Minding our Business: Adding Spice to Ocean Avenue

By Randy Kraft.

By Randy Kraft.

Paul Greer is learning to cook with spices. All sorts of spices, with which he is becoming familiar as he prepares to open, with his wife Mary, the Laguna franchise of The Spice Merchant. Tucked into the former Latitude 33 bookshop, one imagines each of the 300 spices, teas, salts, sugars, olive oils and specialty foods to be shelved there, also tell a tale.

Spice shops have proliferated in recent years and Greer suggests it is a direct result of the economy.

“People are cooking at home, they want to do more themselves,” he said recently at the shop, which is in the midst of a renovation, including reclaimed barn posts with metal shelving that are the hallmark of Spice Merchant shops in Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Temecula, Calif.

Perhaps the abundance of ethnic recipes available via the Internet has also fueled the demand for a wider variety of ingredients. Savory in Corona del Mar and Penzy’s in Santa Monica are two other California spice shops that have captured the imagination of local cooks.

This is Greer’s first foray into retailing, a mid-life career change that he’s always wanted.  He currently sells furniture to commercial properties and intends for a time to keep his day job while also managing the Spice Merchant. One son, an aspiring graphic designer, will help out in the shop and his wife, a human resources professional, will eventually add staff.

Greer hopes at some point to have at least a second store, once he learns the ins and outs of the business. Launching as a franchisee is a smart way to start. Corporate owner Lisa Freeman of Michigan sources product from a variety of growers, ensuring quality and consistency from store to store. All spices and teas are natural, and some organic, Greer said. Products will be merchandised in bulk and sold in both pre-packaged jars and packets, or by weight. Most spices will be priced at $2.79 – $5 per ounce, depending on the rarity of the spice or tea. Gift baskets will also be available.

At the moment, Greer is immersed in the learning curve. “There are spice packets all over my house at the moment,” he said, although he favors standbys like cinnamon and curry.

The Spice Merchant will also carry teapots, grinders, pestles, mortars, infusers, and other accessories to enhance the experience, and will be open every day, with hours complementary to neighboring Ocean Avenue shops. Greer said that inspections are moving along quickly and the city has been supportive, and he has met with the Culinary Institute and other potential partners. He also hopes the Chamber of Commerce will host a ribbon cutting soon after the soft opening this month.

I can only imagine the delicious scent that will greet patrons at the door and the stories these spices will tell.


Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com. This column features Laguna businesses and business people. 

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