Amid the coronavirus shutdown, Spiceology launches to, well, help chefs

Last year, Spiceology, a local spice blend company turned multi-million-dollar international phenomenon, brought on CEO Chip Overstreet to expand even further. But that was before the coronavirus partially or completely shut down restaurants across the country.

The biggest part of Spiceology's business is selling directly to restaurants, and the restaurant industry was suffering: Spiceology's food-service business had fallen by 25 percent.

But even though Spiceology was down overall, Overstreet says, there was a bright spot: Their consumer business, selling spices and herbs in grocery stores like My Fresh Basket, was actually up 50 percent. Credit the surge in people wanting to cook for the first time, or at least up their cooking game while they were at home.

"When you're eating at home and you're at home, non-stop, you're looking for innovative things to do and try new things," Overstreet says. "So we're just seeing the consumer part of the business just strengthen every day."

That, he says, is going to come with a cascade of new product launches intended for the grocery store shelves last week.

But in the meantime, Overstreet says he remained deeply concerned about the state of affairs for restaurant owners and employees.

"Hopefully there will be something in the economic stimulus package [for restaurants]. Hospitality is the No. 1 employer in the country. Tens of millions of workers are being impacted, so it's a real issue," Overstreet says, before scoffing at his own phrasing. "How's that for an understatement: 'It's a real issue.' 'It's f—-ing insane,' how about that? "

Particularly hard hit have been the high-end restaurants that sell a fancy experience, instead of just something to scarf down on a TV tray while watching Netflix.

Chefs like Adam Hegsted (Yards, Wandering Table) and Chad White (Zona Blanca, High Tide Lobster Bar) have reported that they've been told that the "business interruption insurance" policies they took out to protect their businesses in case of a flood or a natural disaster won't apply to pandemics. 

"My chef friends across the United States, they're in the same situation," Hegsted says. "We had to layoff 120 people. We'll probably have to lay off a few more probably this coming week."

But this week, Spicelogy launched a website called "HelpChefs.Com," an attempt to aid the restaurant industry. It serves as both a clearinghouse for resources and advice for the foodservice industry — posting webinars like "Prepare your restaurant for surging delivery during COVID-19" — and a spot where companies can sell products to consumes to help out restaurants or chefs who are struggling.

"In our case, we're bringing back our Thai Peanut," Overstreet says. "It's a sweet and spicy curry blend, and we're offering it up for sale on our site and 100 percent of the proceeds are going in our case to a 501(c)(3) called the Coco Fund, which is part of 'March On,' focused on the hospitality industry."

The Coco Fund is aimed specifically at helping restaurants and employees who've been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. Other participating companies include
Certified Angus Beef and the Rosendale Collective, which will send a portion of its sales of certain products to the Restaurant Worker's Community Foundation.

"We came up with the concept at the end of the last week, and just worked over the weekend and called and emailed others and said, 'What can you guys do?' Everybody wants to participate," Overstreet says. "Every partner that comes in can choose to direct those funds to whatever they like. Provided it's something to do with the restaurant industry."

Ultimately, Overstreet argues, it's in everyone's interest that the restaurant industry is able to bounce back.  

"It's really just asking everybody to just think creatively about what you can do to help out in this situation," Overstreet says. "We all want to need the restaurant industry to rebound, to be healthy. The whole country needs that to happen. So this is just one small way in which we can contribute."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...