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The Spice House vs. Penzeys

My boyfriend loves cooking Indian food. I want to get him some nice spices as part of his Christmas gift. Both Penzeys and The Spice House have Indian spice gift sets. The Penzey one is $12 more expensive. I've never had spices from either.
Is one better than the other?
Which one would you suggest as a better gift? or are there any other mail order spice companies that I should check out?

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  1. I have not been to penzey's - I do like the spice house and that is where I get all my spices - I have never been dissapointed -

    1. I've never been to The Spice House, I could be wrong, but I believe the only Chicago area location is in the Old Town area. But, being a resident of the western suburbs, I do shop frequently at Penzeys in Naperville.

      I have never purchased their Indian spice set, but I have purchased their Indian spices individually. I have bought their Balti, Rogan Josh, Vidaloo, and sweet curry seasonings. I have liked them all, particularly the Rogan Josh, which also has saffron in the blend. All of seasonings I mentioned are salt-free.

      I have been buying spices at Penzeys for a few years now, and have enjoyed everything I've bought there.

      If you go to Penzeys, get on their mailing list. They send out several catalogs annually with some interesting recipes.

      I believe Penzeys has another store in Oak Park, if Naperville is too long a trek.

      1. I shop regularly at The Spice House(on Wells) and have also purchased "make your own" giftboxes from them---you choose the spices...they pack 'em up with nutmegs, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and ship the end result. Compared to Penzey's(same family btw) I prefer The Spice House for it's less commercial, more down-to-earth je ne sais qua...and quality products. I, too, am on the Penzey's mailing list, but have never seen the need to order from them. Being divergent limbs of the same family tree, both carry similar spice blends.

        as per Indian spice blends: I enjoy The Spice House's garam masala...it contains more coriander than cumin...cumin is often abundant in lesser blends

        1. As aelph noted, they're the same family with the same suppliers for most things.

          Patty Erd, owner of the spice house with her husband Tom Erd, is Bill Penzey's brother. Ma&Pa Penzey founded the spice house and sold it to Tom and Patty some years ago. Bill formed Penzey's on his own.

          I'm loyal to the spice house, mostly because I've built a nice relationship with the employees of the Old Town store, and I've met the Erds socially a couple times.

          I suspect the two gift boxes would be virtually identical.

          Note that if you're shipping, the Spice House charges exactly what it costs them to ship, on general principle. I'm not sure about Penzey's.

          1 Reply
          1. re: gleam

            good point re: shipping. I forgot how cool that is on their part. I'm also in agreement with you on the hospitality of the owners and most of the employees(there's one guy who's always irascible...but even that adds a kind of quirky charm to the proceedings).

          2. FYI, The Spice House also has an Evanston and Milwaukee location. Mom and Dad Penzey still run a very small "retirement" spice business up in Wisconsin, but I've never been.

            3 Replies
            1. re: gleam

              The Spice House started in Milwaukee:


              Penzeys Ltd. is based in Brookfield, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb.

              1. re: gido

                Yes, it did. I don't think I said or implied it didn't.

                Bill and Ruth Penzey's "retirement" shop is Spice Work, in Wauwatosa, WI. Their site is http://www.spice-work.com

                1. re: gleam

                  I guess it's no more. The link redirects to Penzeys.

            2. It's always been my impression that you pay quite a premium for the "gift" boxes. I'd be inclined - being a cheapskate - to at least check out the individual prices of what's included and compare this to the gift price. If it was significant, I'd wrap 'em myself.


              1 Reply
              1. re: MikeLM

                At The Spice House, the "premium" is two or three bucks, and the packaging is a nice "finishing touch." I gave my brother a gift set last summer and he was pretty tickled at the packing materials (as described by aelph above, they use cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and the like to keep the jars from rattling around.)

                I've never shopped Penzey's but I've been going to the Spice House in Evanston for years. They're really nice folks, and it's just a great shop to walk around in.

              2. I've been to both the Spice House [prefer the Evanston location] and Penzey's [in Oak Park] and there's one thing I strongly prefer about the Spice House: they will let you choose the quantity of spice you want to buy [within reason]. They will allow you to buy smaller quantities, which will allow you to use spices while they are fresher. I bought a sort-of-generic curry powder from Penzey's and was required to buy a minimum 4 ounces. I'm sure I'll end up throwing some of that out before I use it all up. I'm guessing that Spice House's minimum purchase would have been 1 ounce, and they would have scooped it from the jar for me at my request [as opposed to the pre-bagged spices Penzey's has].


