When Dan Hayward looks at his own store, he can see the obstacles it faces. Savory Spice Shop is tucked into the expensive-looking strip along Broadway north of Pearl Street — Hayward calls it a “destination shop” that probably looks like a fancier, more expensive option than the grocery store.
“If you just walk by a shop like this — I would think the same thing — you may look inside and go, ‘Oh, that looks really interesting, but it looks kind of boutique-y,’” says Hayward, who owns the shop.
But appearances can be deceiving. Hayward says Savory offers lower prices for spices than what you’d find in the grocery aisle.
“If you went jar for jar, we’re about a dollar or two less expensive for the normal line of spices,” he says. “Most people, when they see our prices, are like, ‘Wow, unbelievable.’”
The store is one of just two specialty spice shops in Boulder, along with Penzeys on Pearl Street.
Hayward says his store tries to take advantage of its specialty by offering instruction and variety to its customers. Savory carries “80 to 90 percent” of the same spices shoppers could find at a grocery store, Hayward estimates, but even with more common spices Savory tries to offer a wider selection than grocers.
He points to curry powder: A grocery store might carry one yellow curry powder, but Savory sells mild, medium and hot yellow powder, along with other colors.
And what about that last 10 percent to 20 percent? Hayward rattles off a Seussian list of odd flavors: “Tasmanian pepperberries, grains of paradise, smoked paprika, summer savory, charnushka, ajwain seeds, Tahitian vanilla beans — where you gonna find that stuff?” And what are you supposed to do with it? Don’t look at me. I had to look up how to spell “ajwain.” Big thanks to Wikipedia, but buying the spice and then Googling a recipe probably isn’t the best bet for getting the most out of your seasonings. Hayward says the staff at Savory is there for you.
“We’re here to help educate people,” he says. “People are like, ‘I’ve never heard of that before, what is that? What do you do with that?’ We really like to help educate people.”
Hayward says they hope to guide chefs of all skill levels.
“They know one way to use something, or they know three ways to use something, well, we’ll add a couple more,” he says. “We want to take it to the next level and make sure you can really understand what you’re getting into.”
That education has to be inviting, too, Hayward says. He knows Savory isn’t an easy place to walk into.
“Is this intimidating? Yeah, it is intimidating for a lot of people,” he says.
The store carries more than 400 spices from nearly 80 countries, Hayward says, and the rows of bottles can be daunting.
“In general, most people have never seen anything like this, and it’s intimidating.”
Hayward says Savory sees a variety of customers in Boulder’s dining scene, including some of Boulder’s most prominent restaurants, like SALT, Black Cat, Frasca and The Kitchen. But food isn’t the only place Savory’s spices pop up. We’re in Colorado, after all.
“Upslope [Brewing Company] … won a gold medal for their pumpkin ale at the Great American Beer Festival,” Hayward says. “Those were our spices. The sweet, kind of ‘winter’ spices — clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, allspice, that kind of thing.”
Savory’s other recent success in beer collaborations is Left Hand’s Fade to Black, which this year was a pepper porter brewed with three types of chilies.
When a guy whose entire job is making and trying beer says something’s fun, that should carry some weight. Left Hand’s head brewer, Ro Guenzel, says as much of his trip to the spice shop to pick out the right peppers.
“It was kind of fun,” Guenzel says. “Dan and I started pulling peppers off the shelves.”
Hayward says he steered Left Hand to the right chili powders to give the beer a kick.
“We kind of went through the whole chili wall,” he says. “We just started smelling a few things, he took some samples with him and they came up with anchos, smoked serranos and brown chipotles to make their pepper porter. And it’s been a huge hit.”
Usually, Hayward says, he works with breweries on a much smaller scale. Brewers from Left Hand, Avery, Twisted Pine, Oskar Blues and others come to the spice shop for a small quantity early in their process, when they’re making samples, test brews and taproom-only beers.
Guenzel says he and other Left Hand brewers go to Savory “as often as we can, whenever I have something that calls for flavorings or spices.” Unfortunately, he says, that’s only about once a year, although Left Hand has been working with Savory for six years, starting with the spice shop’s Denver location.
And once the spices are picked, Left Hand typically works with the store and its suppliers to get the volume the brewers need. Guenzel says the pepper porter required “close to 700 pounds” of the chili powders.
Penzeys did not respond to requests for an interview by press time.