Spicing It Up

Former art gallery owners find a flavorful niche in Detroit’s Eastern Market


This is the most fun I’ve had in my entire life,” Jim Yaw says, as he chats with shoppers who stop by his niche in Eastern Market’s Shed No. 3. His products — packets of herbs, spices, sugars, and sea salts from around the world — are a far cry from the pricey fine art and handcrafted jewelry showcased at the gallery in Birmingham that he and his wife, Nancy, ran for more than 35 years.

It’s also nothing even close to his original career as a stockbroker, or to his second one as a picture framer, which he’s still involved in. The satisfaction in this latest venture comes from the camaraderie of the market, where he has bonded with his fellow vendors and also with the customers, many of them regulars, ever since bringing his array of spice packets to the market in 2009.

Spice Miser rose out of the recession that forced the closing of the Yaw Gallery on North Old Woodward in 2008. Customers stopped coming, but not before telling the Yaws why. It was that in the face of the tough economic times, they didn’t want to make what might seem like ostentatious purchases. So the couple had to reinvent themselves.

To make the switch to a culinary business was not much of a leap for Nancy Yaw. She had always loved to cook, and the idea had its genesis when she had difficulty locating a certain ingredient — fenugreek — for an Indian recipe she wanted to try. She needed only a spoonful. But the containers she found were much too large and expensive. She didn’t want to buy a large quantity of the aromatic seeds for just one spoonful and then have the rest languish in the kitchen cupboard.

A light went off. Why not package herbs and spices in small portions, so they would be both economical and fresh? That’s exactly what the couple did. Their Spice Miser plastic packets contain one rounded tablespoon (6 grams) for 99 cents. The Yaws buy directly from importers on the East Coast and do their packaging at their fully licensed facility in Royal Oak, which is also where Jim still does picture framing. Their menu goes far beyond parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. There are more than 150, in all, including some newly introduced items, such as flavored sugars and sea-salt blends — all tasted and approved by the couple.

Spice Miser products are available online at spicemiser.com and at several area stores, including Westborn Market, Market Fresh, Market Square, Greenhouse Growers, Joe Wigley’s Meats, and Superior Fish. And, of course, they can be found every Saturday year-round, and Tuesdays in the summer, at Detroit’s historic Eastern Market. You’ll find their display between McClure’s Pickles and Great Lakes Coffee.

photographs by paul hitz

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