For years, if a home cook, pitmaster, chile-head or gourmand needed exotic herbs and spices they were out of luck in Oklahoma City.
Their luck started changing when the Internet offered portals around the world. But the Internet didn't allow for sniffing and tasting, and blind faith erodes with each year e-commerce is around to be abused by the unscrupulous.
With the Sept. 16 arrival of Savory Spice Shop, 4400 N Western Ave., the aforementioned and everyone else not only can purchase freshly ground spices from around the globe, but learn best how to use them and develop an understanding of how to blend them.
In the fledgling Oklahoma City food scene, the arrival of Savory Spice Shop might not have the impact the arrival of Whole Foods Market had, but it is certainly the most important addition of 2012.
Variety is the spice of life
While gourmet stores are nothing new to the market, the spice selection at Savory Spice is unmatched.
Want to make your own junk-food snacks? Savory Spice offers the same powdered cheeses used to season popcorn and potato chips. It also carries Black Onyx chocolate used in a very famous brand of chocolate sandwich cookies.
What about barbecue rubs? The store carries a wide selection of rubs already made, but also carry all the spices you'll need to make your own. The same goes for chili powder and chile blends. Not to mention curries.
Folks who love spices know spices have an expiration date. That's why Savory Spice grinds in small batches.
“We also sell in small amounts so you're not stuck with too much of spice you're going to use once a year,” store owner Able Blakley said.
So, if you just need a quarter-ounce of chervil to set off a soup or fish dish, that's what he'll sell you.
Savory Spice also offers extracts, herbs and gift sets. Blakley said the store also offers competitive rates to restaurants.
Blakley also says to watch for cooking classes and demonstrations in the future. He also promises beef Wellington to be sampled in the shop before Thanksgiving.
While the new shop at NW 43 Street and Western Avenue is the 18th of its kind in the United States and has its roots in Denver, its arrival comes on the back of a young man who can trace his roots to the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893.
Rooted in Oklahoma
Blakley's return to Oklahoma was inevitable. That he brought with him the gift of spice is a happy residual from his time spent away from the red earth where he and his ancestors have trod for 119 years.
His great grandfather, George Washington Blakley, was a for-real cowboy. Not a cowboy with a preceding designator like “drugstore,” “concrete” or “singing”; a cowboy who ran cattle back and forth to Dodge City, Kan.
So when the shotgun blast sounded on Sept. 16, 1893, G.W. Blakley and his older brother knew just where to stake their claim in Garfield County, near what is now Douglas. There he built a story-and-half, blue-and-white Victorian clapboard farmhouse with gingerbread roof peaks. And there he began to farm and raise cattle and a family.
The homestead he founded more than a century ago is the same homestead where grandson Danny and his wife, Debra, taught school, farmed, raised cattle and houseful of children, including one they named Able.
A spice trader's journey
Able Blakley learned to farm and raise cattle through high school, then went to the University of Oklahoma, where he earned business and marketing degrees. He then moved to Denver, where he worked in insurance. While insurance paid the bills, it didn't scratch the itch to cook, which he'd picked up from his grandfather, Billy Dale Dotter, who has spent the bulk of his life as a practitioner of family medicine in Alva.
“My grandfather's family had Dotter's Cafe in Alva in the early '50s,” Blakley explained. “He was a cook there until it closed. I always loved eating his food, I guess he's where I got my love of cooking.”
Cooking offered therapeutic respite from the grind of insurance claims and adjustments, which paid the bills but fueled no passion.
In 2004, Blakley discovered the original Savory Spice Shop in Denver. He became such a regular that when he decided to change sides, his corporate trainer laughed and told him she didn't have anything to teach him that he didn't already know about the products.
But the decision to go into the spice trade wasn't easy for Blakley. While the trade had his heart, the sudden death of his father in September 2010 broke it and had him entertaining thoughts of returning to the family business.
“When my dad died, I thought about trying to take over the cattle operation,” Blakley said. “But I went to biz school. I just couldn't see a successful model.”
They rented much of the land to be farmed, and his mother and business partner, Debra, continues to live there as she and her son endeavor forth into a trade so ancient that it once buoyed the world's economy. History is part of what instills Able with confidence he can make a living “selling salt and pepper.”
“Wars have been fought over the spice trade,” Blakley said. “Worldwide shipping routes were invented to support the spice trade. History is on our side.”
It always has been for the Blakley clan. Able initially planned to open Sept. 9 but was delayed a week. That means on the 119th anniversary of George Washington Blakley's claim-staking in Garfield County, his great grandson, Able, opened Savory Spice Shop in Oklahoma City.
Wonder if the shop has any freshly ground karma?
If you go
Savory Spice Shop
• Where: 4400 N Western Ave.
• When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
• Call: 314-6209; search Savory Spice Shop OKC on Facebook or go online to savory