SHOP STOP :: SPICE ACE

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Let’s be honest, the most exotic spices I carry in my kitchen are grounded ginger and cumin. Sure you will also find the usual ones like thyme & co., but this is also the end of the story. I have never thought about spices that much, I manage to make my dishes pretty tasty, but when it comes to recipes that require a spice more then Trader Joes and Whole Foods can offer, I simply skip to the next one. It’s not that I’m lazy I just wasn’t able to find a good assorted shop which will provide me with all of the fancy spices cook books are talking about. Luckily, the search is over. I found a spice paradise called Spice Ace. This Lower Pacific gem is owned by Olivia & Ben. An incredibly sweet couple whose love for cooking and travel made them open a spice shop to share their passion for fresh ingredients, exotic herbs, fine blends, hot chiles and oh so many more. I mean, isn’t it great to have some Cyprus Flake See Salt to sprinkle over a rustic bread slice with butter or some Fenugreek Leaves to make your Chicken Tikka Masla perfect as from your favorite indian restaurant. I say it is and that’s why you definitely should check out this store if you are in San Francisco and if not, they ship US wide. I had the pleasure to chit chat with Olivia about her store, her favorite spices and what makes her happy. Read on and enjoy the interview.

What led you to open a spice shop with such a huge variety?
My own cooking was transformed when I started to use spices from specialty stores from my travels.
Each meal became a fun adventure as favorite recipes became better and I experimented with new
ingredients and recipes. We could experience the world’s cuisine from our small kitchen. It was from
this that were inspired to open up a spice store with a large and varied selection of spices, herbs, salts,
peppers, chiles, blends, sugars and extracts from all over the world.

Describe us the idea of your store? What is so unique about it?
We have created a fun and comfortable environment where you can taste and smell every single spice,
herb, salt, pepper, chile, blend, sugar and extract in the store before you buy them. We offer the finest
ingredients at very affordable prices so one can easily bring home new ingredients or old favorites
to enliven your meals. We have always loved giving spices as gifts, and there is no spice too small
that can be wrapped up as present for friends, family or colleagues. In addition, we package all of
our spices in recyclable glass jars which helps both keep them tasting fresh as well as be kind on the
environment.

The ingredients at Spice Ace are very well selected. How do you find all the spices, herbs & salts?
We spend a lot of time researching spices and ingredients. We sample extensively from many
suppliers and chefs, tasting and cooking with them before we buy them. When we create a new in-
house blends, we repeatedly prepare different foods or beverages with them and refine the recipes
them so they are the best they can be.

What do you keep in mind when choosing items for Spice Ace?
Our customer requests and ideas are very important to us. We listen to our customers bring in new
products or create our own blends and create new blends based on their feedback. We also actively
follow culinary trends and offer what we feel our customers would enjoy and find new and exciting!

Salt is not always salt. What makes the difference between good quality spices and bad quality?
Taste, aroma as appropriate, purity, color, texture, where is it is grown, is it organic or sustainably
farmed. We do a lot of food preparation with our new ingredients to make it sure it can truly be a
symphony with the food – be it in the cooking or the finishing.

Have you any tips for us when buying spices?
Sample what you want to buy first and make sure it meets your taste standards. Envision what meals
you may want to create with it and the frequency that you will use that particular ingredient. If you
are unsure, buy in a small quantity. Buying in small quantities too helps ensure you won’t have excess
spices aging in your cupboard. Do also store your spices in glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place.
Finally, one of our best tips is to experiment and have fun! Buy something new and different and try
cooking with an ingredient you haven’t used before or do a variation of a tried and true recipe. I used
to shy away from whole chiles but now make great sauces after a bit of experimentation.

Most of us have salt & pepper in their kitchens. Maybe some rosemary and garlic powder. What is
your must-keep-in-stock spice?

A lot depends on the food you like – from Italian to French to Middle Eastern to Thai to American.
We have become a world now where cuisines and flavors from all lands are available and we can now
cook them at home. We offer gift sets that are basically starter sets for a given cuisine type.
Start with what cuisines you love and you will stock your basics to support your tastes.

As every job, being a shop owner has also pro and con. What do you love most about your job?
What’s not so great?

I love when customers come in to tell us how great a meal was that they prepared or when someone
had received one of our spices as a gift and they are back in the store to replenish or expand their
spices. This makes us the happiest! The con is troubleshooting occasional IT / router issues – but such
is life.

Have you any advice for somebody who would like to open a store?
First and foremost, customer satisfaction is the most important aspect of a business. Everything you
do needs to have the focus of delighting the customer.
Next, make sure you have the right capitalization so you can expand your product offering as the
business grows and you have a good budget for marketing.

Can you describe us your day at the …morning…. noon…. evening?
The early morning before the store is opened is spent looking at new products to bring in to the store.
We are also focused on inventory to make sure we are stocked and on the advertising plan for the next
month or two.
During the business day the focus is on helping our customers, as well as grinding, blending and
bottling.
The evenings are spent cooking using our current spices or future products. We also eat out a few
times a week as we learn a lot by eating at San Francisco’s many delicious restaurants. We most
recently ate at Frances and we loved the chef’s use of smoky salts.

Spice Shop owner’s dream?
Every day when a customer comes in and is amazed by our store makes us happy. What is even better
is when they return and tell us about what they cooked and that they loved the spice they bought from
us. We are living our dream when customers are happy.
We do want to be the go to store in San Francisco for spices et al.

Favorite spice right now?
Hmmmmm – Chipotle Morita Chile Flakes. It is smoky, spicy and delicious for chilis and meat stews.

Your meal? Not so spicy, medium or hot?
Flavorful! I love when spices are a symphony with the food! In general though, I like spicy food.
However, just adding a simple smoky salt to raw beets can be amazing. Less can definitely be more!

Your top 3 destinations?
Anywhere in Italy, New York and London.

Currently addicted to…?
Black truffle sea salt on poached eggs for breakfast. I eat it several times a week on a great piece of
toast with cheese. Yum!

Night owl or early bird?

Early bird!

Tell us some of your favorite SF spots?
Fillmore Street, Walking along Chrissy Field, Gary Danko, SPQR, Dosa on Fillmore, Troya, Frances,
Kokkari…wait the list is long!

Always in your bag…
I carry a time purse – iPhone, sunglasses, wallet, keys and Dior’s Lip Maximizer. I do on occasion
carry spices in my purse as gifts too.

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2 Responses
  • camille_iman
    May 2, 2013

    This shop looks amazing Ana! Definitely on my SF to do list

  • Lena
    May 6, 2013

    The place looks fantastic! I’ve always admired people who know a lot about spices – and know how to use them to create the most delicious meals! mmmmh…

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