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Originally published Friday, December 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

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.

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But she's not complaining. "It's so exciting to see it off the ground and people being excited about it."

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Eurostyle Your Life has opened in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, at 750 N. 34th St. The store sells European products including $132 Merino wool briefcases and $69 black belts made out of used bicycle tires. The owner is Leslie Conti, who also is an insurance underwriter. — AM

GolfTec will open its second Seattle-area location Saturday in Bellevue, at 111 108th Ave. NE. The Colorado company, which operates golf-improvement centers using digital video, biofeedback technology and motion-evaluation sensors, also has a location in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. — AM

Washburn Piano, a Phoenix-based chain of Yamaha piano stores in the Western U.S., will close its downtown Bellevue location by the end of next month. Its Seattle store closed earlier this fall amid a deteriorating economy, said Steve Sloan, who manages the Bellevue location. "The whole year has been difficult," Sloan said. "This is a very wealthy area, but I think people just have a lot of reservations, and they're not spending." Washburn Piano still has stores in Arizona and New Mexico. — AM

Jill Wenger, owner of women's clothing store Impulse in Fremont, has opened Totokaelo in downtown Seattle, at 913 Western Ave., specializing in clothes and shoes by Japanese and European designers. Prices include $350 to $700 for dresses and $250 to $600 for blouses. Wenger launched Totokaelo (Latin for "reaching to the edge of the stars") as a more designer-focused store than Impulse, which sells casual daytime clothes. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Retail Report
Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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