COLUMBIA FALLS – Turning down Arcadia Way just north of Glacier Park International Airport, if your windows are down and your nose is keen, you can start smelling wafts of worldly spices emanating from the red building at the end of the road.
By the time you hit the gravel parking lot, you can smell the end result of centuries of cultural immersion and trade: the World Spice Merchants, a Seattle institution known for its Pike Place location and commitment to quality, has opened its Montana outpost here.
It might sound a little backward, to move the company’s base further from an international port city, but owner Amanda Bevill has known for years that the Flathead Valley is where she wants to be.
“I spent most of my work life working to get to Montana,” Bevill said with a laugh. “So this is a dream come true for me.”
Inside the freshly constructed warehouse, bulk, whole spices line wire shelves, and employees build and grind the spice mixtures. The spices are then loaded into bottles and boxes and either shipped around the world to Bevill’s global customer base, sent to restaurants, or end up as part of the weekly, 350-pound shipment of spices to the Seattle retail store.
The Columbia Falls-based operation is now the point of origin for all their spices, Bevill said, and employs six people.
World Spice Market has been serving up fresh mixtures and blends for Seattle chefs and home cooks since 1995. The shop is located just behind Pike Place Market, a location that Bevill said she hopes to keep in perpetuity.
Having more than 200 types of fresh spices available so close to near-daily farmers markets is a natural match, and the location itself is a magnet for tourists and locals alike.
Bevill didn’t start the company; when she started working there in 2002, it was on a whim after her first attempt at a small business had “crashed and burned,” she said. With training and experience as an herbal-medicine maker, spices seemed like an easy transition.
“Getting into spices was basically my decision to walk left on the sidewalk instead of right,” she said.
It was a natural fit from the start. The owner at the time mentored her, and insisted she buy the shop in 2005, which she did.
“I’ve loved it every single day,” Bevill said.
Spices are fascinating in their own right, with a storied history dating back to the earliest explorers adventuring the globe to find new herbs, flavors, and teas. As such, spices have been in and continue to stay in demand around the world.
“We’re really lucky because we have a product everyone wants; people eat every day and we bring them joy and flavor,” Bevill said. “We figured out the world is round because people sailed off the edge of the Earth searching for spices.”
The move to Montana was strategic.
Bevill, originally from Tennessee, went to college in Washington. Her son was born 28 years ago, and it was then her father made the road trip across the country. Along the way, he spotted a dot on the map called Whitefish, and decided to stop by and check it out.
Six months later, he lived here full time.
Bevill tried her hand at working in Montana, having fallen in love with the landscape as her father did, but work wasn’t steady. But when she got into spices, she knew it was her ticket back to Big Sky Country. And it couldn’t have been better timing, now that property values in Seattle have skyrocketed after corporate giant Amazon moved into the city.
The spice shop already had two warehouses, with lease prices increasing or ending entirely to make way for new development. With added traffic in the city — they had to stop making local deliveries in Seattle due to the wait — Bevill said it actually makes better economic sense to ship the spices from Montana.
Five years ago, she and her husband James Peterson moved here with plans to shift World Spice Merchants’ backend operations to Columbia Falls. They spent two years purchasing land, planning, designing, building, and moving the business.
The move was met with understanding by their Seattle customer base, Bevill said.
While the Columbia Falls warehouse isn’t a retail store, there is a little area to buy the premade gift boxes and packages of spices. Custom orders must be made online, and local customers can pick them up at the warehouse.
Bevill also plans to host quarterly open houses there as the seasons change and people adjust their spice racks. With impending fall, Bevill said her favorite spice mixture for this time of year is the kashmiri garam masala, which goes perfectly with chocolate, pumpkin, and other autumnal goodies.
World Spice Merchants held their grand opening on Aug. 24, and Bevill said the response from the community to her spicy venture has been sweet.
“Our welcome has been so warm,” Bevill said.
For more information on World Spice Merchants, including placing orders, visit www.worldspice.com.