Ben Gordon is surrounded by buckets of spices and has a three-ring notebook of recipes lying beside two large metal bowls. Unfazed by the pungent combination of aromas, the owner of Alchemy Spice Co. is beginning the two- to three-hour process of blending a spice.
Black peppercorns, Mexican oregano, thyme and more are measured and added to the bowls. After they are thoroughly mixed, Gordon runs the ingredients through a grist grinder, which he likens to a big pepper grinder. Gordon said he grinds all of his spices except those like cayenne or turmeric, which could stain the grinder.
Then the mix is bottled and labeled, ready to be sold. Gordon said about half his sales come from the Chattanooga Market, but the spice blends also are sold in several local stores and to restaurants.
Gordon bought the business two years ago, after a frustrating start to a career as a mechanical engineer. He had been laid off three times from his job, which he says was basically "pushing papers" and was not rewarding. "Now when I go to work, at the end of the day, I've got something to show for it and people appreciate it," he said.
It took time during his first month to get used to all of the strong smells, but now he is almost desensitized to it. His favorite spice fragrances include smoked paprika and lavender. He works with 54 individual spices, which come in quantities of at least 50 pounds each. "Black pepper is the No. 1 used ingredient, so we get about 400 pounds of black pepper every time we order," he said.
The company [www.alchemyspicecompany.com] now bottles 24 spice blends and seven new salt blends. Gordon said the best-selling are the Mediterranean and Italian blends, but those customers usually return to try some of the bolder mixes. Each blend contains between seven and 15 spices. His personal favorite is the Proud to Be American blend, which he describes as having a smoky hue with some spiciness.
Gordon said customers appreciate the product because it's natural.
"Nothing has been done to change it except that it was ground up and put in a bottle. Our stuff is so fresh because we order it and we grind it and put it in the bottle immediately, and it's off the shelf. We aren't warehousing the product," Gordon said.