Geneva, IL —
You can’t miss the undeniable smell of garlic and paprika when walking down State Street in Geneva, which is home to the newest location of the Galena Garlic Company.
Growing up in South America, garlic and paprika were a regular part of Laszlo Marton’s diet. One day about eight years ago, Marton came to the realization that no one really had a Häagen-Dazs level of spices and blends available and he wanted to be able to share his love of spices with others.
“I thought, ‘what if I could take spices and make them more gourmet, more chef-oriented, more culinary, but so simple a 10-year old could take it and sprinkle it on?’” Marton said.
Setting aside his photography career, Marton set out with a $400 budget to change the way people tasted food. He grew garlic on his farm and started selling about 20 blends from a small kiosk. “It was kind of like the American dream,” Marton said. “We started in the basement of a hotel and grew to across the street.”
The store expanded to a sprawling store in Galena and Marton opened another store in the heart of Geneva a year and a half ago. The shop is just the beginning of the expansion to which Marton believes the company can rise. He plans on having four or five more sister stores in towns like Geneva, where local people support small shop atmosphere.
His shop has expanded from 20 to more than 200 different spice blends, and now includes soaps, oils and assorted spice-related goods. The walls are lined with organized sections of blends, including world flavors, chicken blends, spicy blends and more.
Although the shop may be a tad overwhelming to first-time customers, Marton believes the perfect customer is someone who doesn’t know anything about cooking with spices.
“The blends tell you what’s in it, and it says (how) to use it on right on the package,” he said.
He also provides samples of every blend and oil so customers can try everything before they decide on a purchase.
Cindy and Dan Rolando from Oglesby were visiting relatives in the area and stopped into the store for the first time to look around.
“It’s very interesting,” Cindy said. “Everything was nice — he’s very knowledgeable and let us look at what we wanted to and we got to taste it. I think that’s very nice that you can taste what you’re buying before you get it.”
Dan added that he doesn’t normally like guessing about his food and spice purchases.
After trying several spices, they settled on the sugar maple barbecue blend and the autumn blend to take home to try, promising they would return to the store.
Many couples like the Rolandos may be unfamiliar with experimenting with spices, but Marton believes cooking shows nowadays such as Rachel Ray and Anthony Bourdain have helped to expand people’s knowledge about cooking.
“The Food Network and all the foodie programs are pushing cooking forward and making people realize there’s so many different flavors in the world to experience,” Marton said.
Marton himself likes to experiment and try to come up with new blends and flavors to sell in his store. He has won six awards for his spice flavors, including a bloody Mary mix that was transformed into a steak seasoning.
Although the tastes may be complex and delicious, Marton believes anyone can cook using his spices and stands by his motto, “sprinkle, cook and serve.”
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