                1. Unless the Oak Park Penzeys has a completely different inventory system than the Naperville store, I've never had to buy a minimum of 4 ounces of any curry blend in Naperville. The Naperville store has 1/4 cup plastic jars, usually about 1 ounce, 1/2 ounce glass jars, usually about 2 ounces, and 4, 8, and 16 oz bags. the larger the quantity, the lower the per ounce price.

                  Since the consensus here seems to be that the stores are owned by the same family, and they sell similar products, it would appear to come down to proximity and convenience.

                  For me, the Naperville Penzeys is the store. If you're a city dweller, the Wells Street and Evanston locations of The Spice House, or the Oak Park Penzeys would be the ones to shop.

                  1. Thanks for the replies. Since they are both the same company, I'm gonna go with Spice House since its a little cheaper for the same stuff. I live in Northwest Indiana so both are far away. Since I got all the info I needed from you all, I'm gonna have the spices sent to my boyfriend.
                    Thanks again.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Snd485

                      Clarification: they are not the same company and do not have common ownership. The owners of the two firms are related, but the two campanies are not connected except for being in the same business.

                      1. re: Eldon Kreider

                        the aforementioned post is a misapprehension: notice the others in the know didn't suggest they are the same company

                        1. re: aelph

                          But it was the OP with the misapprehension.

                          1. re: Eldon Kreider

                            And in fact, the owners of the two stores don't seem overly fond of eachother. A strong sibling rivalry at the least. The people athte Spice House see themselves as a small business that hand grinds all spices, and seem to look upon Penzys as more of a corporate operation. Or at least that's how one of the sales people described it to me. I've shopped at both and think they are both high quality, but favor the Spice House because the are local and the staff is very knowledgable and helpful.

                    2. DEVON AVENUE IS A GOLDMINE FOR INDIAN SPICES. My Indian friends shop for spices on Devon Avenue, not at Penzey's or Spice House. You can make your own spice gift pack. Check out Patel Brothers.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: amoncada

                        great suggestion except that Patel Bros. only offers single spices in 1/2 lb? increments(large bags anyway)...you'd spend a pretty penny to gather the resources for a single masala unless you were going in on the purchase with friends

                        I love Patel Bros. and Devon, in general, but patronize The Spice House for it's quality and efficiency...I mean, by the time I train + bus up to Devon from the Gold Coast I've already added on an unnecessary expense(if I were going just to shop for spices available 5 blocks from me in much smaller increments). Pleasantly, Devon trips typically include noshing, Indian/Pakistani/Georgian foodstuff shopping, and imported books.

                        1. re: aelph

                          Yes, I see your point. Devon avenue is not convenient and Spice House carries customized gift packs. Just an FYI; there are smaller stores on Devon Avenue that sell open-barrel spices...small and large quantities available. Whole foods has a bulk spice section as well.

                          I've received spice packs from relatives on two occasions from the Spice Store and haven't been impressed. I'll give the garum masala a try though.

                          1. re: amoncada

                            Oh...but Devon is awesome...

                            and I certainly haven't been to all the stores :)

                            The Spice House's garam masala is my second favorite. I've long since been seduced by a friend's mom's homemade blend which also just happens to have a much-reduced amount of cumin...I love cumin...it's one of my favorite spices(and, coincidentally, The Spice House carries my favorite ground cumin), BUT...I don't think it has any place as the top note in garam masala, which to iterate, in conversation with one of the employees once...I found that they lessen the ratio of cumin in their house blend for the specific reason that it's overused in more commercial mixes...

                            ...the same way that idiosyncratically SH 5-spice powder contains no sichuan pepercorn(even tho' it's now readily available...and they sell high quality berries)...that's how they've made their 5-spice blend for 40 years and why change it? Admittedly, it's not my favorite...it's rather "sweet," but it is definitely it's own deal

                            1. re: amoncada

                              Devon Ave may not be convenient to you, but some of us had the good sense to choose where to live based on where and what we wanted to eat, and Devon is very close by... ;-)

                              And by the way, Devon would be my first choice if I was buying Indian spices for myself, I don't know about for a present, it would depend on for whom. One of my favorite things about shopping on Devon is the 79 cent Shan spice mix boxes, Bombay Biryani is a family favorite, incredibly delicious.

                              I've been to both Penzey's and Spice House, I'm a little partial to P, probably only because it was the first one I went to. I think the quality is the same, the ambiance is a little different, and is a personal choice.

