Our Spice House founder, my Dad, William Penzey Sr, dies.

It is with an extremely heavy heart that I share the news of the death of the founder of The Spice House, my father. Our loss is magnified in that we have also lost a much loved parent, but also our mentor, the man who taught my husband Tom and I our craft. His teaching was an evolving process, and sadly one that we did not see coming to an end so soon. My Dad never stopped reaching out to us, pushing us to go further, look harder, re-examine our dedication to quality, to our customers, to our staff. He constantly challenged us to explore other vendors, new countries of origin, different connections, a twist in flavors, novel combinations. Yet his teachings were not just contained to the spice world, he also had some strong feelings and connections to, the inner spiritual world, and his tendencies toward philosophical teachings were perhaps the place where we struggled the hardest as his students. He believed that the spices had music in them, if you just knew how to listen. Our thoughts are that his spice work continues on through our stores, this gives us great comfort, and something to strive for.

On any given day, we start out with some sort of organized plan of how the day will go. (well okay, semi-organized in my case.) We always have more work to be done than could actually be achieved in our set period of time. Hence when someone yelled from downstairs up to my office announcing, “Patty, your Dad is on the phone” this usually meant a serious derailment of our plans! On any given day, a call from my Dad could be close to an hour of things he wanted to share. I feel pretty good about the fact that we just about always took those calls, no matter how busy we were. If my husband and I were both in the office, we would point at each other in a Mexican standoff until one of us took the phone! We did listen. Right now, I would give anything to have more of these calls. My Dad’s death was unexpected, although 78, he was in good physical shape, other than his eyesight; he was in full control of his facilities, and his mind was razor sharp. We just don’t feel that our work together was done. Perhaps my Dad’s work with us was done, but we suspect, knowing the full strength passion of my Dad for the spice-work, there will be a path down which the work will continue with his input.

This is a very hard time. We are holding a viewing tomorrow, September 26, at a beautiful historic venue in Milwaukee, The Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, at 901 Juneau Ave , from 2-6. Lots of street parking and a large parking lot across the street to the North. We welcome all, and would love to hear your customer stories in person, it would help the grieving process. Of all the phone calls we have taken, everyone says, let me know if there is anything they can do to help. Here is something. If your father is still alive, call him, and tell him you love him, if you can. You never know when that chance will be gone forever. My Dad and I were able to say that many, many times to each other, and I am so very thankful for that now. I know you are still listening now, Dad. Tom and I love you so much. We are listening back.

Boxing Day Spice Drive

The Spice House and our generous customers made dinner delicious for Chicago’s food insecure community. We celebrated Boxing Day this past December by holding a spice drive for Lakeview Pantry. Lakeview Pantry delivers 1.4 million meals…

A Visit to Old Town

Working at The Spice House’s helpdesk, I spend each day answering calls, live chats, and emails from customers seeking spice suggestions, future customers tracking down that hard-to-find item, and Spice House fans relaying their experience…


    I’m so very sorry for your loss. Over the last 10 years or so, all 6 of my children spent a large amount of time chatting with your parents while purchasing their weekly influx of candied ginger. I adored your dad and will keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers. I always laughed whenever we got in our car after one of our visits because I swear out of all of our spices we had in our bag, only 25% we actually purchased because of the incredible generosity of your parents. My kids and I will all miss his stories.

    Lisa Brzycki

    Lisa, thank you so very much for your kind words. It is very hard and just does not seem at all real to us yet. Your story made me laugh, yes, my Dad certainly did love to give things away. Somewhere down the line my more business minded Mom would make this up just so they could actually stay in business. Thank you.

    Visited The Spice House in Old Town Chicago this august on a Food Tour and fell in love with it. The staff was great when we returned to purchase, and the spices are the BEST! Nothing compares to THe Spice House Ceylon Cinnamon( I purchased back in St Paul and it doesn’t hold a candle to what I got form you). I’ll have to be content to be a mail order shopper til my next visit.
    Wishing you the best, and now to call my dad.

    Thank you for your kind words. And yes, please call your Dad. You never know when he won’t be there anymore.

    Thank you very much. Since the initial shock and grieving, I now feel a huge peace in my heart. I know that it might sound strange, but I am assuming it is being sent by my Dad. I just hope it stays forever.

