It's another quiet afternoon at Spice Galore -- until a new customer bursts through the back door nearly sprinting to a row of glass jars containing various spice blends. Her first words as she hurries across the small space: "I'm SO excited! I've been feeling like a crack head ever since I ran out."
A self-described addict, the fix she's craving isn't something you snort or smoke. The mystery substance this zealous customer is looking for isn't any sort of illegal drug -- but it can be hard to find if you don't know where to look.
Now they can't get enough of it, and the only place guaranteed to have it fresh is Spice Galore, Miami's first eco-friendly, semi-organic local purveyor of high-end salts, spices, sugars, loose leaf teas and various other rare or hard-to-find ingredients.
Think of owners Victoria Nodarse and Aimee Ortega as the spice girls, Nodarse an instructor and Ortega a student at nearby Miami Culinary Institute. They opened Spice Galore several months ago in Coconut Grove. Their inspiration: historic Savannah, Georgia, where specialty shops selling salts, sugars and herbs abound.
"Savannah has these great shops, one that sells honey, one that sells salts. Another spices. And I thought, if each of these independent stores could survive selling just one thing, why not open a shop that has them all," said Nodarse, who found business partner Ortega almost by accident chatting about their shared love of rare spices.
Several months later, the two began selling their unique products from Ortega's Miami home. In November they expanded, opening an 1,800-square-foot store off Dixie Highway where they sell anywhere from a single ounce packet to a 50-pound bag of the store's 49 basic and 73 rare, specialty salts, sugars, teas and spices. Almost everything in the store can be sampled; tiny jars and tons of mini wooden shovels allow you to pick out a few grains of salt, spice, sugar or honey to taste-test before you buy.
A few favorites: dried rose petals, strawberry sugar, glistening pods of Madagaskar vanilla bean, brightly-hued Mexican ceylon cinnamon, curly cues of whole mace, green and black cardamom pods and tangy amchur -- just to name a few. The store offers several different types of paprika, including a smoked Spanish version; a half-dozen varieties of peppercorn; dozens of salts from white truffle-infused to toasted onion; and several rare chilies like the African peri peri pepper.
Nodarse and Ortega source their products from all over the world, but try to stay as close to the country of origin as possible. That means buying from specialty purveyors in Sri Lanka, Mexico and Australia.
Spice Galore isn't just for specialty picks, however. Although it's a long drive to Miami from cities in Broward and Palm Beach County, both Nodarse and Ortega hope chefs across the area will look to them to help develop custom-ground spice blends, or to source rare or specialty herbs. You can also order online from their website, so no need to travel all the way to Miami in-person -- unless you want to sample something new.
"Our products aren't just spices and ingredients for cooking, either," Ortega tells Clean Plate Charlie. "People can come here and order specialty blends for their kitchen, yes. But they can also get them for various health-related benefits -- even for pets."