By Pamela Dozois
Spices have been considered an essential element in food flavoring and preservation from antiquity. European spice merchants traveled to distant lands such as Egypt, China, India and Africa, via land and sea, to obtain these savory and aromatic delicacies, ultimately stimulating world trade.
Fortunately, we no longer have to travel great distances to obtain exotic spices. The Solvang Spice Merchant features spices and teas from more than 60 countries.
Passersby are drawn into the shop by the aromatic fragrance wafting into the street, which captures the senses. Inside there are rows of boxes containing the colorful spices, neatly arranged for customers to experience and sample.
The Solvang Spice Merchant is the brain child of Joy Culley and Taylor Facha. It opened on Labor Day 2018.
“We purchase the spices from a small, family-run operation which specializes in hand blending the spices and works with us on custom blends,” said Culley. “From there we bottle and package everything ourselves, here in Solvang, which ensures the spices are fresh and potent. Our store is kind of a boutique spice shop where customers can come and taste and interact with the spices. When I’m not working in the shop, I’m bottling.”
Culley grew up in Paradise in Northern California and moved to Sacramento, where she worked for a number of years in the food and beverage industry, managing several restaurants, then later in the wine industry. She decided to go back to school to learn graphic design and marketing, which led her back into the restaurant business.
Facha lives in Sacramento and has an established bar called The Thirsty Goat in Woodland. She travels back and forth from Sacramento to Solvang with her dog, Charlie, several times a week, sharing the duties of running the spice shop. She would eventually like to move to the valley permanently.
“Taylor was inspired by a spice shop she visited in Murphys, California, a village located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She said, ‘What do you think about doing something like this in Solvang?’ We had been kicking around tons of ideas but this one stuck.
“We marinated on it for three years and started studying up on different spices and visiting numerous spice shops while traveling. Taylor has been in the restaurant business for many years. She has an interest in culinary trends, she likes to eat and likes to cook and she really likes the culture of spices,” said Culley. “She spent many years traveling in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Europe and embraces different cultures and the mystique of spices.”
Culley said that there is a trend toward returning to the basics – cooking at home, canning, raising your own food, and looking at food as something creative rather than a convenience.
“Young people are taking a more active role in their overall health and well-being,” she continued. “What was old is new again, so I feel that our little business is right on the mark.”
“I’d planned on starting a business when my fiancée, Amy Parker, a Valley native, and I moved to Solvang in 2013 and purchased a piece of commercial property and remodeled it. But my mother became ill with brain cancer, so I decided it didn’t make sense to start a business due to traveling back and forth to Paradise, so I put my business plans on hold,” Culley explained.
“Then in January of 2018 my mother passed away and that was a turning point in my life. We were very close. I guess it was a blessing that she wasn’t around to see her home, and the town of Paradise, burn to the ground, along with all their possessions, in the November fire,” she said sadly.
“In the spring, Amy heard of a store becoming vacant in Solvang. Taylor and I said to each other, ‘Maybe this is our shop – let’s see what we can do.’ We got in touch with the owner before he listed the space. We made a really good connection and signed the lease. It took us four or five months to build out the shop. I built all the displays and our friends helped out, even my step-dad. Setting up the shop was good therapy for him and me too,” said Culley. “It felt really nice to have a purpose.”
“The main reason we opened the Solvang Spice Merchant is we wanted to tap into the tourist market, but we also wanted to provide a niche for locals to get spices they needed without going into Los Angeles or online,” said Culley. “We want to appeal to the cooks who want to do their own blends and also to those who want a unique flavor for their dish without the knowledge of blending. It’s also important for us to keep our prices reasonable, not only for the tourists but for our local customers.”
“Opening up this shop has really fulfilled a dream of mine. It’s not just a retail shop, it’s a hands-on labor of love for both Taylor and me,” said Culley. “I’ve managed a lot of people’s businesses over the years and it feels good to finally put that experience into my own business.”
“What I love most about this business are our customers,” said Facha. “The people who come in are food people, excited about spices. They are people who love to cook, love to share – so they spend time sharing their ideas and travels with us. They are a nice, happy mix of folks who are friendly, passionate and heart-felt people.”
The owners plan on pairing up with local chefs for food demonstrations, mixers and other community events. They are hosting a Chamber of Commerce mixer in July. They would also like to start providing bulk spices for local chefs.
“It was important for me to be involved in the community and it makes things easier when we are getting local support, which we are. We are extremely grateful for that,” said Culley. “I really encourage locals to give us feedback and let us know what spices they’re using or can’t find. We would be happy to provide them.”
The Solvang Spice Merchant is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The shop is at 1603 Copenhagen, No. 2, with an entrance on Atterdag across from Mortensen’s Bakery.
For more information, call 805-697-7975, visit www.solvangspicemerchant.com or email email@example.com.