The New “Oaktown Spice Shop” Charms Oakland

| January 11, 2012 | 3 Comments
  • 3 Comments

exterior oaktown spice shop
Oftentimes the best, most successful businesses are those born from an understanding of a lack of something in a particular neighborhood. Such was the case with the Oaktown Spice Shop, John Beaver and Erica Perez’s charming new spice shop in the Grand/Lakeshore neighborhood of Oakland. The first thing you’ll notice about the space, once a men’s clothing and shaving boutique, is the distinctly handsome aesthetic. The fixtures and shelving are all salvaged, and John searched high and low and pulled from his own personal collection to find the vintage scales and spice jars you’ll see scattered about. It’s the kind of space where each detail has been tended to, and you can sense right away that everything is in its rightful place. In that way, it feels very special. Very well-crafted. Very welcoming.

interior spice shop
A Peek Inside Oaktown Spice Shop

During my time there, I tasted two different kinds of cinnamon, and smelled the freshest cumin and coriander I’ve ever come across. I also learned about Tellicherry black peppercorns, which John described as fully ripened with a more refined flavor than traditional black peppercorn. When I told him I wasn’t aware there were so many kinds of peppercorns, he likened the difference to varieties of tomatoes and how drastically they can differ in taste. After talking with John for just a moment, you realize you’re dealing with a man who really knows his spices and blends. From the common to the more obscure, you’re in good hands here.

ainse and nutmeg
Star Anise and Nutmeg

When John found out I was a baker, we chatted all about different varieties of cinnamon and vanilla, and I’m so looking forward to trying them out in apple and pear pies. If you’re used to buying bulk spices at Whole Foods or other upscale grocery stores you’re going to notice two things right away when you walk into Oaktown Spice Shop: first the prices are far better. Second, the spices are far, far fresher. You can open up the jars and take a sniff and it’s possible that you won’t even recognize some familiar spices you use often. This happened to me pretty quickly. New Year’s Resolution #62.

spice grater and shelf
Spice Graters & Rows of Spices

As far as where they get their high-quality selection, John and Erica don’t directly import any spices themselves; they work with distributors they know and trust, and have spices and herbs from all over the world including India, Africa, China, and the Mediterranean. When asked what the most popular spice has been so far, John doesn’t hesitate to answer that the smoked paprikas practically sell themselves. Perhaps it’s because such ingredients are being listed in more and more recipes these days or maybe because they’re smartly displayed right by the register. Regardless, locals are snatching them up. Big time.

paprika
Smoked paprika shelf!

While they hold normal business hours now, they used to just be open on Saturdays while they worked out the kinks and got everything situated just right. Now that they’re fully operational, John and Erica are starting to think about ways they can continue to reach out to the community and get people excited about spices. Erica and I talked about the possibility of having a booth at the farmers market, but for now they’re taking things one step at a time.

john and erica
Owners of the Oaktown Spice Shop helping customers: John Beaver and Erica Perez

When I asked how on earth you fall into the spice business, John mentioned how he used to work at a spice shop back in Milwaukee, where he’s from, and couldn’t stop thinking about opening a shop here upon moving to Oakland.

spice shop
Cinnamon…and even more spices!

The neighborhood was a logical choice as the couple lives close by. But it was also a good business decision. There is strong foot traffic and being so close to the Farmers Market, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s inserts them into a dynamic food community with interested and eager customers who enjoy cooking, baking, and expanding their horizons. It’s a win-win for everyone. And after a brief visit to the Oaktown Spice Shop last week, it’s going to be an ongoing win for John and Erika.

Oaktown Spice Shop
530 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 201-5400

Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 12pm-7pm
Saturday: 10am-5pm
Sunday: 12pm-4pm
Closed Mondays

Website is still under construction; like them on Facebook to keep up to date.

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Category: bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, DIY, foraging, urban homesteading, local food businesses

About the Author ()

Megan Gordon is originally from Eureka, CA although she's lived in numerous college towns around the country (another story altogether). A freelance food and travel writer, Megan has written for publications like Ready Made Magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, Edible SF and Edible Marin & Wine Country, Olive Oil Times and The San Francisco Bay Guardian. She writes regularly for Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn and maintains her own local food blog, A Sweet Spoonful. Yes, Megan even tweets @meganjanesf. In addition to writing and photographing food, Megan is the founder (and head baker) of Marge, a Bay Area baking company specializing in classic American pies and nostalgic desserts.
  • Chris C.

    Love this adorable new shop! Their spices are super-fresh, and they have everything you can possibly imagine. And the owners could not be any more knowledgeable or adorable!

    I will say, though, that they’re NOT cheaper than Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl for the bulk staples. If you’re buying your spices in jars at those places, yes, Oaktown is absolutely cheaper. But if you’re buying bulk spices like chile powder or cinnamon by weight, not so much. Oaktown’s quality is definitely higher on these items, but you are paying for that quality. Also, I’ll say that one pet peeve is that Oaktown doesn’t seem to let you get exactly the amount you want of spices. As far as I can tell from the pricing on their jars, the minimum you can get is an ounce. This is actually too much for me, especially if it’s a spice that’s new to me, or that I don’t use that often. I’d much prefer that their prices were listed by the oz or lb and I could get exactly the amount I want — e.g. just a couple tablespoons if that’s all I need. I’m hoping they’ll change this, as they get settled in, because I’d love to do pretty much all my spice shopping here, but might not if I always have to get more than I really need :-(

  • http://www.asweetspoonful.com Megan Gordon

    Hi Chris-
    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I think you’re absolutely right that you’re paying for quality. For sure. I hadn’t noticed the minimums at Oaktown and will pay attention next time I’m there. John and Erica seen really open to suggestions and feedback too, so next time you may think about mentioning it!

  • Beatrice Wynn

    Welcome Erica & John I am so happy that Oakland have a SHOP like this I did not know about your Shop until I went to Wholefoods the other day looking for these products:
    Calendula (dry flowers with Citrus essential Oil)
    Sage Extract
    Myrrhgum Extract
    The very nice sales Lady gave me your address and telephone number. I would like to know if you carry these items if so I will be in on Wednesday to buy and other things…. Thanking you in advance for your Help…my
    my email address is beatricewynn@att.net  looking forward to visiting your SHOP