We had the good fortune of connecting with Jana Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jana, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Starting my business was a very roundabout process. I have always wanted to do “something” with food. From as early as I can remember I have loved being in the kitchen creating. Through being in the kitchen and creating my various concoctions and then sharing them, I realized even more than I enjoyed preparing food, I enjoyed the feeling I got when people tried my dishes. Pre-COVID I started a venture as a caterer to do just that; share my food with others. While that same feeling of joy remained at the END of the process, the moments throughout were incredibly stressful. It’s hard being a one woman show!
In 2020 I had lots of opportunities lined up, however, the pandemic put a halt on all of that. During that moment of pause I began reflecting on what I really wanted to do with The Gourmet Spork. Change is not something that I am afraid of, The Gourmet Spork was born as a food blog and has transformed tremendously since its inception. As we all began to understand and learn more about COVID-19 I decided that catering was not something that I wanted to continue, but what I did know was that I wanted to continue to be present in folk’s food somehow. As one of my forms of self-care during quarantine I began mixing my own unique spice blends together. I also decided during that time that I would be rebranding and moving my business in a different direction. Creating a line of spice blends not only allowed me to still be able to be a part of people’s meals, but also reach a larger market.
When I initially started my business my thought process was always simply to share my love of food and flavor with folks. I believe now more than ever The Gourmet Spork is doing just that!
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I believe the thing that sets my business apart from others is simply that fact that I’m the visionary behind the vision. I sell spice blends, there are plenty of other businesses that do that as well. However, I believe in the uniqueness of what I am creating. I am a quirky person; my uniqueness comes through in the blends that I curate. I enjoy food, like a lot. I love combining flavors that you may not often find together. I love recreating flavors from memories, my favorite dishes, and moments in time. It brings me joy being able to taste, blend, and mix flavors that are each connected to my story, that then get to live in kitchens all over the country (and one day worldwide)!
Arriving at this place has not been easy. But each time I take a moment of pause and look back on where I was, I realize that even if I haven’t reached all of my goals YET, I am still well on my way. I don’t think I give myself enough grace when I reflect on where I am versus where I want to be. But, when I think about all that’s really going on, (I am teaching during a pandemic, curating new flavors, mixing recipes, filling jars, making post office runs, reminding myself to eat, and practicing self-care to the best of my ability.) I have to give myself a pat on the back because I am actually living my dream. This dream is so vivid in my mind and I know that with constant dedication, I, as well as all of you will see the fruits of my labor.
The lessons that The Gourmet Spork has taught me is that dreams do come true. Time and the perception of what others have done can often make us feel that things can’t be done or aren’t happening fast enough. But each of our journeys is our own. I often think about how as a teacher I’m constantly breathing life into the dreams of my students. Reminding them that obstacles only stand in our way until we figure a way in, around, or through them. Through my own personal journey, I often remind myself to take my own advice. The Gourmet Spork doesn’t only serve good flavor it serves good advice. Just go for it! So what if someone else has a similar idea, product, or service, just do it, because what they don’t have is YOU!
As we move closer to the summer and cookout season I’m very excited to share the release of several new products. Expect to see new spice blends, a new hot sauce flavor, and some 3 flavor spice kits!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’ve been labeled a bit of a nomad. I was raised in LA, I went to school in San Francisco, I lived in Oakland, and I’m currently in New York. Each of these places have their own unique character and energy about them. Since LA is and will always be home I often find myself planning out an itinerary for all of the things I want to do while I’m home, however, undoubtedly the itinerary quickly becomes a list of all of the places that I want to eat at! So here we go!
Breakfast/Brunch: The Serving Spoon (fried catfish, grits, and eggs), Pann’s Restaurant, Grand Central Market to get a breakfast sandwich from Egg Slut; make sure you go early to try to avoid the crazy long line (Grand Central Market is a gem, there’s sooo many great eateries there!), Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (Country Boy aka Obama Special), a Mint Mojito from Philz Coffee. The food is good but I absolutely love the ambiance at the Line Hotel’s restaurant Openaire. Escala is in Koreatown, come there ready to eat and party, because the food slaps, the music bumps, and the drinks hit! Tart is a vibe and their customer service is A1 and in the warmer months you can jump in the pool fully clothed for 50% off of your meal. I have yet to get a table at Watts Coffee House, but it’s totally on my list!
