Kevin Scheuring

The Flavor Man

Kevin Scheuring has a lot on his plate. A character, by every measure and definition, easily spotted thanks to long blonde dreadlocks, tattoos, lip ring, and earrings of a gauge that makes most mothers squirm, he lives a food-focused life. Memorable both for his appearance and his outspoken, expletive-laced style, Scheuring is the founder and sole employee of SpiceHound, a mobile retailer of quality spices, herbs, chiles, and natural salts, and the barely paid manager and passionate advocate for the Coit Road Farmers Market in East Cleveland.

He believes food is the most important purchase we make and that everyone would be better off choosing it thoughtfully and preparing it from scratch. “You eat 1,000 plus meals a year,” says Scheuring, “Cook most of them yourself. Be bold, fearless, and creative and don’t be afraid to screw one up now and then.”

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That’s advice he follows himself, constantly experimenting with everything from making sausages and sauerkraut to canning tomato sauce and baking bread, and prompting his wife to once pose the rhetorical question, “Why am I married to an old ethnic woman?”

He didn’t start out this way. “I played guitar and bass in a rock band,” Scheuring says. “I ate tacos from a boxed kit. Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself as a guy who would sell spices and be seriously into food.”

Things changed after he got married. The couple bought a house in Collinwood, where he’d lived since 1988 and “a neighborhood,” Scheuring notes, “populated with other poor musicians just like me.” He became interested in eating well and became a regular shopper at the nearby Coit Road Market, whose roots reach back to 1917, when a group of local farmers began selling food from the backs of their trucks.

In 1932, the farmers formed a cooperative, bought property, and erected the long enclosed shed and covered arcade that’s still in use today. It is Northeast Ohio’s only permanent, enclosed, year-round farmers market. The place has survived economic hard times, white flight, the deterioration of the surrounding community, and the loss of many farmer member tenants. It almost closed in the 1990s. A last-minute rescue pulled it back from the brink and put it in the hands of a nonprofit, the East Cleveland Farmer’s Market Preservation Society.

“This market is underutilized,” says Scheuring, “but it’s so important that it is here for people. It’s a part of Cleveland history, and I actually think the original model—farmers banding together and running their own permanent market site—is a good one for the future.”

Once he began messing around in the kitchen, Scheuring developed a fascination with various ethnic cuisines and found himself driving all over town to get many of the spices he needed. A light went on. He saw an opportunity in his obsession and decided to become a spice vendor and set up shop at Coit Road. In the ensuing 10 years, he proudly announces, he has never missed a single market day.

He now orders in bulk from 20 different suppliers and offers an international array of products that include the familiar—garlic, sweet smoked paprika, onion powder, dill, mustard seeds, and cloves—and rarer, more esoteric items such as preserved lemons, Himalayan pink salt, dried habaneros, African Bird chilies, star anise, sumac, ground galangal, fennel pollen, and juniper berries. He can talk knowledgeably and at length about the specific characteristics of cinnamon from Vietnam and why it’s best to get nutmegs whole.

There is, he admits, a certain contradiction in being a self-described “hardcore locavore” and a seller of spices sourced from around the world. But we still want pepper, he says by way of explanation, and other flavorful ingredients that simply cannot be grown or produced in this area. And that’s okay. So he has no problem seasoning the meat, poultry, vegetables, and fruits he gets from area farmers with Tasmanian pepperberries, Mexican oregano, and Madagascar vanilla beans.

Everything is packaged in small $1 bags: quantity varies rather than price. Scheuring does this to keep things simple and affordable. The approach also encourages customers to experiment and discourages overbuying. “Old spices lose something. It’s best to use them up quickly.” The packets are set out in 216 compartments in a display case he built himself (it has that look). It was supposed to be a prototype, but he never seems to find the time to craft a finished version. When Coit Road is closed, Scheuring folds up the whole thing and carts it around to other farmers markets.

But the East Cleveland location is his priority. He took on the role of market manager in 2006. He keeps things running smoothly, manages the EBT program (Electronic Benefits Transfer that provides subsidies for shoppers), works tirelessly to promote the place, and does cooking demos. He helped establish a small urban farm and community garden on an adjacent plot of land and is trying to get a co-op up and running to house chickens that will supply participants with eggs. It is not, he admits, the most profitable use of his time, but he tells me “there are things that just need to be done, whether you get a paycheck or not.”

It was Wednesday afternoon at closing time when we met to talk. He had just finished cooking stuffed poblano peppers in the market’s “demo kitchen”—propane and butane burners, countertop convection ovens, no plumbing—for the dinner he’d share with his wife, Lynne, later. It speaks to the consistent theme in all that he does. Whether he’s selling spices, manning the office at Coit Road Farmers Market, or whipping up a meal, Kevin Scheuring is always thinking about how to make sure there’s something good to go on the table.

For a complete list of what SpiceHound stocks go to or stop by and see him any Saturday morning at Coit Road Farmers Market.

Recipes from Kevin Scheuring

Like their creator, Kevin Scheuring, the following recipes are unconventional in format and approach. He hopes people will draw inspiration from them rather than feel compelled to follow the directions verbatim. His advice—make them your own.