Perfect thyming: The Spice Guy dishes out flavor for 20 Summit County restaurants
November 19, 2013
"The Spice Guy" is on a mission to add some zest to restaurants across Summit County.
Zach Johnston, 25, began his business, The Spice Guy, about six months ago and has seen success with Summit County restaurants that want to order specialty spices. Johnston said his current business model boils down to selling bulk spices to about 20 restaurants throughout the county.
He said The Spice Guy is the High Country's premier supplier of the largest variety of spices, herbs and ingredients.
"We have the hottest, the sweetest, the spiciest, the smokiest, the undisputed most-flavorful spices available," he said.
Johnston graduated this spring from Colorado Mountain College with a bachelor's degree in business. He said there have been other business models like his in the area, but they were bought out by larger distributors. This niche market was something he learned about while working in area restaurants; Johnson previously managed Chimayo Mexican Grill in Dillon for four years.
"The restaurants get used to having specialty products," he said. "Summit County is a local safe haven — people aren't used to having big chain restaurants coming in."
Johnston said because local restaurants can experiment and change up their menus more than a big chain, they look for custom spice blends and unique flavors.
Chains, for example, would probably never use ghost chili powder, one of the hottest peppers in the world, Johnston said. Johnston has found that chefs up in Summit County like to order special, hard-to-find spices.
"Basically when you order from a place like Sysco, you get a brand like McCormick, which is the same thing you could buy at a place like Sam's Club," he said. "You don't get high quality when ordering through a bulk corporation."
Streamlining the spice process
Johnston gets all of his spices from Rocky Mountain Spice Co. in Denver, which sources a percentage of its spices locally.
Mondays, Johnston travels around to all 20 restaurants on his roster, speaking with chefs and managers to learn what products they need. He then travels to Denver, or gets product shipped, and by Thursday he fills all the orders and prepares to start the cycle again.
He said without a specialist in the field like himself, people could get spices online, but that's an extra step and his business helps streamline the process. The Spice Guy also offers more than 200 gluten-free products, as well as Kosher and organic offerings.
"Working in such a health-driven culture right now, especially up here in this incredible place, to be able to have that as an offering is pretty important," Johnston said.
Restaurants on Johnston's rounds include Kenosha Steakhouse in Breckenridge, Dillon Dam Brewery, the Boat Yard in Frisco and his old workplace, Chimayo in Dillon.
Chris Fritts, chef at Silverheels Restaurant in Frisco, is one of The Spice Guy's clients. He said they lost their spice supplier about six months ago.
"It was perfect timing," Fritts said. "I can relate to someone wanting to start their own business and want to support that."
Summit County is Johnston's first target area, and he has plans to be in Vail and Eagle County in the next six months. He's working with a few bigger restaurants with multiple locations across the High Country, he said.
"I've been learning a lot because I get to sit down with the decision makers in the industry," he said. "I get a wide variety of individuals that I work with. It's cool to sit down with some of the biggest restaurants in town but also those guys who are still growing and going to expand."
The Spice Guy business has been successful so far, Johnston said, because people are getting a better product at a lower price. He doesn't have large markups like other big companies.
Johnston said every day he is still learning and adding to a list of more than 300 spices in his repertoire. His company also offers custom spice blends for those special secret recipes.
"He's right here, and he gave me his word that if I run out of something, he's happy to take care of it," Fritts said. "He definitely has more exclusive spices."
For more information about The Spice Guy, visit http://www.thespiceguyco.com or call 970-368-5670.