Tom & Patty Erd
Owners of The Spice House, Tom and Patty Erd, are second generation spice merchants. Their business was founded by Patty's parents, Ruth and Bill Penzey, Sr. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1957. Patty grew up working in the shop. (To Patty, as a child, it seemed a pretty torturous way to earn an allowance but Patty's perception has vastly changed about the business since she became an owner!) The senior Penzeys sold the business to their firstborn child and son-in-law in 1992 as they looked toward retirement. The credit for the creation of The Spice House, its principles and its dedication to quality, goes wholeheartedly to Bill and Ruth Penzey. As is normal in the next generation taking over, Patty and Tom wanted to take the company a bit further, honor the dedication to its principles, but put their mark on the company.
Patty and Tom opened the second Spice House in Evanston, Illinois in 1997, close enough to home and parental business consulting to be comfortable, yet far enough to feel it was their own adventure. The opening of the shop in Evanston had really nice coverage by both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times. Wonderful things happened in this new venture, including with the Evanston Small Business of the Year award in the year 2000 and a really nice morning segment on FOX news. The business continued to grow. Patty and Tom became members of wonderful organizations involved in the culinary arts, and participated in many programs combining restaurateurs and chefs with educational spice programs. They spoke for the Culinary Historians of Chicago, Slow Food, Les Dames d’Escoffier, and were selected by the American Institute of Food and Wine as participants in the Best of the Midwest Festival. They were on the circuit tour as educators for the AIWF, although their daily duties as shopkeepers limited them to mostly events in the Midwest. They lectured regularly at Kendall Culinary College in Evanston. Alton Brown taped a segment in the Evanston shop; he began at 7am and was dragged out by his cameramen at 7pm only because they were from Atlanta and their baseball team was playing in the World Series that night. The “fruitcake” episode on Alton Brown’s Good Eats show has now aired over 10 years in a row at Christmas time (Patty has delusions that she is just like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”!). Be sure and watch this coming December.
The real Chicago store that Patty and Tom had dreamed about for many years while they operated only the Milwaukee shop opened in 2001. More wonderful things continued to happen. Now they fell into Mayor Daley’s “made in Chicago” category. (The mayor LOVED things made in Chicago) The Ethnic Chicago line of seasonings they created to reflect the background and favorite flavors of various immigrant groups brought from the homeland as they joined the “melting pot” of Chicago received a little more attention. Tom and Patty were invited to speak at a fancy surprise birthday party for Hizzoner Mayor Daley where some of the most famous Chicago chefs prepared food with these same ethnic blends. The special guest that dropped by at the end of the meal was none other than then President Bill Clinton who shook all of our hands at the chef table.
In 2002, Tom and Patty won the prestigious Good Eating award from The Chicago Tribune food section. Patty and Tom continue to have wonderful educational lecturing opportunities including the Newberry Library, the DePaul Geographical Society and the now nearby Cordon Bleu affiliated culinary college CHIC. They had radio interviews with WGN’s Dean Richards and Rick Kogan. They did several really nice interviews with Michele Norris on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Patty was featured as the spice expert on the new PBS show, Real Simple. Patty also served as a spice expert at the most recent IACP conference in Chicago. She sat on a panel with Madhur Jaffrey, Jill Norman and Nina Simmonds, some of the top spice experts in the world! Tom was on Channel 2's Table for Two this November as a salt expert.
All these things add up to a wonderful surge of new business, but what Tom and Patty are the happiest doing, is to have a chance to have you let them show you how much of a difference good fresh spices can make in your cooking. As they say, the proof is in the pudding!