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Foodie Friday: Ottawa spice maven Jodi Samis

By John McDonald on February 5, 2016

Jodi Samis. Photo by Kelly Hotte.

Jodi Samis. Photo by Kelly Hotte.

I can’t help but think that Jodi Samis has an upper hand when it comes to playing scrabble.

After all words like epazote, fenugreek and vadouvan come naturally to her as the owner of Cardamom & Cloves, the online neighbourhood spice shop.

The business hasn’t always been a solely online endeavour.

Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, Jodi yearned for a bricks and mortar presence. As she found out, however, being a start-up has hurdles.

“Finding suitable retail space wasn’t easy. I wasn’t able to commit to a 3 or 5 year lease. Landlords aren’t prepared to negotiate if you’re only looking for a 12 month tenancy. There are no breaks. I hunted around and did my homework before settling on my Preston Street location. It was a very big decision.”

Within a short period, her shop became popular. And while getting customers through the door (and having them return) is the aim of every retailer, this brings its own travails.

“I had good sales, but because business costs associated with a retail space are high, I couldn’t afford to hire staff. As a result, I was working 80 hours a week and I was always concerned about cashflow. I managed to keep ahead, but the stress was unbearable. I had to question whether I could get to the point where there would no longer be money issues and time constraints.”

Jodi knew that things had to change ten months after opening the shop.

“In business, you learn what you don’t want to do. I knew that I started my business because of my love of spices. I didn’t want to stop loving spices. I could see that I was heading in that direction.”

Jodi decided that she would not renew her lease when it came due, and would take the business online. She appreciates fully that the nature of her business allowed her this option.

“I know that if I was running a restaurant, for instance, I couldn’t have made that decision. I miss a lot of the local businesses that have had to shut their doors. But I understand why they did. As for me, I had built a good name and had loyal customers. I was hoping that these would form the basis of the second phase of my business.”

During the final two months of the tenancy, Jodi increased her online presence, focussing on Facebook and Twitter as well as her own site. Within the shop, she spoke with customers about her decision and heavily promoted her new activities.

February 2015 saw the renewal of Cardamom and Cloves.

“What a year it has been. My business is a joy now, and I’m much more creative in what I can offer.”

Jodi produces her own unique blends of spices and has developed a Spice of the Month Club – a subscription-based sampler programme. Each month, she sends out three hand-picked, freshly ground spices or spice blends along with recipes using each spice. There are enough spices included in each month’s sampler to create the three dishes shown in the recipes.

Occasionally, Jodi participates in special events and at smaller festivals with pop-up shops. She sells from her website, uses her blog to provide recipes for every occasion, and is big on using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

While being online has meant reduced costs and a shorter work week, there are still issues that every business faces, such as the Canadian dollar, supply issues, and the economy generally.

“It hurts. I’ve had to increase my prices due to the decline of the dollar. My spices are from all over the world so the dollar is always a factor. There are times when spices are in short supply due to factors such as weather. I’ve stopped supplying some, even for a short time, as I am not prepared to offer poorer quality spices. Some of my spices are seasonal. Rising food costs mean that people eat differently. That means that they use spices differently. Being small, and being online, means that I can juggle. I’m able to show my customers how to use my blends and spices differently. ”

How would Jodi summarize her past year?

“It really has been like starting over. It was the right decision to close the shop and go online.”

And the burning question, how is she at scrabble?

“Not great. We’re more of a euchre family.”

A Spicy Q & A 

What are the health benefits of spices?

It depends on the spice. There are two spices that people usually go to for health reasons: tumeric and cinnamon.

Tumeric is a really amazing anti-inflammatory. It really helps if you have bad joint issues. People are using it for help with arthritis and skin conditions.

A true cinnamon is really good for regulating your blood sugar so it’s used by a lot of diabetics. Vietnamese cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory and it’s also anti-bacterial so if you are having any kind of digestive issues it’s really good to use

The best thing is you don’t really have to need to use a lot of them it’s usually just as much as you would  sprinkle on your oatmeal rand you’ve got all the benefits that come with them

Three essential spices?

Definitely a really nice salt. It’s much more than just flavouring.

Cumin is in everything. It’s Mediterranean. It’s Mexican. All kinds of cuisines use cumin.

Tumeric would be the third. There’s an amazing depth of flavour to tumeric, and it’s a wonderful source of colour. If you want a really good mac and cheese, tumeric is the secret.

A spice to discover?

Curry. Curry is like pizza. There’s all different kinds of pizza. it’s just a general term. There are so many different kinds of curry. There are regional flavours to discover. People should try to discover a blend they’ve never heard of before.

Is there a Canadian spice?

Mustard seed. Canada provides 90% of the world’s mustard seeds.