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Meet Tarkan Kardaslar of Spice & Tulips in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tarkan Kardaslar.

Tarkan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Sure, I grew up in a small town on the Black Sea in Turkey. I guess you could say we lived a kind of country lifestyle – we walked everywhere, grew most of our own herbs and vegetables, raised chickens, and got milk straight from the cow, which my mom then used for fresh yogurt, and after that, as the base for a variety of savory soups and sauces. Anything we didn’t have on hand or grow ourselves, we would trade with our neighbors or pick up from the local farmer’s market. That was my ‘food life’ growing up – fresh, organic, and delicious.

After moving to Istanbul and finishing university, I met my wife, Marissa. She is originally from CA and was working in Istanbul. In 2002, we made the decision to move to the US. Almost immediately, what I missed the most from our everyday meals was the spices. I would visit Middle Eastern markets looking for different dried chiles to compensate for the flavors I missed the most. I began experimenting with my own combinations of spices and herbs to recreate the flavors of my mom’s kitchen. Fast forward to 2014, with a line of signature blends ready to share with fellow foodies, my wife and I opened our “starter” shop in about 150 SF of space in Orange County, CA. A few years later, we moved into our current, larger space where we have expanded our concept to showcase the work of other local and international artisans. We have loved getting to know our new neighbors and customers in Old Town Tustin as well as catching up with our regulars that have been with us since the beginning.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
100%! Hahaha… no, not at all.

On the personal side, when I first came to the US, my English wasn’t even at a conversational level. My wife and I mostly spoke Turkish together. When we left Turkey, she received a job offer in Atlanta, GA so that was our first stop – for ten years. At the time, it was a new city for both of us, settling into a new home, making new friends… new everything really… and I struggled with the transition. I was 30, about to become a new dad in a place I hardly knew, working in a restaurant, I didn’t like, and trying to pass my driver’s test in a language I couldn’t speak. I was dying! Thankfully, within the first year, everything started to fall into place. I was hired by a small business owner to join his event design team, got my license, embraced parenthood, and started to speak English more fluently.

On the professional side, once we moved to CA and knew we wanted to open a shop, our first choice of location didn’t work out. We ended up opening in another location, which was probably for the best to start with, but it came with a long learning curve around leasing contracts, retail life, customer parking, etc. Funny enough, when the time came to leave that location, the landlord of the first location called us out of the blue. He’d never forgotten us and asked us to consider his building for our expanded concept. We took him up on it and haven’t looked back. Of course, when you’re running your own business, there are always day-to-day struggles – operations, marketing, growing pains, time management – but we do our best to take things one day at time, tackle the most urgent items first, after that whatever we can squeeze in while still remembering to take a little time out of each week to recharge.

Please tell us about Spice & Tulips.
Our shop, Spice & Tulips, is a specialty gift shop best known for its signature spice blends and Turkish-inspired goods. Whenever we decide to carry a particular item in the shop, it is either something that we already use ourselves and LOVE, or it is handmade in small batches from an owner-operated business that shares our passion for using the highest quality, chemical-free ingredients. Many of our partners are women-owned businesses, which we didn’t specifically set out to do, but it is something we’re proud of because they are all so talented and have been AWESOME to work with. In terms of what sets us apart, it comes back to our spice blends. Most of them have little to no added salt, some close to a dozen different spices and herbs that save you from having to measure 1/4 tsp of this and 1/2 tsp of that to season dishes. Just sprinkle, mix, serve – whether you are vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, pescatarian, carnivore – our mission is to make great tasting food at home easy to achieve.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Oh my gosh, so many, but if I had to choose one, it would be meal times. My mom is one of the best cooks I’ve ever met, ever known… she taught me everything, not so much in the traditional sense of telling me how to cook or how to measure or how to follow a recipe – there are no recipes or timers! The way she taught was more by understanding the ingredients you’re working with and trusting your knowledge of them, practicing using them, watching for the changes in color and smell as you cook. And if you accidentally add a little too much of something, there is usually a way to fix it. It’s a very symbiotic approach to cooking, less about perfection and much more creative.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Brooke Del Merari

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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