The Spice House, the Midwest's "merchants of exquisite spices, herbs and seasonings"
My guest today is Patty Erd, co-owner of The Spice House, the MidWest's "merchants of exquisite spices, herbs and seasonings" . Welcome to OpEdNews, Patty. How did you come to be in this business?
The Spice House is my family business; my folks began it in 1957. Like many generations, we did not really want or plan to follow in my parents' footsteps. Now, we are so happy that we ended up doing so, thanks to a little shove from my folks! My parents had moved our shop several places over the years, but landed on a wonderful historical street in downtown Milwaukee called Old World Third Street. Their rental lease had just finished and the landlords were not planning on renewing it. They said they just did not have it in them to build out another location; they were mid fifties at the time.
They wanted my husband and me to buy their business and give it a shot. There was a spot open right across the street, so it was an opportune time for the business to transition to the next generation. We bought the business and then spent our life savings doing the build out. In an uncannily similar experience, we are now in our mid fifties and would like to have a next generation learning the ropes, while we prepare to hand off the treasured family business. Most of my nieces and nephews are in their twenties, and consequently have their own dreams ahead of them, not ours. We are most curious to see how it will all play out!
Some background first, please. You followed your parents into the business. How did they get involved with spices in the first place? What experience and expertise did they bring?
My parents met at a food company called Jewitt and Sherman that was founded in Milwaukee in 1875. Milwaukee historians say that this was the biggest wholesale shipper of coffee and spices west of the Alleghenies. My dad worked as a salesman in their wholesale division, getting new restaurant account. At that time, it was primarily premium coffee they were buying. As the coffee was excellent, most of his customers' inquiries were about other items like spices, teas, and nuts. He saw a niche market there and decided to start his own business a little down the road. When we first opened our shop in 1957, we sold coffee, tea, nuts, and spices. I worked there for my allowance from the time I was about 8, so I was able to be a part of our learning and growing process. Each year, we made a little more money to put back into things to help us grow. One year, we decided we could afford a small mill so that we could grind our own spices.
This made a world of difference because we could now personally ensure the ultimate in freshness and even tell our customers the date this spice was ground. The downside, however, is that the spice dust in the air permeated everything. The customers started to bring back their coffees and teas saying that they loved the smell of spices in our shop, but not in their morning coffee! At this turning point, my folks had to choose between these product lines and they chose spices. If they had chosen coffee, perhaps we would be the proud owner of a much larger Starbucks-type operation! We do love the spice world, the history is fascinating, so we are glad that is the road they chose.
You literally grew up in the business, Patty. Yet, it hasn't gotten old for you after all these years. Why not?