Creating just the right seasoning for meals
Joseph Conrad and Janna Wemmer pair up to produce flavored salts.
Seattle Times business reporters
Now that Joseph Conrad's schedule has eased to 11- or 12-hour workdays, he finally has the spare time to start a gourmet salt business. On days off, the chef for Belltown's Twist makes salts in 10 flavors and sells them online and at the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market.
His co-owner, Janna Wemmer, pushed the idea for Secret Stash Sea Salts when she worked with Conrad at the now-defunct restaurant Qube. He was the executive chef, creating flavored salts to accentuate the restaurant's breads and dishes.
The pair kept meaning to start a salt business, but Conrad never had time. Now he works shorter hours and five instead of six days a week.
The salts take a couple hours to three days to make, he said. "Usually I do big enough batches that I only have to make it once a month."
For a soy-flavored salt, Conrad mixes organic soy sauce with a little local honey and reduces it to a syrup consistency. That takes about six hours of watching the sauce so it doesn't burn. Then he mixes it with sea salt and gives it a couple days to dehydrate.
Wemmer's favorite is the niçoise olive flavor, but she also touts the coconut garam masala, which she says goes well with martinis and in potato dishes. And, she said, the Bloody Mary salt is nice with gazpacho, steak and deviled eggs.
Other flavors include vanilla, caramel, lavender rosemary, almond orange cardamom and cumin pineapple chili. They recently added apple five-spice for the holidays to season turkeys, hams, potatoes and pies.
Secret Stash Sea Salts cost $15 for 3.5 ounces at the Ballard market and $14 to $16 online. Wemmer plans to offer one-ounce vials with decorative corks as stocking stuffers for $12 to $14.
The salt goes a long way, Wemmer said, because it's meant as a finishing salt, to be added after food is cooked. An exception is for baking bread, Conrad said. At Qube, he basted loaves with olive oil and sprinkled them with one of his salts before baking to create a flavorful crust.
The business, which cost $9,000 to $11,000 to start, and first appeared at the Ballard market in mid-November. Now Wemmer is talking to grocery buyers and distributors, but does not expect them to make decisions until the new year.
"Holiday time is not the time to get a product into a store," Wemmer said.
That means keeping her cocktail-waitressing job at Twist. She works late on Saturday nights and gets up at 6:30 a.m. for the farmers market on Sundays.
But she's not complaining. "It's so exciting to see it off the ground and people being excited about it."
— Melissa AllisonTidbits
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Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or email@example.com.
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