    Hi Patty,
    I am a first time shopper…I Googled and found you! I saw this blog and my heart sank…I lost my Dad, my mentor, in March of this year. I was taken by the fact that you have not blogged since his passing… I too have had a tough time but I want to share with you that my strength to move on through this pain comes from my dad as well. I know he would push me on and I sense that yours would do the same. He is in the air you breathe and every decision you make…he is never gone. Peace be with you,

    I have many fond memories of working for your dad. In true fashion of an apprenticeship, my various responsibilities went beyond that of mixing and grinding spices. I scraped and painted their house, fixed leaks on the roof and cut down weedy trees in the yard too. The day always started the same no matter the tasks that lie ahead. I would meet either at the house or the shop, make coffee the way Mr. Penzey taught me (wet the filter so it sticks to the sides and measure the exact amount of Stewart’s), and have a reading from one or another books, ranging from architecture to Eastern philosophy. Sometimes while working, your dad would play a cassette of Jean Feraca’s “All About Food” radio transcript interview with Salim Sadiki and the art and soul of Indian cooking. I still have the tape but don’t need to listen to it because I think I have it memorized (besides who has a cassette player?). Other times we would have long conversations – me on the ladder two stories high and your dad at the bottom holding it steady. Although my experiences with your dad are unique, they are familiar to many that had the honor of his teachings. I am sorry for your loss. I hope you and Tom are doing well and your mom too.

    Just read this post. So sorry to hear about your father’s passing. I hope you will share stories about what your dad taught you about food, love and life. I am sure there are many beautiful tales to be told…

    I’m so sorry for your loss. When I read about your father’s death in the Milw Sent. his wisdom and soaring spirit came across very clearly. Your passion and trade are his legacy……..very few can be considered a true sage..a prophet…a shaman of the spirit.
    I would have loved to meet him to listen to his philosophy and wisdom of life…..the rarest spice of life.

    Mike, thank you for your kind words, they are appreciated. My Dad was indeed a rare person and we miss him very much.

    Thank you John. If you want any more cassettes, that could easily be arranged, you know we probably have thousands! You did have the opportunity to know my Dad in all of his quirkiness and I know he appreciated your jack-of-all-trades abilities. That roof is also still being worked on, but we imagine it will be finished one of these years. Take care, patty

    I’ve been buying spices from your parents since they first had their shop on Galena St. I already knew them even before they were married as I was a friend and neighbor of Ruth Ann’s sister, Pat or Patsy. I remember Bill coming to pick Ruth Ann up for dates. It is with deep regret that I have learned just now of Bill’s passing and would like to extend my heartfelt sympathy to all of his family.
    Ruth Miller, now living in Brooklyn, NY

    I have been purchasing spices from your parents since they were located on Galena St. I knew them before that since I was friends and neighbors with Ruth Ann’s sister, Pat. I remember Bill coming to the house to pick Ruth Ann up for dates. It is with deep regret that I have just now learning of Bill’s passing and would like to extend my heartfelt sympathy for their loss.
    Ruth Miller, now living in Brooklyn, NY

    That is so sad. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this awful time. My kitchen spice racks are full of your awesome products and we are doing a giveaway on my blog for some Penzey Spices.

    Thank you Kate. I am sorry for your loss as well. The pain of losing someone dear to you is very hard, be it your dear Dad or your loving cat.

    Oh my.  Tears.  What a beautiful tribute and yet no doubt written during a time of duress.  Your father is no doubt still involved in such an incredible company – one I read about often.
    Blessings to you and yours during this Christmas Season.  Signed…A fan.

    Thank  you for your kind words. It still seems hard, going home to Christmas, I find it hard to believe that my Dad is not there. I think about the conversations I would have with my Dad all the time if he were still here, so I guess in a sense, we are still communicating. Patty Penzey Erd

    Jackie Pope Ganzer at the Garlic Press in Normal just told me yesterday that Bill Sr. had died a year ago. I cannot believe that I didn’t know until now. What a loss to all of us, but especially for you and your family.

