Customers who have visited Spice for Life to buy filé powder, Himalayan pink salt, or bourbon-smoked peppercorns tend to leave this aromatic shop with something extra: literature on the Renee Jones Empowerment Center and its efforts to support victims of human trafficking. Spice for Life, a woman-owned social enterprise located in Shaker Heights’ Van Aken District, donates all of its profits to Renee Jones to give back to the community.
Owners Gigi Benjamin, Debbie Fitzgerald, and Penny Harris share a love of food and a commitment to empowering women who have experienced abuse. The trio have been members of a gourmet club for years, and it seemed fitting to tie together their culinary and philanthropic passions.
“We are a small but mighty spice store with two missions: to promote healthy eating and to give back to the community,” says Harris. “We are also committed to Shaker Heights,” which is why the owners were excited to move into the nascent Van Aken District about 15 months ago. “We have a small footprint, a very knowledgeable staff, and very loyal clients,” Harris notes.
Spice for Life specializes in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. You can find coarse sea salt as well as Hawaiian black lava salt, with an earthy taste that works well as a finishing flavor, and turmeric-coriander seasoned salt, which enhances the flavor of eggs, vegetables, meat and fish.
Bourbon smoked black peppercorns, the most popular spice in the shop, gets its smoky finish from peppercorns soaked in bourbon for 24 hours and then smoked over cherrywood for three hours. Another popular choice is The Everything Bagel seasoning, which began as a special request from a customer and eventually earned a permanent spot on the shelf.
Spices at Spice for Life are ground fresh to retain peak flavor. Hot spices are rated 1 through 10 from mildest to hottest, and when the physical store reopens, you’ll be able to smell each to determine your heat preference. You can also choose from among three paprikas that offer unique tastes to accompany a variety of dishes, while spices such as star anise and cardamom pods delight the eyes as well as the nose and taste buds.
To date, Spice for Life has donated about $2,100 in profits to the Renee Jones Empowerment Center. Benjamin, Fitzgerald, and Harris think highly of the services the center provides, including life skills coaching, group therapy, support groups, journal writing, and art therapy. The Empowerment Center works with allies such as the FBI Task Force on Human Trafficking, the Rape Crisis Center, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and the National Council on Jewish Women to reach out to women who have experienced abuse and help them to reestablish trust. “Renee’s ability to make a human connection is incredible,” Harris says.
Ohio has one of the highest rates of trafficking (sex and labor) in the country. Spice for Life seeks to bring attention to this dilemma and to support organizations that are actively doing something about it. In addition to information on the Renee Jones Empowerment Center, for example, the store has brochures available from the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, thus providing information from a variety of resources.
Unfortunately, like so many local businesses, Spice for Life has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The physical shop is temporarily closed, but don’t let that stop you from making purchases. Harris explains, “We are doing on-line orders and offering free shipping for any orders $20 or more.”
Moreover, because so many people are now preparing meals at home, Harris adds that they’ve increased social media posts to include recipes that range from “homemade chicken stock, to vegan Italian bean soup with greens, to veal and spicy sausage ragu, to a version of Cincinnati chili, etc.”
For many of us, cooking at home can be something of a challenge. Let’s take up that culinary challenge, Cleveland — visit Spice for Life to stock up on spices and recipes mixed with a dash of empowering female energy!