Heather Wong had gone to business school at the University of Texas in Austin, and she put together plenty of cash-flow models, marketing strategies and business presentations.
None of that fully prepared her, however, for everything she would have to do to win the Downtown Sacramento Foundation’s Calling All Dreamers contest. She won, by the way, and will open the business she has dubbed Allspicery across from the state Capitol just as soon as she completes the government permitting process.
“When you actually sit down to do it, it’s really tedious,” Wong said. “You have to put together a full business plan and think through your marketing strategy, who you’re going to sell to and how you’re going to reach them. When you sit down and start to answer those hard questions, it forces you to think about it as a real business.”
We expect to see a lot of people coming in looking for one particular ingredient and then leaving with five others that they didn’t expect to find.
Heather Wong, owner of the soon-to-be open
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Wong said her husband, Dr. Stanley Chan, asked her whether she really wanted to take on such a workload when they were expecting their first child. “My husband was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You’re pregnant. We’re about to have our lives turned completely upside down. Is this something you really want to take on?’ ”
Wong said she told him: “Yeah, I think I do.”
Now, she told me, she wonders whether it was the hormones. Looking back, though, Wong has taken the whole process of giving birth to her new business in stages. Until she won, she said, she really didn’t think beyond the contest.
The Calling All Dreamers contest began shortly after Wong and Chan moved to Sacramento in 2012, and she found out about it because she became a customer of the winning business: Andy’s Candy Apothecary and its owner Andy Paul. (By the way, the Downtown Sacramento Foundation is accepting applications until March 29 for this year’s Calling All Dreamers competition.)
“I looked into his background and discovered he’d won this new contest,” Wong said, “and I thought how great it was that Sacramento offered this for new business owners. At the time, my shop wasn’t really something I was thinking seriously about. It was just something I logged at the back of my head.”
Over the years, though, Wong shared the idea with her husband and her friends. She and her friends began to talk about it as though it would exist one day. She recalled one friend saying: “When you open your spice shop, I’ll work in it, and my cat can be your store mascot.”
Even if she lost the competition, Wong said, all the work she did put her further along in her planning process than she ever expected. She had a business proposal that she could shop around after her baby was born.
You could say that Wong and Chan are now parents of two: their 6-month-old daughter Ruby and their new business Allspicery at 1125 11th St. Wong envisions the shop as a place where people can get any spice they need for a recipe. She’s now tackling the second stage of her project, getting the business up and running. She hopes to open by the end of March, but she may have to delay until April if she doesn’t have all her permits in place.
“It will be a combination of bulk and pre-packaged spices,” Wong said. “I’m really the type of cook who prefers to just buy the right amount that I need. We will be able to scoop things to order or grind things to order if people need something ground up.”
This is especially handy, Wong said, if a home cook is making an exotic dish that they may not make again for a while. Wong has had those moments herself, she said, when making dishes that originated in Vietnam or other far-flung countries. She started cooking on an Easy-Bake Oven back when she was “5 years old or something like that.”
Now 34, the Boston native recalled how she and a middle school pal saved up UPC codes to get a free Hershey’s cookbook and then tried the recipes for all the different baked goods in its pages. Her mother, a microbiologist, encouraged her to experiment in the kitchen, Wong said, and she would call her with cooking questions like: “What does it mean to beat these egg whites until stiff?”
At her new store, Wong said, she hopes the next stage will include lots of experimentation. She hopes to team up with chefs and specialty grocers in the region to create spice combinations that shoppers can use on different types of foods, she said. Allspicery could measure and package the portions, she said, for sale or to benefit a charity.
Her shop will have recipe cards and hundreds of spices, rubs, flavored sugars, dried roots and whole dried peppers, she said.
“We expect to see a lot of people coming in looking for one particular ingredient and then leaving with five others that they didn’t expect to find,” Wong said. “We’re hoping to be a source of food inspiration. We want to have cookbooks around, so people can flip through the pages and get ideas they might want to try next.”