February 9, 2015
When spice shop owners John Beaver and Erica Perez opened doors to their shop, Oakland’s diverse customers inspired and influenced their growth, leading them to source even more varieties of culinary spices, high-quality herbs, salts, and blends. Given the access to so much delicious ethnic food, Erica adds, “The city has seen more and more specialty shops open up and flourish. That makes Oakland truly special.”
John and I met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had grown up there and lived there on and off between travels abroad. I had moved there from southern California to work as a reporter for the local newspaper. Although I enjoyed Milwaukee much more than I anticipated I would, I still longed for the west coast and wanted to be closer to family.
In 2009, I landed a journalism job in Berkeley. John agreed to move out west with me. I’d heard good things about Oakland. It was supposed to be a diverse city with a lively nightlife and a community-oriented culture. It didn’t hurt that it was warmer and sunnier than San Francisco.
I reached out to old friends who lived here, and they advised me on neighborhoods to check out. I found an apartment with a view of Lake Merritt.
Oakland’s charms won me over almost immediately. First, the northern California weather was glorious. I loved how easy it was to walk to BART for work. I had never lived in a place as culturally diverse. We lived within walking distance of so much delicious ethnic food. I hadn’t realized how close we were to great hiking trails and gorgeous bay views. The easy access to nature was an added bonus. Here in town we went to Lake Temescal, Redwood Regional Park and Joaquin Miller. We took great weekend trips to wine country, Tahoe and of course San Francisco.
Although the idea for the spice shop was born shortly after we moved here, we took our time planning the business and didn’t open until two years later. I think we truly began to feel at home in Oakland shortly after we opened our doors. We had designed the shop with a rustic aesthetic that appealed to us, and we envisioned a place where people could come, get inspired to cook and talk about what they were making for dinner.
It was wonderful to see our vision resonate with people. They were genuinely excited to visit the shop, and we began to get to know the neighborhood on a deeper level. It was clear that people enjoyed shopping at a locally owned business where they could talk about food and learn about spices.
In the years since, our customers have inspired us and influenced the ways we’ve grown. People’s interest in craft cocktails, shrubs and cordials led us to source a variety of botanicals and create a kit for making your own tonic water at home. From our Middle Eastern customers we’ve learned about the delicious sour power of limu omani (black limes), sumac, pomegranate molasses and barberries. And we’ve also had so many exciting conversations with creative people looking to start their own businesses in Oakland, food-related and otherwise. The city has seen more and more specialty shops open up and flourish. That makes Oakland truly special.