• Spices such as cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, ginger, star anise, spearmint, caraway, thyme, oregano, sage and rosemary contain caffeic acid. (Gewurzhaus/Instagram)Source: Gewurzhaus/Instagram
The German-Australian sisters who know that self-serve spices are what it's all about.
Cat Woods

7 Jan 2020 - 10:38 AM  UPDATED 7 Jan 2020 - 10:43 AM

Maria and Eva Konecsny began Melbourne's first self-scoop spice store after seeing the concept work in their homeland of Germany.

Gewurzhaus, which the sisters founded in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, has roots in a little village called Heidenheim (near Stuttgart).

Most of the Konecsny family are from Goslar, near the northwestern Harz mountain range of Germany. "Snow-covered in winter, full of folk tales and charm," Maria recalls.

The sisters were three and four when they moved to Sydney, but they rarely spent summer in Australia.

"We always went back to Germany during the Christmas holidays, so most of my memories of Germany are related to Christmas," says Maria.

"When we were kids, it was always a white Christmas. We'd walk down into the village from my grandmother's mountainside home to buy all the baking goods we needed that day. Then we'd trek back to her little apartment, and her tiny kitchen to bake and cook all day long."

The sisters were making biscuits, cakes, soups and noodles. Everything was made from scratch.

"I don't recall a time when there wasn't someone in our house cooking or baking something, and we were always involved. That said, the spices we used were really basic. Paprika, cinnamon, caraway, nutmeg and ginger. Salt and pepper."

Though cooking and food was a huge element of their family life, the sisters pursued university and followed their mother into buying, renovating and selling properties in addition to day jobs unrelated to food. Until the financial crisis hit.

A fortuitously timed holiday in Munich with a family friend developed into that something else. The sisters were introduced to a self-scoop spice store.

"We were probably in there for an hour, totally mesmerised really. The ability to smell everything and the ideas that would arise around what you could do based on the smells and the texture," Maria recalls.

"If you come in with chicken you've bought next door, you'll end up talking for half an hour with staff about all the different options."

"In terms of cooking, Germany is much more conservative than Australia. They're not changing recipes every three minutes and far less broad a palate for food from around the world. We came back from that trip just certain that this should work in Melbourne where the food culture is so strong."

The spice sisters are on to something.

Having ascertained that they had no local competitors, the sisters sourced high-quality spice samples, compiled potential blends from four hundred different types and trialled them with dishes and baked goods. The whole process took half a year.

Without the ability to get a lease in a prominent location, the sisters bought and operated a gelati store on Lygon Street, Carlton, and slowly transformed it into a spice store after hours.

Next year in June marks the 10th year of Gewurzhaus. They now have eight stores: two in Sydney, one in Canberra and the rest in Melbourne.

There are over three hundred and fifty different spice blends, including single-origin and specialist blends. The ingredients are sourced globally and milled in Melbourne. The Black Truffle Salt is one of the most popular and expensive blends.

The most popular products vary by store and demographic.

"We just launched a Pork Crackling Spice Rub which is going absolutely crazy. Butter Chicken is an amazing blend and a big seller at all the stores (turmeric, fenugreek, paprika, cardamom and coriander).

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"The Melbourne Meat Rub is really popular. It's a salt flake meat rub with coffee (we buy beans from a Melbourne coffee roaster, crack those up and mix with wattle seed, cocoa [and] chill). The Moroccan blends are in high demand too. We think that's because of Yotam Ottolenghi's popularity."

Apart from the unique offering of products and the interactive relationship between customers and spices, the deep knowledge and passion of Gewurzhaus' staff is a large element of its growth and success.

"The first question we ask when we hire across the business is, 'what's your relationship to food, what's your favourite thing to cook?'

"We're really lucky. We've got teams who love talking about food so for customers, if you come in with chicken you've bought next door, you'll end up talking for half an hour with staff about all the different options and what you could do! There's a deep knowledge, especially from some of our older staff."

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