I grew up in a large family in the 60’s and 70’s. My mother was one of the rare ones at the time who had a professional career, and my father fancied himself a feminist. So he took on preparing half the family meals. The only issue, he was a terrible cook. My mother enjoyed cooking meals one day a week – usually Sunday. The rest of the week it was whatever she could quickly throw together on the days it was her turn to cook. At ten years old, I had tired of the food scene at home so I asked if I could take over making dinner. My mother got me a Betty Crocker cookbook for Children. She helped me do menu planning and turned it over. I enrolled my younger brother as my assistant – my first of many sous chefs.
It was probably in my DNA to become a chef at a young age – my Memere (my mother’s mother) was an exceptional chef. I loved going to visit as we were guaranteed to always have something fantastic.
I’ve joked for years that I excel at the basics. It wasn’t until, as an empty nester, I went to cooking school in France, and Italy, then to Jacob Burton’s Flavor Academy near Lake Tahoe, that I realized excelling at the basics is what makes for a great chef. It was after the flavor academy that I got very into spice blending – first for dry rubs. I had been making tea blends for years – my friends referred to the perpetual melee of spices on the stove as my “stew juice.” And, my children grew up being cured from whatever ailed them from a tea I made from a special blend of great tasting spices.
I was making spice and tea blends for friends and family for Christmas in 2018, when one of the construction guys working on a new home I was building near the now commercial kitchen for the Spice Shop suggested I look into selling what I was making as they were better than anything he had before. He had a friend in the lower 48 who was doing well with his spice blends. He encouraged me and saying “yours are much better than his, you should do something with this talent.”
With a whole array of spice blends I had created over the years to season some of my family and friend’s favorite meals, I took the plunge. I took it as a great sign. I was able to secure the AlaskaSpiceShop.com domain and away we went.
Our first year out the gate was amazing – we quickly landed 30 retail customers around Alaska. We wrapped our motorhome to be the traveling Spice Mobile. We were in parades, at farmers’ markets, and “Spice Mama” was the “celebrity chef” at community cooking competitions. We were even asked to make all the freeze-dried food for an Iditarod team.
Then the pandemic hit and business came to a screeching halt. The cruise ships couldn’t come to Alaska, the community events stopped, most of the retail outlets cancelled their orders for the season, the Canadian border closed and the ferry shut down so we couldn’t take the Spice Mobile out.
What didn’t get cancelled though was the Iditarod. So we pivoted into Freeze-Dried Foods and created some amazing Freeze Dried Meals for the 2021 Iditarod team of Chad Stoddard. What also didn’t get cancelled was our drive, enthusiasm and passion for being in business. We started making custom meals for outfitting people’s outdoor adventures and created a line of Vegan Freeze Dried Meals.
We looked at other places besides Alaska where we might want to expand into, a place where my character as Spice Mama would feel at home. I had spent much time going to Maine over the years – as a kid, and then bringing my children there for numerous vacations. My heritage is French Canadian, and I always felt very comfortable in and around the people I met in and from Maine. After the business crash in Alaska with the Pandemic, we wanted a place where we could expand the business in ways that would be fun for us and for others as well.
We came to Maine and settled on Belfast. It tickled me stumbling on a labyrinth at a park in the middle of town. I found my version of heaven with the varieties of raw dairy products at the Food C0-op, the water front lobster pond, and all the local blueberry farms. There is also a thriving artisanal food scene in town. It’s more viable to expand the business into the cooking school avenue as it’s easier for people to get to Belfast than to Haines, Alaska. We can do foodie tours as there are much more interesting food oriented businesses to explore in mid-coast Maine. We can also expand our best of guides as there are more food joints offering similar foods,. Plus, there is the similar gift shop market for tourists that exists in Maine as in Alaska. This is how we gave birth to our second spice shop – the Maine Spice Shop.
So who is Spice Mama? I’m a very well “seasoned” chef, and a successful entrepreneur. I’ve been starting and running businesses since I got out of the Air Force at 25. Like any good entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of failures. I’ve also had some huge successes. The spice business has been the fastest success I’ve had. The pandemic crash, while not at all welcome, was a good chance to regroup and figure out what we really wanted to do in this space. I got into this business to share my love and enjoyment of great food with others who also love and enjoy great food. Expanding the business into Maine will give us a chance to do just that.