                        2. I went to school over the Summer at Second City on N. Wells and would go to the Spice house on my breaks just to browse. I loved it. It's a really charming little place. They have such a wide variety of unique fresh spices at amazing prices and it really has character. I would love to be there now to do my Christmas shopping.

                          1. I started out driving up to Penzeys in Milwaukee over 20 years ago when they had a store on the same block as Mader's German restaurant. In December, on a cold day, the aroma from the spices when opening the door was a cherished memory.

                            With that nostalgic starting point, I now favor Spice House even though there is a Penzeys not a mile from where I live. The spices are similar in each place but if I have a unique need I find I get more attention and cooperation from Spice House owners and staff. At the OP Penzeys, the staff are nice, but sort of like the help at the Pier 1 accross the street - not really spice experts.

                            Here is one other difference that matters to me: all four Spice House stores are open on Sunday; the OP Penzeys is not. Penzeys is the corporate giant; Spice House is the small business that hustles for your business.

                            A link for Spice House: http://www.thespicehouse.com/info/sto...

                            A link for Penzeys:

                            1. **all four Spice House stores are open on Sunday; the OP Penzeys is not. Penzeys is the corporate giant**

                              That is such a terrible thing - that Penzey's gives ALL there employees a day off to spend with their family. That is certainly a sign of a bad employer. I will have to put Penzey's in tghe same class as Chik-fil-a and Hobby Lobby.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jlawrence01

                                Oh, please! I doubt that any retail business open on Sunday requires (or even allows) its employees to work seven days a week! Get serious.

                                As for the choice between Penzeys and Spice House, both are excellent. We are fortunate to live in Chicago where we have a choice of such fine establishments specializing in selling spices. Kudos for both!

                              2. "That is such a terrible thing - that Penzey's gives ALL there (sic)employees a day off to spend with their family."

                                I said nothing about Penzey's being a bad employer. For all I know, they are a fine employer. I do have a problem with retail stores that are closed on one of the primary shopping days of the week. And I know of many fine employers that have stores open on Sunday. I prefer to shop at these stores because they offer me greater opportunity to spend my money. And finally, I know many employees who are happy to work on Sunday in exchange for being off on a week day. Every person is different, with unique work preferences.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: OP178

                                  It just also happens that Sunday is a preferred day off for about 75% of the people in retail.

                                  I applaud Penzey's and other progressive companies that can close one day a week to give their employees time to spend time with their families.

                                  1. re: jlawrence01

                                    I work for a small family owned store and many stores including ours can't afford to close one day out of the week. When stores are corporate they can afford to close. I applaud supporting small buisnesses by buying presents from small stores.

                                    I agree isn't it great to live in a metropolitan area that has a choice of spice shops? Us foddies are pretty lucky.

                                    We could be stuck in some small town with nothing but a Save Mart.

                                2. The spice house just recently opened a new store in downtown Geneva, thereby saving a drive for those who don't want to go to Naperville or Oak Park

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: pete karmpert

                                    Pete, just a slight correction, the Spice House doesn't have stores in Naperville and Oak Park, Penzey's does.

                                    1. re: pete karmpert

                                      We visit the Spice House in Geneva often ever since they opened just before Thanksgiving, much of their labeling clearly states a relationship with Penzey's.

                                      1. re: LikestoEatout

                                        The owners of The Spice House and Penzey's Spices are siblings. The Spice House is the store originally opened by Bill Penzey Sr. back in the 50's and is now run by his daughter and her husband. Penzey's Spices was founded by Bill Penzey Jr. back in the 80's as a mail order only business which later started to open storefronts in the 90's.

                                        1. re: LikestoEatout

                                          >> much of their labeling clearly states a relationship with Penzey's.

                                          That is absolutely not true. There is no legal relationship between Spice House and Penzey's, and there is no labeling on their products stating any such relationship. As correctly noted by LabRat here five years ago, there is a familial relationship. The Spice House website states "Owners of The Spice House, Tom and Patty Erd, are second generation spice merchants. Their business was founded by Patty's parents, Ruth and Bill Penzey, Sr. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1957." As you can see, there is no reference to Penzey's, which is a separate business founded by Bill Penzey Jr., Patty's brother.

                                      2. Seems like the Sunday hours issue was resolved some time ago. All Penzeys stores are open 7 days a week, including the ones in Oak Park and Naperville.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: OP178

                                          Folks, a debate about whether places should or shouldn't be open on Sundays is really getting far afield from Chowhound. It's fine to note whether they are or aren't open, but then please let it go at that -- people can and will make their own choices about whether to patronize a business or not based on that.

