine Magazine placed us on the short list of the Best Spice Shops in THE WORLD!

Wow; that is something! What haven't we talked about yet?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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