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Bill Penzey’s Spices Ain’t Nices

You can buy Penzey family spices, without the self-righteousness

You can buy Penzey family spices, without the self-righteousness

When I lived in Philadelphia, I used to shop at a Penzeys Spices [1] shop in my neighborhood. I was especially fond of their Bavarian spice blend [2]. Penzeys says the spice blend comes from, or is at least inspired by, the cooking of owner Bill Penzey Jr.’s grandmother. Nothing tastes better on pork loin or roasted turkey than that stuff. Just the other day I told my wife that I wanted to get some more of it for the holidays, and — not kidding about this — I was planning to go to the Penzeys website and order some by mail.

But: a reader just forwarded the latest e-mail newsletter from Bill Penzey Jr.. I had a vague sense that he was some kind of genial Ben & Jerry’s progressive, but I did not realize until reading this, then spending a bit of time googling, that he’s also a jerk [3]. Here’s what he sent to his customers:

Racism Update: At Penzeys we believe it’s not the use of tools that set us on a different path from the rest of the animal world; what has set humanity in motion is cooking. In our nearly a million years gathered together around the fire, cooking shaped our bodies and transformed our minds. Cooking unlocked our potential and gave birth to reason, to religion, and to politics and government. The kindness of tens of thousands of generations of cooks created our humanity, but racism, sexism, and homophobia can all very quickly unravel all the goodness cooking puts out into the world. As the voice of cooks, we will never sit idly by while that happens.
You may have read Tuesday Night’s email [4]. In it I said: “The open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election is now unleashing a wave of ugliness unseen in this country for decades. The American people are taking notice. Let’s commit to giving the people a better choice. Our kindness really is our strength.”
Since I ask you to read my emails, I feel it’s only right that I read each of your replies. In sifting through those replies it was clear that, though not intended, a good number of people seemed to sincerely believe that in my statement I was calling all Republicans racists. In the emails of those Republicans who voted for someone other than the party’s nominee, I sensed genuine pain at having the strength of character to not go along with what was happening, but nonetheless be grouped in with those who were. I apologize for writing something that caused you pain; that is not the person I want to be. You are your party’s future, and you deserve my admiration and respect, and your country’s as well.
For the rest of you, you just voted for an openly racist candidate for the presidency of the United States of America. In your defense, most of you did so without thinking of the consequences of your candidate’s racism, because for most of you the heartbreaking destruction racism causes has never been anything you or your loved ones have had to experience. But the thing is elections have their consequences. This is no longer sixty years ago. Whether any of us like it or not, for the next four years the 80% of this country who did not just vote for an openly racist candidate are going to treat you like you are the kind of person who would vote for an openly racist candidate.
You can get angry at everyone else for treating you like you just did the thing you just did, or you can take responsibility for your actions and begin to make amends. If you are lucky and younger family members are still coming over for Thanksgiving, before it’s too late, take a moment and honestly think about how your actions must look through their eyes. Simply saying “I never thought he’d win” might be enough. But if you have the means, leaving a receipt from a sizable donation to the ACLU or the SPLC accidentally laying around where you carve the turkey, might go over even better.
Or, just do what you do best and volunteer. Through our customers’ support, we’ve given away a lot of our Penzeys Pepper, the Pepper with heart. More often than not, those we meet cooking and serving food to feed those in need are Republicans. You really are a good bunch, but you just committed the biggest act of racism in American history since Wallace stood in the schoolhouse doorway 53 years ago. Make this right. Take ownership for what you have done and begin the pathway forward.
Thanks for reading,


Got that? Most of the people Bill Penzey meets serving food to the poor and hungry are Republicans, but a lot of them voted for Trump, and they’re going to have to prove their moral worth to ol’ Bill before he will give them a pass.

Well. I’m a conservative who did not vote for Trump, but I don’t want any part of Bill Penzey’s sanctimony and condescension. I’m not a big one for boycotts, and it doesn’t bother me one bit if a merchant holds political opinions opposed to my own, and advocates for his or her candidate or issue. That’s what America is about. But I’m not about to spend a solitary sou, farthing, or pfennig in the store of a merchant who has such open contempt for people like me. No, I didn’t vote for Trump, but as far as I’m concerned, I would like for Bill Penzey to assume that I did. I know lots of good men and women who voted for Trump, and the idea that Bill Penzey despises them puts me off of his business for good.

There’s a happy ending here. While looking around online to see what Bill Penzey’s problem is, I discovered that his sister Patty Erd and her husband Tom run a competing (but much smaller) spice business, called The Spice House [5]. Bill Penzey Sr. and his wife started the business in the 1950s, and Patty inherited it. Bill Jr, her younger brother, started his own catalog company, Penzeys. I have no idea what the Erds’ politics are — far as I know, they could be commies, or they could be Trumpkins — but they don’t seem to make a habit of getting on their high horse and insulting their customers. Even better, they make a Bavarian seasoning!  [6]

I buy all of my spices at my local spice shop, but they have nothing in stock like the Bavarian blend. I have just ordered some from The Spice Shop [6] for my Thanksgiving turkey — and if you’re looking for something different and delicious to try this year, I recommend the same to you.

