Entrepreneurs' Idea a Life of Spice
August 11, 2004 - Ellen Sweets - Denver Post Newspaper
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to raid your savings and max out your credit cards to start a spice business, but that's exactly what Dave Citizen and Cal Smith did. And here, $40,000 later, is the Rocky Mountain Spice House, in the heart of the Golden Triangle. Alphabetically arranged shelves are stocked with rows of round tins. Each has a see-through top and a recycled brown paper label with forest-green lettering - from allspice, anise and annatto to turmeric, wasabi and white pepper. Don't know annatto (also known as achiote)? Hangtags introduce you to lesser-known condiments. Annatto is used in Mexican and Caribbean cooking; it can color rice if the budget disallows saffron (which the Spice Shop also sells).
Combined with garlic and peppers, annatto is the foundation for adobo paste. Hello - there's the recipe for Adobo Chicken. "We want people to know what various herbs are, how to use them and where they came from," Citizen says. The idea grew out of a visit to British Columbia. "We visited a Chinese shop in Vancouver and it was so impressive the way things were arranged," he says. "It was so simple, yet so smart. Later, remembering that shop, we started discussing whether we should take a risk and start our own spice business. "I had lost two jobs last summer, and it seemed like every place ended up moving, downsizing or going out of business. I said, 'How much worse can it get?"' Smith, an artist who works for a web-hosting company, is Canadian by birth. He applied for American citizenship following a stint in the U.S. Army and expects to become a citizen later this year.
Smith still works full time, while Citizen, who is from Chicago, staffs the shop. Citizen was lured to Colorado by memories of postcards from his sister. "She would come home from vacation and bring back pictures of dogs in Jeeps driving through the mountains," Citizen says. "I wanted to drive through those mountains too." Instead Citizen drives to Denver daily from Littleton. In tribute to their adopted state, he and Smith have recently introduced two special blends. One is called 5280 Grind: peppercorns, coriander, rosemary, fennel, orange peel, tarragon, garlic and chile pepper flakes. The other is Pikes Peak: oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram, lemon peel, sage and garlic. Both are sold in pepper mills for grinding into olive oil or for flavoring food. Next up, a series of blends named for Colorado's Fourteeners. To see what else they're up to, you can visit their "First Friday" events, where they serve food featuring the month's favored flavor. Last week it was lavender sugar cookies. Last month: pizza with Italian herbs. Or find them Saturdays at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market in their ongoing quest to stake a claim in the Denver market. "I come up with the ideas, and Cal makes them happen. So far, so good. Knock on wood"
Staff writer Ellen Sweets can be reached at 303-820-1284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.