To watch Owner Dan Hayward of Savory Spice Shop speak to customers about spices is to watch an artisan at work.
This morning I’m in Savory Spice Shop’s Boulder location, a Broadway fixture since July of 2008. A customer walks in holding a handwritten list of spices he’s eager to track down before his flight home. The collection of spices, the customer concedes, are unknown to him—and while that might sound daunting to tackle for any sales associate, Hayward warmly dives in with a smile, “Let’s get started.”
A quick scan of the extensive list and Dan quickly determines that just 3 ingredients aren’t carried in the store. Impressive, really, to be able to instantly recall their entire catalogue of spices considering that Savory Spice Shop keeps more than 450 spices, herbs, and signature seasonings in stock.
“Hing,” Hayward says, “We don’t have that here but I can give you some recommendations for some Indian markets that would have it.” As Hayward details the spice’s sulfurous onion-like qualities on the nose, I make a mental note to myself later to look up hing for my own cooking. Fun fact: Hing comes from the resin of wild, giant fennel plants in Afghanistan and Iran—consider it the umami factor in Indian cooking.
Hayward’s expansive knowledge of spices and specialty ingredients is impressive, but even he’ll tell you that wasn’t always the case. Originally from Georgia, Hayward has fond memories in the kitchen at a young age, but spices were limited to generic seasoning salts commonly found in most homes. Hayward grew on to the restaurant hospitality industry for 15 years before taking time to pursue other passions in food, culture and travel, and completing a stint in the Peace Corps until settling in Denver.
As good things often transpire, Hayward developed a friendship with Mike and Janet Johnston, transplants themselves from the Chicago, IL area. Avid home cooks and bakers, and with a background in the retail spice industry, the Johnston’s identified an opportunity in Denver and opened the first Savory Spice Shop in 2004. Specializing in a diverse selection of spices and more than 160 custom blends crafted in Savory’s Denver test kitchen, Savory quickly became a fixture within the local community.
Hayward joined the team part time but it wasn’t long until he became more involved in Savory’s growth, becoming full time and ultimately co-Owner of the new Savory Boulder store. Participating in recipe development and gaining a broader knowledge of how spices are sourced, Hayward is acutely aware of spices being a part of the global economy. Savory vets their spices thoroughly, working closely with suppliers to ensure that the product’s origin, processing methods and cleanliness standards are up to their expectations. Despite this, Savory is still beholden to natural marketplace fluctuations. Spices are an agricultural crop, and as such they are susceptible to the weather, natural disasters, and even competition from buyers.
Take for example, a shortage of vanilla within the industry due to a single buyer acquiring nearly all of the vanilla in Madagascar before it was even off the vine. Though ordinarily that kind of monopoly might be looked down upon and the sellers could be accused of ‘cashing out,’ Hayward explains that in many cases, these sellers are small farms that have been managed by the same family for generations. Much of the world’s spices comes from developing countries like Madagascar, “A huge cash investment like that,” Hayward begins, “can really jumpstart their local economy. Think about having the ability to plant more crops, or invest in crucial infrastructure like roads, wells and even schools. Sure, it’s rough on the market initially, but things will level out again.” Hayward points to encroachment from urban areas as one of the biggest threats to the industry, “There’s not as much land to farm, which limits supply.”
Though much of Savory’s offerings are not certified organic (primarily due to the high costs for farmers), their commitment to sourcing high quality products has, and will continue to be, a fundamental building block of the business. Many of the spices featured at Savory come from small, family-run operations who have been following the same farming methods for centuries.
Experimentation and innovation is at the heart of developing complementary flavor profiles. Hayward and Savory Spice Shop has quickly become a fixture within the community as a place where local chefs can go for insights on complementary or innovative new flavor profiles. One such example most creatively executed was at the recent CineCHEF event hosted by the Boulder International Film Festival. River and Woods owners Josh Dinar and Chef Daniel Asher recently sought the help of Hayward for the finishing touches on their East Coast Ceviche inspired by the movie Cheech n’ Chong. “It really speaks to a chef’s creative side,” Hayward says, “they come with ideas about a new dish, flavor or color profile and we try to help them achieve that.” In the case of that Cheech n’ Chong ceviche? Spice ‘joints’ hand-rolled by Dinar himself.
When it comes to spices, chefs may come to Hayward with a concept in mind. Whether you’re looking to enhance an existing menu or create something entirely new, subtle differences in spice blends can help you achieve new flavors and colors.
Hayward hasn’t just collaborated with leaders in the local culinary community—he has also worked closely with many of Colorado’s craft breweries such as Upslope, Avery and Left Hand Brewing Company. With local brewers experimenting with different flavor profiles including cinnamon, clove and other unique ingredients and combinations not ordinarily used.
Proudly marketing themselves as “A Colorado Company,” Savory also features many local CO brands and Colorado proud products within the store including: sauces, relishes, honey and much more. “We look for people with a spark and that wanted to be connected to the community,” Hayward tells me, “Being supportive of whatever is happening in the community is what we consider to be good business.”
Savory will always continue to look for new creative opportunities, from establishing new partnerships with brewers, meaderies and distilleries, to opening new stores in Colorado and across the United States.
“I’m actually headed to the Brewer’s Association Craft Brewer’s Conference to see what the industry is doing and talking about,” Hayward says, “the possibilities are endless.”