Spiceology's CEO talks 'Greek Freak,' spicy competition and the power of Instagram

click to enlarge DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo

Spokane-based Spiceology has gone from a Spokane Startup Weekend-winning idea in 2012 to a $5.5 million-a-year company with 45 employees, hocking custom spice blends — with names like "Smoky Honey Habanero" and "Greek Freak" to restaurants and retailers across the world. Last year, the company hired CEO Chip Overstreet to help make the company even bigger.

The Inlander sat down with Overstreet last week to talk about the company's strategy and recent challenges — like last year's cease-and-desist letter from the attorneys of NBA Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, arguing that their "Greek Freak" seasoning branding clashed with Antetokounmpo's trademarked nickname.

INLANDER: Tell me about this "Greek Freak" situation.

OVERSTREET: There were a lot of bad actors who were profiting from "Greek Freak" — the basketball player — illegally. They were creating shirts and hats. So the attorneys were just doing a broad sweep of anybody that was using it.

They then basically said, "You know, Giannis has the trademark for 'Greek Freak,' therefore you need to stop using it." We were able to have documented proof showing that we were using the term "Greek Freak" before he even entered the league. We responded very politely and confidently with a letter saying, "We're pretty sure we've got the rights to do this. And in fact, if you're interested, we'd love to talk with you about co-marketing."

The irony is we have dozens of professional athletes who are big fans, like Kevin Durant, John Wall. Dwyane Wade, there's a photo on his daughter's Instagram, where she's sitting there and dancing with all of our spices in the background.

I'm curious about your use of influencers and endorsers.

The way we get in front of consumers is primarily through influencers. But they're not your traditional, just like, you know, "cool mom unpacking a box." They're barbecue enthusiasts like Derek Wolf who has close to a million followers. He'll set up a barbecue over an open flame with Mount Rainier in the background and barbecue up a beautiful steak. So we did custom blends with Derek, like a "Nashville Hot," a "Maple Bourbon" and a "Garlic Chipotle." We collaborate in the creation of those and sell them to consumers and chefs.

How do you compete with the huge existing spice businesses?

They're tired, old behemoths that do things the way they've done things for decades. All they focus on is cost-cutting, and shaving cost. You find the words "adequacy" slipping into your business vernacular, like, "Is this garlic 'adequate' enough to meet our minimum standards and still be considered garlic?"

Our core constituent is not the shareholder, our core constituent is the chef. The reason we get in the door is our packaging. Every chef is a little bit of OCD. They want their kitchens to be beautiful, they want them organized. And when they see our "periodic table of flavor" packaging, they love it. Our herbs are green, our chilies are red, our salts are blue. When you're in a dinner rush, and you need the basil, you look for the green and you find your "Ba" and you've got your product.

The reason they buy is the quality of the product. It's an execution game. We get in front of a chef and they see and smell and taste our spices relative to what they've got. And then they realize that they don't have to pay more. ♦

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall 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...