This Bill Penzey reminds me of the proprietor of a neighborhood coffee shop on Court Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, when we lived there in the late 1990s. Cobble Hill is very much a liberal place, and the kind of neighborhood where people want to support the local guy, but this shop owner was so over the top obnoxious in his left-wing politics that he drove people away. You didn’t want to go there, because the guy couldn’t stand kids, and you felt that he was constantly hovering over you judging you for failing to live up to his extremely particular standards. When Starbucks opened down the street, that was the end of him, if only because Starbucks was happy to welcome moms with strollers, and you could sit and have your cup of coffee without being judged.

UPDATE: The Spice House folks have kindly written to invite this blog’s readers to become new customers. If you’ve never ordered from The Spice House [5] before, use the promo code NOPOLITICS to get free shipping on your first order. Isn’t that great?

173 Comments (Open | Close)

173 Comments To "Bill Penzey’s Spices Ain’t Nices"

#1 Comment By Hannah On April 1, 2017 @ 8:30 am

I agree with Bill. If you vote for a racist, you have to own it. I’m buying all my spices from Penzeys.

#2 Comment By mudwoman On April 8, 2017 @ 12:09 am

I’m with Bill. Thanks for having the courage of your convictions, and for being so concerned about the future of our great country. We are in very scary hands right now.

#3 Comment By Connie On April 9, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

I’m with you Bill. It’s hard to believe our citizens have elected a narcissistic racist as president. I will continue to buy wonderful Penny products.

#4 Comment By Thomas Wilmoth On April 17, 2017 @ 8:46 pm

I appreciate the thoughts of the author and agree with him to a large degree. I also did not vote for President Trump, but the hypocrisy and unashamed bashing are too much.

#5 Comment By Robin On April 19, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

Dear Mr. Dreher,
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
In the days following last years presidential election, I was one of the folks who received the above mentioned email and then quickly removed myself from his rant list! I then went in to a full on panic! Where in the world will I get my beef roast seasoning??? Luckily, I had just been gifted a huge quantity which I am now rationing and guarding with a steel safe, infrared light, 2 Dobermans and an armed guard!
As I was sprinkling my “P” cinnamon on my perfectly prepared iced latte, I decided I should be on the hunt for a new supplier! I googled “spice companies compared to Penzeys” and your article popped up! I was thrilled to read, not only your very well written piece, but the name of The Spice House! I immediately went to their site and guess what I will no longer be searching for? That’s right….beef roast seasoning! I have fired the guard and sent the dogs to rest!
Thank you very much!

#6 Comment By Linda On April 23, 2017 @ 7:22 pm

After Bill Jr.’s latest vicious rants attacking anyone who doesn’t think like him I sent him an email letting letting him know that I could no longer work for a company who’s President behaved in such a embarrassing and unprofessional manner and that I would no longer purchase products and support a company who’s President was so outwardly hateful and a big hypocrite because his “Being Kind” motto is only for people who agree with his political or moral views or are willing to be bullied by him.

Thanks for sharing the Spice House info as I will be getting all of my spices from them.

#7 Comment By Betty On April 28, 2017 @ 9:08 am

I live around the corner from Penzeys. My spice cabinet is probably 90% from Penzeys as I have been a loyal customer for years.
His latest rant pretty much was the last straw for me. I don’t care what your political views are. It’s inappropriate to try to jam them down your customers’ throats.
Interesting that there was absolutely no feedback after I too sent an email regarding this. They did, however, take me off their mailing list. Spice House has a new customer.

#8 Comment By a buonocotti On April 29, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

when this guy, bill, sent me that ranting email, i immediately demanded to be taken off the mailing list – paper & email. it took several attempts for penzys to recognize my requirement. i have since then found another equal or better quality ( and better-priced )spice merchant and am 100% satisfied with it. i have no clue of my new vendor’s politics and thats how it ought to be. bill penny crossed a line by disrespecting his customers. if one of his customer service employees did the same, he’d probably fire that person. so, i have fired bill penzey.
p.s. its been over 100 days with prez trump and we’re stronger & more respected globally than ever. that is FACT. i know – i travel worldwide in my business. bye-bye bill

#9 Comment By Sheila On May 3, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

I received his latest email today and it put me over the edge.
I am no longer his customer. I have switched to The spice House after sending this email to Penny.
‘Do NOT send me your political rhetoric as it is hate mail. I respect the people who elected this president.
Get over it. You lost!’
PENZEY is abusing his collected email address list to push his political agenda. I never agreed to that, spices only please.