    I first met your dad at the Galena St. store. My husband was in grad school in Madison and we were visiting friends who had moved to Fredonia. My friend Nancy and I loved to cook together, and she had an article about The Old Milwaukee Spice House and wanted to go there. (I’m sure you cannot mention that name, but I can. I haven’t had an Old Milwaukee Beer since.) I had been disappointed in whimpy crushed red peppers that I had gotten in the supermarket and asked your dad whether his were really hot. (Remember, please, that I was young and didn’t know your dad and his business yet–my only excuse.) He was his usual gracious self and suggested that I try a sniff from the glass jar. My body language said that I wasn’t impressed, so he shook the jar up a little and I inhaled mightily with the expected result. He apologized profusely, ran off to get me a tissue, and I never doubted him again! 

    Bill always remembered me from that incident–and always kindly. We moved to Milawukee a couple of years later and we laughed about it every time I was at the shop. Then we moved to Illinois and I got his spices through my friend in Fredonia until he started mail-ordering. I would get wonderful, aromatic boxes, followed by a note from Bill on the back of my cancelled check. 

    I once sent him a little book of Mennonite Peppernuts in response to a query about black pepper in sweets. I wrote him a short note about how important peppernuts were to Christmas celebrations in Russian Mennonite families. He sent me a thank you with a long, rambling note about food, family and traditions. I wish I had kept it. I think of him every Christmas when I am making peppernuts.

    We now have a son in Madison. We are in central Illlinois so we get there often and I buy spices from one of Billy’s stores there. I teach cooking classes at the Garlic Press for Jackie. I often talk about both Penzy’s and The Spice House and am always pleased by how many people are aware of one or both. 

    I lost my father over ten years ago. It gets easier, but I still find myself saying I should tell Dad about something or wanting to ask him what he thinks of something, and I am always sad when I realize that I can’t. On the other hand it reminds me how lucky I was to have the kind of father I did.

    May you have a blessed New Year. Remember your father often and be grateful for the years you had with him. 

    Take care,

    Carol Hiebert 

    Thanks so much Carol. My Mom takes great pleasure out of the stories the customers are sharing with her about my Dad and I will be sure to share this one with her. Sometimes you have to try hard to turn the sadness around. Yesterday was my birthday, and just thinking about the fact that my Dad would not be calling to wish me Happy Birthday made me cry. But I was so lucky to have him and have the great relationship that I did with him, and not just me, but my husband as well. That is what I try to focus on, all of my wonderful memories.

    The Garlic press and its instructors have been very good to The Spice House over the years, and it is certainly appreciated. Word of mouth is real and sincere. Do you know our friend Jill Krueger (not sure of her married name now) who taught there also?

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss of your Dad. My deep sympathy as well to your family. I worked with your Dad as a young teenager about 20yrs ago and decided to look him up. I learned a lot from your father and he was a great employer and teacher to me, although it was short lived. He used to have me mix the spices up, and he was the stickler, as far as how many times, I had to stir the spices, lol He taught me a bit about Tai Chi, even while I was on the clock. I worked with him in the Tosa store, part time and it was an awesome job and experience for me. He even gave me a penny, that he had got from Julia Child, which I thought was awesome. Very generous man and he will be missed. I remember seeing the Pacer he had at his home, and I’d told him my Grandpa had one as well. I used to shovel snow a bit at his home too. He used to share nice stories of the spices, where they came from and stories of customers. He had always sent me home with a bunch of different spices, and his favorite mixes of them as well. Our family really enjoyed them Big Time!  Very generous man!

                                                                                                      Erik Wolk

     Thank you Erik, for your kind words. My Dad was certainly one of a kind. I know he probably drove a lot of you young staff members crazy with all of his wacky stuff, but you all seem to remember him fondly. I used to be puzzled when customers in our Third street shop would say “I live in Tosa but today I was in a hurry so I decided to drive downtown to  your shop.” How did that make sense, oh wait, I understand, my Dad might be in the shop!! And as you know, he often took the customers in back and had them help mix up blends as well, but this might turn into a time consuming experience. I miss my Dad every day and I sure wish he was still with us. In the form of our spice work, I actually know that he is still with us. I hope your life has turned out well, and I thank you again for your warm memories of my Dad.

    Take care,
    Patty Penzey Erd

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