Walk into Union Market and you can’t help but get inspired by the energy of the local artisans who are all masters of their craft. Bazaar Spices is no exception. Step foot into their booth and you’ll be instantly inspired to try something new in the kitchen with their wide-array of seasonings, spices, herbs, lentils and more.
We use their spices in our dishes for various catering events and we’ve gotten to know their co-owner Monica Grover well. So we wanted to share more in our latest “Behind the Spoon” series where we interview local, inspiring entrepreneurs and creatives. Read on to find out about her journey and some of her favorite spices to cook with!
Q. When did you know you wanted to start Bazaar Spices?
My husband, Ivan, and I co-founded Bazaar Spices. Ivan has always been an entrepreneur at heart, and he is very good at what he does. Bazaar Spices is what it is in large part because of his vision, hard-work, and determination. We are a team, but we are also individuals with different roles, perspectives, inspirations, and contributions.
I have always had an innate creative and entrepreneurial spirit. My parents came to the U.S. from India almost 50 years ago and have been running their own business, a grocery/liquor/deli in Maryland ever since. I always knew that I wanted to “do my own thing.” I didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but after I left my digital media/nonprofit gig in 2013, and Ivan left his corporate career, we began traveling the world, visiting various local markets, and we were inspired. Inspired together by how markets brought communities together, and provided access. Access to the creative.
We wanted to do something different in DC. We wanted to bring our entrepreneurial spirit to fruition. We wanted to provide something to our neighbors that would allow them to learn, discover, and travel the world through their senses at our shop. No exact “a-ha” moment, but just a gradual progression that this might be just what I was meant to do. To be creative. To help others tap into their own creativity. To learn. And, to make learning about how to use obscure spices accessible to everyone.
Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I like to see the imagination within others to be creative. It feels really good when people say “your shop is a treasure chest.” It makes me happy that we have what they need to be creative–that we are supporting their desire and ability to be creative–that we are making it easy and accessible for them to be creative–that we are encouraging their exploration and nurturing their sense of adventure, and providing a place to feel, see, smell, and taste things they’ve only read about.
It feels good when people say “Thank You” because we have exactly what they have been searching for, and couldn’t find anywhere else. That always puts a smile on my face. It also feels great when customers email us and excitedly tell us about what they’ve created and include photos of their creations. I enjoy hearing about the pride our customers feel in what they have created. The sense of accomplishment they feel is rewarding to me.
Q. What are your favorite local restaurants and places to find inspiration to cook?
My favorite local restaurant is my kitchen. I do have the best spices! Whenever we introduce new spices at the shop, I like to experiment. Try something new. This is where I find my inspiration to cook when I have time. I also find inspiration through our team, our market neighbors, and our customers. Everyone on our team is so creative related to anything from making unique simple syrups, bitters, tonics to potpourris and beauty products.
I’m also very much inspired by our customers who may come in asking for spices for particular recipes they found in a new cookbook they just bought, or a show they watched or something their friends or family made and they are looking to recreate. The environment of Union Market allows me to easily talk with my neighbors about cooking techniques, food history and culture.
I’m also inspired by my kids. They constantly challenge me to take my cooking to another level every time they throw back something I’ve made and they don’t like. It just makes me want to try harder to please these little people. I’m lucky I have so many sources of inspiration. My entire community is my inspiration.
Q. What’s the most challenging part and what lessons have you learned as a business owner?
You really have to have the will and determination to make it work. That goes for pretty much everything in life.
Q. Who is your business mentor and what have they taught you?
My parents. They taught me the value of hard work.
Q. What is your favorite spice to cook with and what do you use it for?
I love African Bird Pepper. It has a heat level comparable to Habanero and I put it on virtually everything.
Q. What are the top 5 essential spices everyone should have in their pantry?
Everyone’s different, and it really depends on what you like to cook, but these are my recommendations for those who like to step out of the ordinary.
- Citrus Sea Salt
- Herbs de Provence
- Saigon Cinnamon
- Aleppo Pepper
Q. If you were a spice, which would you be and why?
Not just a spice, but a sugar coated one. Sugar coated fennel seeds. You either love them or you hate them.
Q. Besides the expansion to Atlantic Plumbing, what other long term ideas do you have for the future of Bazaar Spices?
Continued growth, expansion, and success.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you have for someone who is looking to start their own business?
Plan for it and do it. Always have a plan. Enjoy it. Always enjoy what you do. You may not enjoy every little aspect of everything the business entails but find the things that you do love and remember why you started the business and keep doing those things.
Thanks again to Monica for taking the time to chat with us about her business! Know someone we should feature for our Behind the Spoon series? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.