CORONA DEL MAR — Walking into Savory Spice Shop, you first notice the smell.
That is, unless you happen to be co-owner Laura Shute.
"I can't smell it anymore," Shute said, laughing while surrounded by floor-to-ceiling displays.
The 1,500-square-foot aromatic spice and herb shop in the Corona del Mar Plaza, 928 Avocado Ave., carries more than 400 spices and 140 spice blends.
All the spices are ground fresh each week in Denver — home to Savory's corporate headquarters — then shipped to the Corona del Mar franchise.
The spices are bagged or bottled in sizes ranging from half an ounce to a pound.
"It's a one-stop shop for spices that are hard to find anywhere else," said shopper Sharolyn Naftel. "And it's so well organized and easy to find whatever you need in any recipe."
Naftel said she drove to Savory from her home in Dana Point to pick up a jar of Lodo red adobo, a spicy seasoning to make an Argentine chicken dish.
Customers come from as far away as Riverside and San Diego, Shute said.
In November, Shute, who manages the day-to-day operations of the shop, and co-owner Randy Morton will open a second location at OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa.
While the shop stocks all the well-known spices, the shelves are lined with lesser-known variations of traditional favorites such as black onyx cocoa and Mayan cocoa.
There are also five kinds of cinnamon, 20 curries, 30 chilies — including the Bhut jolokia, sometimes known as a ghost chili.
All the spices are available for test sniffing. With quantities as small as half an ounce, starting at less than $1, it's easy to experiment with new flavors and combinations, Shute said.
"I think that people tend to get into a rut," she said. "People end up finding one thing that tastes good, really liking it, and then sticking with it for years."
Spices, especially the exotic ones, can intimidate the beginning chef, she said.
"You don't have to be an expert. You just need to be willing to experiment," Shute said. "And if you're not sure what goes with what, our blends take out all the guesswork."
The smaller bagged quantities are also good for keeping spice collections fresh without wasting tons of money, Shute said.
Spices lose flavor over time, but many times people will hold onto them for years. Cinnamon has a shelf life of about six months in ground form, she said.
Many of the spices and blends come with recipes that showcase their best flavors.
"People come in here who don't know where to start," Shute said. "We're trying to make using spices easy for them."