In this installment of our favorite places to visit in Chicago, we bring you The Spice House.
A couple Saturdays ago we had the great fortune of spending the afternoon milling around The Spice House, chatting with Patty Erd, who co-owns the mom and pop chain with her husband Tom. We visited the Old Town location situated in the middle of Old Town with its old world charm that blends perfectly with the neighborhood. The store is tucked in between bars and restaurant with tall trees blocking the sign, but if your GPS cannot locate it, don't worry. As Toucan Sam would say, "follow your nose... it always knows." The sweet and aromatic spices emanating from the shop can be smelled from a short distance. And when you walk in, you are instantly greeted by the exotic smells that take your mind to a foreign land and you can't help but take a second and larger whiff. It is quite the olfactory overload but in a good way.
The Old Town Spice House location is decorated similar to an old trading post with the exposed brick facade, maps and burlap sacks adorning the walls. It is also the busiest of all the shops. As many as 5 different food tours come through the store each week. The space is modest but it is packed full of rows and rows of spices ranging from your run of the mill spice staples such as black pepper, chili powders and vanilla to the more rare spices like grains of paradise, saffron and molecular gastronomy powders to name a few. With so many spices in house it can be quite over whelming on both the mind and senses. Luckily each spice comes with a sample jar for you to smell or taste. (Just be careful while smelling the chili powder.)
Some fun facts about vanilla beans
- Vanilla is part of the orchid family
- They are the 2nd most expensive spice, right after saffron
- It can take 8 years to harvest a vanilla bean, from start to finish
In the hour or so talking with Patty, we really got the sense that she really loves what she does. Not only does she write the spice house blog herself, but Patty personally answers all emails directed toward The Spice House. But her true love is being in the storefront interacting with the customers. Her charm and charisma warms both old and new faces. Although at times it is difficult to reach out to customers with their 5 stores, both Tom and Patty makes an effort each week to oversee each store. Getting to know the customers and thinking of The Spice House employees as family is the reason why the Spice House has managed to stay open and become a landmark in both Chicago and Milwaukee. Additionally, their passion for spices is not only kept within the 5 stores, but they share their knowledge by teaching classes at Kendall College and the Chopping block. Patty is also on the board of Les Dames d'Escoffier. Truthfully, their list of extracurricular activities extends far beyond the reach of this short list- how they find to do it all is really amazing.
Grains of Paradise
Patty Erd makes her appearance at the 0:38 mark