Winner of the 2014 Innovations in Tourism Award
This year’s award for most innovative tourism business in Calaveras County went to The Spice Tin in Murphys. Owners Jan and Patty Schulz, longtime educators in Calaveras County, are enjoying a second career providing a unique sensory experience at their retail location at Algiers and Main in downtown. Although they were traveling when the award was presented, we were able to catch Patty on a recent morning to learn about how The Spice Tin came to be.
About twelve years ago Patty and her three daughters were on a girls’ trip to Chicago. When she wandered into a spice shop in Old Town, its atmosphere made an impression, and she was inspired by the idea that she could do something similar. She kept talking about it, and her girls kept pushing her about when she was going to take action on her idea.
With retirement from her teaching career approaching, Patty sat down to do some research – about two years’ worth – into how to start a retail spice business, and along with that she devoured the stories of the spices themselves – their origins, the cultures and culinary traditions that each spice holds. She realized having a spice shop is all about exploring culture through food and that she could create a community around that vision. Indeed, The Spice Tin has become a staple for local foodies and with its downtown Murphys location it’s also a great find for the wandering visitor. Schulz estimates her clientele is a 50-50 split between local and tourists.
Patty and her husband Jan work hard to keep up the sense of community around their product and make sure their shop is a place to share ideas where people on both sides of the counter can learn from each other. Pop in on a weekend and you may find an array of samples out for tasting, and Jan – resident barbecue master – grilling up something tasty in front of the store with a selection of his custom rubs. Apparently, there is even an internal family competition among the extended Schulz clan to come up with new blends for rubs and marinades, so you never know what exotic combinations may await you on your next visit.
Travel is another necessity of the spice business. The Schulz’ take their staff of six to the annual food show in San Francisco, and Jan and Patty venture to locales like Thailand and Turkey for cooking classes, culinary tours and of course, plenty of wandering through markets sampling interesting flavors. There’s also a spring trip to Kentucky on the calendar, to learn the secrets behind the Bourbon-smoked sugar that seems to fly off the shelves in Murphys.
Once she has a good idea what she wants to offer, Patty relies on a couple major spice distributors whom she can count on for uncompromising freshness and quality. Finding those sources was part of the challenge in starting the business, but one memorable experience let her know she was on the right track. A spice importing company in New Jersey she had contacted hoping to source her product told her that they only dealt in tons, and that she’d need to look elsewhere. But the young man on the phone liked her idea, and told her what to do, where to go and which questions to ask – and then offered to help her with the cost estimate! He was so generous and helpful that she says, “I just knew that this was what I was supposed to be doing.”
The Spice Tin
457 N. Algiers St
Murphys, CA 95247
Open 7 days a week: 11am-5pm