“We’re trying something new,” Navarrette said. “People told me I was crazy back then when I decided to plant olive trees. It’s a leap of faith. It’s a big investment to buy all the spices as well as all the glass containers to store them in, but there isn’t a place like this in the county, where you can just buy the spices that you need in the amount that you need.”
At the new Brentwood Spice and Olive Oil Company, customers looking for spices may purchase as little or as much of a spice as they desire. Spices are sold by the ounce, not by the container, so if your recipe calls for only two teaspoons of an herb that you don’t use often, you can buy just what you need.
Ficher said selling by the ounce is also an ideal way to try a new spice to see if you like it: “If you buy a bottle at the grocery store and don’t like it, you’ve wasted a lot of money on something that you’ll probably just throw away. You can get an ounce of some spices here for as little as 35 cents, so you can get samples of several different spices for under $10. If you like it, come back and buy more. If not, try something else.”
The change at the company was inspired by Fischer’s memories of spice shops in the Midwest. After moving to California from Wisconsin, Ficher said she was surprised that there weren’t any local places to buy spices other than grocery stores.
“I like to cook with spices, but there aren’t any places around here that sell spices like they do in Milwaukee,” Fischer said. “You find all these interesting recipes on the food channels and in magazines, but the grocery stores don’t always have what you need, and sometimes that one ingredient makes the entire dish.”
Ficher and Navarrette have a personal collection of about 60 spices, but their shop currently stocks more than 150 and the inventory keeps growing.
“More people are eating at home these days because they can’t afford to eat out,” Navarrette said. “Most people just cook with salt and pepper, but if you cook with a variety of spices, you won’t even need salt. Cooking with spices is a lot healthier.”
The shop’s spice collection includes five types of paprika, three intensities of cayenne pepper, flavored powders and rare spices such as grains of paradise, annatto seed, star anise and epazote, a popular spice used in Mexican dishes. Ficher also creates and sells custom spice blends, which she recommends for seasoning meats and soup.
Once the spice inventory is complete, Navarrette said he’d like to offer special gift boxes that include a recipe card, along with olive oil, spices and a bottle of wine.
“It’s dinner in a box,” he said. “All you need to do is add meat. Dawn and I love to cook. It’s one of our passions. A lot of people are afraid to cook at home. They’re afraid they’ll mess it up, but it’s just food. It’s good to experiment with spices. If it doesn’t turn out right, try again, and if there’s no time to start over, then toss it out and order pizza.”
Along with the dinner box idea, Navarrette and Fischer are creating a monthly newsletter that will include recipes to help encourage people to try cooking with new spices.
Brentwood Spice and Olive Oil Company, located at 2610 Empire Ave., is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and weekdays by appointment. For more information, call 925-240-6457