                                          1. re: OP178

                                            If you are already in Geneva, the Spice House is just a few blocks from the Galena Garlic Company kitty corner to the Metra train station. It opens at 11 on Sundays.

                                          2. After looking at both, I ordered spices from The Spice House and jars from Penzey's. But if I needed spices for Indian cooking, I would go to one of the many South Asian groceries near me.

                                            1. I have found wonderful spices and oils/vinegars at Galena Garlic Company. Locations in Geneva and Galena. My annual trip from Hawaii finds me in Geneva to stock up! I also get some items from the Penzey's in Naperville where I stay when in the area.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: manomin

                                                When you're in Geneva, you should REALLY check out the Spice House's location there. The Spice House is awesome! (Perhaps you didn't notice the post here from five years ago, when they opened that location?) Here's the info on their Geneva location:

                                                The Spice House
                                                577 South Third Street
                                                Geneva, IL 60134

                                                The Spice House also has locations in Chicago/Old Town, Evanston IL, and in Milwaukee (in the Public Market and on Old World Third Street). More info: www.thespicehouse.com/info/stores.html

                                                Penzeys has several dozen locations across the country, including Naperville and Oak Park in the western suburbs of Chicago. www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/penze...

                                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                                  Well I probably will. I do enjoy the conviviality and genuine care/rapport with the staff at Galena Garlic Co. Maybe I'll share my purchases b/w both. I love that they are growing garlic and using it in their retail environment.

                                              2. A little late to this board but as much as I'd like to give TSH a (mail-order) try, their smallest jars are the ½ cup size. I live alone, usually cook accordingly, and like to keep my spices and herbs fresh, hence my preference for ¼ cup jars. This, and the quality, are what keep my a loyal Penzeys customer but there are some items I'd like to try that TSH carries. I hope they start offering smaller jars.

                                                BTW, does anyone know if they have catalogs?

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: MacGuffin

                                                  I live close to a Spice House location, so I'm not familiar with what they offer via mail order. But they're friendly and helpful and I would bet that you can mail order anything they have in the store. And the quality is as fresh and as good as you'll find anywhere.

                                                  At my local store, you can buy just about any spice in any quantity you like - a half ounce or a half pound, etc. They sell them in plastic bags as well as prepacked in jars (at a higher price); you can also buy the jars separately if you like. The jar shown on their website as a "4 fluid ounce jar" ($1.25) is pretty darn small (4" high, 1.75" wide) and holds about two ounces (by weight) of most dried spices. I know you could walk into a store and buy a spice along with one of those small jars, and if you only want to buy one ounce or even half an ounce of the spice (so the jar isn't full), you can still do it. So go ahead and order whatever quantity of spice you like, and however many jars you like. Nothing says you have to buy enough spice to fill the jar. And of course, you only have to buy the jar once; after that you can just buy spices in bags and refill the jars.

                                                  Their website is only set up to sell spices by the jarful (2.0-2.5 ounces) but that's probably just for convenience. I bet if you phone in (or e-mail) your order they would be happy to sell you smaller quantities such as one ounce or one half ounce. With or without the jar.

                                                  I don't think they have printed catalogs, but they show just about everything on their website at www.thespicehouse.com (where jars are listed under "gifts and accessories".) You can also subscribe to their free e-mail newsletters, which are sent 1-5 times per month and sometimes highlight special deals (e.g. they've offered free shipping deals twice already this year).


                                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                                    I guess I didn't make myself clear: I want the smaller glass jars, the ones that hold 2 fluid oz., which Penzeys offers (almost always) as their smallest size. Not only is there no point in putting herbs/spices in a jar that immediately exposes them to a lot of air but I'm extremely tight on space here. I can stack two small jars of different product to equal the height of a 4 oz. jar. Thanks for the tip, though, to subscribe to the newsletter. I'll do that and continue to hope for smaller things. :)

                                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                                      Another option is to buy empty 2 fl oz jars from Penzeys, and buy the spices to put in them in small quantities from the Spice House (if it's something that Penzeys doesn't carry).

                                                      1. re: nsxtasy

                                                        There's no Penzeys near me, so it would necessitate buying jars online, then filling with TSH purchases, also online. An order of anal that I don't even approach.

                                                        Unfortunately, the link for the newsletter seems to be broken. Ah, well.