Lunch/Dinner: Go to Smorgusberg, have Hawaiian poke from Poke Etc., or an acai bowl from Bonzi Bowl. Super Mex serves one of my favorite taco plates, Fresh and Meaty Burger, In n Out (duh), Family Fish makes some amazing fried fish and seafood, Boiling Crab will always be a fan favorite, Sugarfish makes phenomenal sushi, Sonoratown’s tacos; chef’s kiss, expect a line, Chichen Itza makes what’s called a “panucho”, a corn tortilla filled with black beans and served with shredded turkey, and pickled onions. BCD Tofu House stays open late, any taco truck where you see a line, Yamashiro’s holds a special place in my heart, it’s where my parents had their first date. I see why my dad chose it, the food and atmosphere are to die for. Do yourself a favor and order the wagyu on a hot lava rock! That’s one of my favorite meals ever! Lawry’s Steakhouse, King Taco, Tamale Man (makes the biggest most flavorful tamales I’ve ever had), get a shrimp and potato platter from the docks in San Pedro, Tito’s Tacos, Porto’s Bakery, Taco Mel, Miche De La Baja for fish tacos, Little Jewel of New Orleans, a pastrami sandwich, chili cheese fries, and zucchini fries from a burger stand…I could go on and on!
Drinks: Sit outside as the sun is setting at Moonshadows in Malibu, High Tide is in DTLA, there you can grab a drink and watch glass blowers. Tempo Cantina for a margarita flight. There are lots of new craft breweries popping up all over the city. My absolute favorite non-alcoholic drink is from Oaxacalifornia, a Chamango.
Things to Do: Get a facial in Leimert Park at Skin by Dominque. Get ice cream from Smitten, Afters, or Ken’s Ice Cream. Sunken City is literally at the water’s edge. It was once a fully occupied neighborhood, but as the Earth began to shift, the homes followed suit. Now it is beautifully decorated with graffiti, trees, and the foundation for what used to be a community of homes. You can take a boat ride to Catalina island for a day trip and feel like you’re somewhere overseas for a day. The Broad Museum is one of my favorites in the city along with the Getty. After eating at Grand Central Market you should explore downtown LA, take a ride on the Angels Flight Trolley, visit The Last Book Store, visit the Arts District, Olvera Street (taquitos from Cielito Lindo), or Chinatown (strawberry cake from Phoenix Bakery!). Take a drive up PCH and catch the sunset in Malibu. Grab some from goodies from The Original Farmers Market at the Grove, see a Movie at the TCL Chinese Theatre, stargaze from the Griffith Observatory, go on a hike at Runyon or Escondido Falls, go to Universal Studios and transport to Hogwarts, or have a spa day at Glen Ivy or Wi Spa. Wake up early and go to the docks in San Pedro to purchase fresh seafood or equally as early to the Downtown Flower marts to get beautiful fresh flowers. Finally, the beach duhhh, my favorite beach is completely no frills. It’s called Cabrillo Beach. There’s one side that’s heavily occupied but on the opposite side there’s a lonely life guard shack, a tiny pier, and lots of boulders. You have to climb the boulders to get down to the shore. There’s usually hardly anyone down there so it’s a very peaceful place to come gather your thoughts and ground yourself. I tend to do this the day before I leave LA as it centers me before traveling away from my family; which even after being away from home for 10 years still makes me emotional.
I love my home so much!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to undoubtedly say thank you to my parents. My mother who bought me my first Easy Bake Oven and my father who built me my very own play kitchen. Mind you I said “play kitchen” not play house. This journey has been years in the making with those two behind my every “bite” of the way! I’d also like to shout out my grandmother; my first babysitter with whom I spent much time in the kitchen; learning and tasting. As my business has blossomed into something that lives outside of my mind my dear friend Sakiko Hill has been by my side. She is an incredible graphic designer, artist, and my creative soundboard. She has been on my team since day one and I owe her a lot! I want to shout out my best friend Taylor Heath who is another vital part of my team. Taylor is a PR professional and she’s been incredibly helpful as my business begins to grow. She has provided a ton of creative inspiration to the business as well. Lastly, I’d like to shout out my partner who is often forced into trying my creations with no forewarning. He’s always a good sport though! I’d also be remiss if I did not say thank you to everyone who has purchased, shared, or told someone about my products. I’m so incredibly grateful to you all!