Meet the Founders: Heather Scholten and Pete Taylor of Spiceology
When Pete Taylor was working as an executive chef, patrons often asked for his Smoky Honey Habanero Chicken recipe. Pete would happily oblige, but his patrons didn’t know where to get the necessary ingredients.
That’s when Pete partnered with popular food blogger Heather Scholten (aka the Farmgirl Gourmet). Together, they launched their own spice company to put chef-created blends into the hands of home cooks and professional chefs everywhere.
Spiceology’s grind-fresh, deliver-fresh philosophy has earned praise from foodies everywhere and placement on the Food Network. Still, Heather and Pete continue to stick to their roots with real ingredients ground fresh in small batches. With hundreds of blends, herbs, chiles, salts, and confections, Spiceology makes it easy to elevate the flavor of any meal.
Recently, we caught up with Heather and Pete to learn more about their journey and hear their advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
01 Why did you start Spiceology?
Pete Taylor: As a Chef, I absolutely love experimenting with spices and playing around with ingredients. I saw an opportunity — I knew I could help other people get creative in the kitchen if they could have access to chef-crafted spice blends.
The market was wide open. Think about potato chips. Choices went from a handful of flavors, like Sour Cream & Onion and Barbecue, to hundreds of different flavors in what seemed like overnight. The same thing happened with condiments, salsas, and hot sauces. But, nothing was changing in the spice aisle. So, I took my culinary expertise, found a badass partner in Heather, and launched a spicy rocket ship with Smoky Honey Habanero as our first blend.
Heather Scholten: I got a random email from a random guy asking if I wanted to jump in and be a co-founder of a spice company with him (he was calling it SavorX at the time). Apparently, while Pete was dreaming up this new world of spice blends, he decided to Google the “best food bloggers in the world.” He found my name, my blog, and saw that I just happened to be local to him.
We kept talking for months. I didn’t really know if I wanted to take this leap. My blog was growing exponentially. I was in demand with the top food companies in the world. But, there was something about his idea. Before I knew it, I was in. Pete quit his job and I put the blog on the backburner to focus on helping home cooks make brand new delicious meals with ease.
02 What obstacles did you face along the way?
Heather: Most people talk about struggling to make your business grow. But, for us, it was how to support all the opportunities we had coming our way. For example, when Sur La Table placed their first big order with us, they wanted just two products — Pink Peppercorn Lemon Thyme and Smoky Honey Habanero. That was our holy sh*t moment, because we didn’t have the cash reserves to make the order. I went home and told my ex-husband we needed to do this. We needed $12,000 and we needed it now. He didn’t even question me and he took a loan against his 401K.
That wouldn’t be the last time we had to get scrappy to meet the demand we had for the product. It took a village and we are so grateful to everyone who gave us their money or time because they believed in us. We wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for them.
03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Pete: First, obsess on the “why.” There are lots of people out there building snack, sauce, and even spice companies. But, why do you stand out? Why should a customer pick up your product and put it in their cart? Why should they make the purchase? Focusing early on our value propositions is one of the best things we could have ever done.
Secondly, live by the phrase “pivot or die.” When things need to change, change. When things aren’t working, kill them and kill them fast.”
04 What’s on the horizon for Spiceology?
Pete: When you find something that you’re absolutely in love with and are so passionate about, work/life balance doesn’t even exist. And that’s not a bad thing. My work is my life. I write down notes when I can’t sleep at night. I brainstorm in the shower. But, for me, it’s not stressful.
It was a rollercoaster in the beginning, but I loved every second of it. I would be the first to the office at 5am and I would be the last person to leave. I never once looked at it as a bad thing. I always wanted to make sure my team had the work/life balance they needed and deserved, but, for me, it didn’t exist and that was on purpose. This wouldn’t work without a supportive partner who gets my passion. My wife would come in and fill spice jars by hand in the beginning. She gets it. She understands our “why.”
05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
Heather: A lot of what inspires me is what I’m naturally exposed to. Music, fashion, and really well thought out packaging and design. The things that give you a reason to stop — stop scrolling, stop walking, stop talking — are what I want to create for people. When you think about it, a food blogger’s job is to share food that makes people want to stop scrolling and head straight to the kitchen.
At Spiceology, we find inspiration everywhere, including projects we make for other people. When inspiration hits, I try to visualize what something is going to look and taste like. Will this stop someone in their tracks and make them want to try it immediately?
That’s how we came up with our popcorn seasoning line for Questlove. He told us he liked Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the Lemon Pepper Wings at WingStop and we turned that idea into really flavorful popcorn seasonings. It was really fun to experiment with flavor and the blends were a delicious hit. From packaging, to flavor ideas, to concepts, that’s how we stay in tune with what our customers love.