The Oaktown Spice Shop, at 530 Grand Avenue across from Lake Merritt, is gearing up for Thanksgiving with holiday spice blends and gift boxes.
The small shop features wooden shelves stocked with jars of salts, peppers, herbs, paprikas, chilis and more, creating a pleasing and complex aroma. Among these familiar scents are those of house blends mixed by shop owner John Beaver, with the help of a scooper, a scale and a giant mixing bowl.
One of his hand-mixed spice blends is a popular holiday choice: pumpkin pie spice. The Oaktown blend includes cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg. Beaver said the spice is good in everything from pumpkin pie to breakfast cereal.
His mulling spice is also popular this time of year with its cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. This mix is “great for mulled cider or mulled wine,” he said. There is also the classic poultry seasoning, “great for rubbing on a turkey or seasoning your stuffing,” Beaver said. It’s a mix of sage, peppercorns and allspice, among other ingredients.
Ronny Miranda, who works nearby by at the Japanese restaurant Ozumo, said Oaktown Spice Shop provides a welcome alternative to the standard grocery store selections. “Safeway spices are God knows how old. They’ve lost a lot of oils that come with the dried spices,” he said. “These are much higher quality and cheaper.”
Oaktown not only offers a place for foodies to get fresh spices for their next meal. The shop also sells unique spice gift boxes for those shopping with friends and family in mind—“The Holiday Spices,” “The Taste of North Africa,” and the “Fiesta Mexicana” are a few of the choices available. Beaver made them available online this week—just in time for Thanksgiving.
Beaver opened his shop nearly one year ago with his girlfriend Erica Perez. And he’s no spice novice: Beaver aced a blind smell test one afternoon in his shop, correctly identifying the Moroccan Tagine Spice, Caraway seeds, Epazote and Bamboo Jade Hawaiian Salt with only his nose.
“I feel relieved,” he said with a laugh after he gave the correct answer for each mystery spice. “I do know those smells pretty well. I smell them just about every day.”
Susan Hill is a Lake Merritt resident and a regular customer of the shop. “It makes the most mundane things spectacular,” she said of spices. “If you don’t have it, anything you cook is just flat.”
Hill intends to spread the word about Oaktown no matter the season. “This place used to be a men’s clothing place called Deep Soul, and this is such an improvement,” she said. “I’m glad he’s here and I’m going to tell everybody I know about it, so it never closes.”