So you go to the grocery store, check out what's on sale and make your selections. You hit the checkout lane, go home and put away the groceries and life goes on. Do you ever stop to think about the people behind the food products you buy? Who are they? What did it take to get their products on the shelf, into your cart and in your kitchen? These are questions that I think about often when I grocery shop.
If you follow my blog, you may already know that I'm a fan of Chicago based products and small businesses and do my best to support them. I'll take friends to Chicago neighborhoods, meet the owners behind some great food products and listen to their stories... because they all have one. Don't we all?
This past weekend I hosted my monthly Neighborhood Culinary tour of the Ravenswood Corridor in Chicago. Our tour happened to be aligned with the Ravenswood ArtWalk festival where local artists come out to share their work with the neighborhood. While many were enjoying the artwork, my friends and I explored the culinary artistry happening at Urban Accents and to learn the story behind their products.
You may recall me mentioning Urban Accents awhile back, when I featured them for our weekly foodie freebie giveaways in February of this year. I highlighted Urban Accents back then because they were local and their products are truly wonderful. Months later, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Knibbs, president and founder of Urban Accents and introducing him and his products to members of What's Cookin, Chicago.
Tom is a lover of spice and seasonings but was frustrated with what he could find on grocery shelves. As a result, he started experimenting with spice blends in the basement of his Chicago home. Before he knew it, Urban Accents was born and founded in 1996. But just having spices to sell doesn't mean business will boom. Tom's professional experience as a packaging sales manager allowed him to understand the need for a specific image to convey the attention to detail and quality in his spices. The goal of the company is to bring premium, all natural and visually appealing herbs and seasoning to the contemporary home cook.
When we arrived at Urban Accents headquarters, we were greeted by Tom. He shared with us a bit of his background and how Urban Accents came about. In his entrepreneurial journey in the specialty food business, he worked with Tom and Patty Erd of The Spice House, another local spice company. From the Erds, Tom learned more about spices and began paying attention to consumer trends as it relates to buying, flavor profiles, packaging, etc.
A lot of work goes into a food specialty business, especially spices. There's a lot of research involved when it comes to developing flavors and blends, not to mention the applications of each. Urban Accents has such attention to detail to ensure every type of product they offer is of high quality and maintains a consistency, regardless of where and when you buy their products. Urban Accents are probably products you've already tried too. You can find them at most specialty grocery and gourmet food stores such as Whole Foods, Treasure Island, Fox & Obel... or even at Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table and Crate&Barrel. Their products are either labeled as Urban Accents, Art of Spice or are private labels of specific stores.
Tom's spice operation began to grow over the years and he soon had over 125 different products to offer. Many might assume Tom's culinary offerings are purely spices, but there is quite a bit of variety! Some of those products include:
brining your turkey.
reclosable container to protect its freshness.
grapeseed oil spritzer, all perfect for delicious snacking!
With all the fabulous products offered (and many more aside from what I've featured), you'd think Tom has an army of employees. Believe it or not, there are less than 20 employees that make up Urban Accents. Some of the employees team up to create labels for each of the their products... and with so many product offers, that means a lot of labels!
There are also some employees that head up the production side. You won't find big, modern machinery to fill those spice jars and package up the other items. In fact, all the spices are filled, labeled and packed by the hands of Tom's employees - all eight of them who work in this part of the business, plus a handful more during peak production times! Take a peek and see where the spices are packed...
After our tour of the Urban Accents facility, Tom and his staff treated us to a sampling of their products. We were completely spoiled with plenty of food and drinks. Here are some of the products we got to try:
Whole Royal Mulling Spice
This mulling spice was a perfect way to warm up on a fall afternoon. The delicious aroma of sweet spices and the natural sweetness of apple cider definitely hit the spot. To use, just add cider or wine to this tantalizing combination of lemon, orange, cinnamon, cranberry, vanilla and spices for a warm and toasty fall/winter treat!
2009 Sofi Silver Finalist Award Winning Product Named by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. That's a big deal in the food retailer world so congrats to Urban Accents!
It was such a great opportunity to hear Tom's story and see how his business has evolved from mixing spices in his basement to running a multi-million business in twelve years! We were very impressed with the entire tour and so grateful for the time he spent to show us around. Tom and his amazing staff even sent us off with goodie bags of some of their products. I know I've already started using some of their products and will be featuring them here on my blog.
Do check out their site and check them out at your local store. Urban Accents currently has a chili contest going on right now through December 1st and winners in three categories will receive some generous gift certificates. To help you out, Urban Accents is featuring 2 of their chili blends at 50% off!
A special thanks to Tom and his staff for their hospitality and generosity towards What's Cookin, Chicago. We had a great time and we look forward to getting together again for another event featuring your products!