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Epic Spices Moves into Old Menswear Shop on Fast-Changing Chicago Avenue

By Alisa Hauser | October 8, 2013 10:55am
 Epic Spices opened Friday at 1725 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town.
Epic Spices Opens at 1725 W. Chicago Avenue
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WEST TOWN — A fast-changing stretch of Chicago Avenue in West Town is getting spiced up, literally. 

Epic Spices at 1725 W. Chicago Ave. opened Friday in a storefront that most recently served as a dental office and — long before that — a menswear shop that closed in 1967.

Spice seller Steven Tobiason said he discovered the sign for the Joseph Barabas' Chicago Men's Wear shop when he removed a dental office's metal sign that had been covering a vintage black-and-white sign from 1923.

Barabas, a World War I veteran, sold menswear for 40 years beginning in the 1920s and died in 1967, Chicago Now reports.

Eventually Epic Spices plans to offer 130 spices and herb blends, but for now Tobiason is selling a more limited selection out of a walk-up window where a dentist's receptionist once worked.

 Sansho Japanese Pepper at Epic Spices.
Sansho Japanese Pepper at Epic Spices.
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Epic Spices/Facebook

Tobiason also said he hopes to use the vintage shop's original glass display cases to showcase living examples of peppercorn vines and "maybe a cinnamon tree or two."

Promising "no flavor elitism," Tobiason said his food products will be "accessible to everyone, as well as affordable" and of a better quality level than the spices found in grocery stores.

"The highest grade of white peppercorn in the world doesn't have to cost a ton. The point is to try and get the flavor out to the community without breaking the bank," he said.

Tobiason grinds and sifts the spices in-house using a mill machine and proprietary blends. 

The 39-year-old Ukrainian Village resident said he's envisioning his shop to be used like a grocery store where people can get exactly what they need.

"If you want to make barbecue, come on over and get barbecue stuff. You don't have to have a big pile of spices in a cupboard aging and losing flavor," he said.

A quick glance at the shop's inventory shows whole nutmeg, celery sea salt, cloves, Spanish saffron and chili powder, among other spices.

One spice Tobiason is especially pumped about is the Sansho Japanese pepper, which is the seed pod of the Japanese prickly ash, a tree in the tangerine family.

Tobiason said the Sansho pepper is traditionally used as a condiment for unagi, Japanese grilled eel.

"Until you've tried what it tastes like, it's difficult to explain, it cycles through every flavor you can imagine," he said of the pepper.

Epic's Facebook page describes the pepper's flavor as having "a cooling/electric buzzing effect in the mouth when eaten."

Epic Spices joins other flavorful newcomers like Savory Spice Shop, a national chain that opened last month at 4753 N. Lincoln Ave, in Lincoln Square and Pinch Spice Market at 1913 W. Milwaukee in Wicker Park, which opened in March of last year.

Tobiason's one-man shop was a long time coming, as he previously worked full time managing a retail spice division for a corporation for more than 12 years.

"The next logical step was to try to myself," he said.

During his corporate tenure, Tobiason said he sold custom spice blends to famed chef Charlie Trotter and newly married "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard, among others.

In addition to spices, the walls of Epic Spices currently feature work by several artists from last weekend's neighborhoodwide West Town Art Walk.

Tobias cautioned, "The art will need to swap out fast or else the spices might sink in."

Epic Spices is at 1725 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Phone: 312-733-6445.