#10 Comment By Laura On May 7, 2017 @ 11:34 am

I was a Penzey customer for 20 years. After the November rant, I emailed my thoughts and asked to be taken off the list. I now shop elsewhere. Bill Penzey is the worst kind of liberal–a mean hypocrite. His “kind” motto only applies to those who agree with him and think like him. Otherwise, he will name call, demean, and condescend. I want spices, not your political opinion.

#11 Comment By Morgmeister On May 11, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

I was just looking where to by more Penzey spices after getting some as a gift. Radical talking points are turning all sorts of people into crazed wacko’s. Mr Penzey must be sniffing too many spices. Spice House for me.

#12 Comment By Lois Courtney On May 16, 2017 @ 7:48 am

I’m done with Penzey’s for all the above reasons of my fellow Trumpsters.
Bye, bye Bill.

#13 Comment By Ginger Beckett On May 24, 2017 @ 5:59 pm

I found this article while searching reviews for Penzey’s spices. I’m off to order fresh spices from them and will feel good knowing that I’m not supporting an organization that feeds off of hate and ignorance.

#14 Comment By s. Towsley On May 31, 2017 @ 6:50 am

I am with Bill. This bog confirmed I made the correct choice to buy my spices.

#15 Comment By Celeste On June 1, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

Interesting how disturbed some people can be by someone exercising our First Amendment Freedom of Speech while at the same time they themselves are exercising the very same privilege. Perhaps this explains how they can also be so blind to Bill’s heartfelt discussion of the truly embarrassing problem of racism that has forever blighted our country.

#16 Comment By Sharon On June 2, 2017 @ 9:17 am

Bill is a JERK…..I’m done with Penzey’s. No one can tell tell me that because I voted for Trump, I embraced racism…that’s an insult. After all, who died and made Bill some sort of “god”…..

Get a life Bill…you’ve apparently been sniffing too many seasonings..it’s clogged your reasonings

you’re a loser in my opinion

#17 Comment By Jeannie Cass On June 2, 2017 @ 10:14 am

Go Bill!

#18 Comment By Gabrielle On June 17, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

Buy your spices wherever you like. Personally, I’m with Bill, who has as much right to express his opinions as does Rod Dreher (who has been known to go off on a rant or two). I like buying goods from people who speak passionately against racism and who are willing to risk sales for principles.
First Amendment applies to all of us. (And isn’t it ironic that Dreher is pushing a “NOPOLITICS” promo code?)
And if you think The Spice House (a place I have patronized) is not seizing a political opportunity here, there’s a bridge near Cobble Hill . . . .

#19 Comment By Bert On July 8, 2017 @ 9:04 am

You have allot of nerve all of you. You’re the bunch if prejudice hypocrites!
I haven’t spent a dime in Penzeys since this article last year and don’t plan to.
Thanks for the info on Spice House I’ll be ordering online from now on

#20 Comment By Tim On July 12, 2017 @ 2:54 am

The Spice House is owned by Bill Penzey’s daughter and her husband. Apparently they also have similar political views.


For those of you that are commenting that you don’t like politics in the products you buy, are you typing on an Apple or Windows based product? Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (and the current Apple executives) have donated heavily to leftist causes.

[NFR: I don’t care what the political views of the alternative Penzeys are. I just don’t wish to be lectured to and insulted by my ideological nut of a spice merchant. — RD]

#21 Comment By Vicki On July 12, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

I have known for some time Bill was pretty liberal but didn’t read through the entire email until the most recent one. I am insulted. I am a 61 year old white female, gainfully employed with the same company for 40 years. I am insulted and have unfriended Penzey’s on FB as well as unsubscribed from emails. I will find my pepper, cinnamon and hopefully a comparable Mural of Flavor from Spice House. He needs to practice what he preaches in the Love and Kindness categories.

#22 Comment By Denise DeSerio On July 16, 2017 @ 4:42 pm

I agree with Bill! In fact, I’ll shop at Penzey’s MORE often now (just got back from there in fact). Kudos to Penzey’s for taking a stand at the risk of losing customers. Those of you upset about his email have obviously not had anyone in your life affected by the much more open racism and sexism that Donald Trump has “normalized”.

#23 Comment By Jane On July 26, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

Just to be clear, I believe the owners of the Spice House are sister and brother in law to Bill Penzey, JR. who owns Penzey Spices. The Spice House was inherited by Patty Erd, from Bill SR. It was her brother Bill JR. that posted the anti Trump email. As noted by Tim on July 12th, Patty is the daughter of Bill SR. not Bill JR. I did not find the link provided to the “About Us” section of their web site as particularly political. Besides, I don’t care what their politics are, just as long as I am not preached to by someone I am buying something from.