Local Polo: Spice trader offers fragrant wares


Did you ever stop to ponder exactly how much oregano is consumed at Christian's Pizza each week, or how much fennel seed they blend into the sausages at Foods of All Nations? How much of that sweet syrup do the Mudhouse and Java Java pour into steamers?

Patrick Mullarney makes it his business to know. As the owner of Bantry Bay Tea and Spice Co., which opened its first retail/wholesale location on Market Street earlier this month, he keeps some of Charlottesville's busiest kitchens, caf├ęs, and stores stocked with herbs, spices, nuts, vinegars, teas, and other specialty goods.

Mullarney, who's been in the spice trade since 1991, gets his basil and fennel seed from Egypt, his saffron from Spain, his mustard from Canada, his five paprikas from Hungary. He gets cinnamon from Vietnam because it has a higher oil content than the more common Ceylonese variety.

All roads on Mullarney's spice route lead to Market Street. Located in back of the eye-catching Gropen quonset hut building at 1144 E. Market, this no-nonsense shop manages to transport visitors to places much more exotic than Charlottesville.

Even before setting my eyes on bags, bins, and glass jars filled with deep red paprika, sandy cumin, golden turmeric, crystallized ginger, and whole nutmeg, the intoxicating aroma of hundreds of spices sent me into sensual bliss. Mullarney, who– when he's not out on delivery– spends his days measuring marjoram and pouring pepper, says that after 15 years, his nose no longer senses the shop's pleasantly overpowering scents.

A former personnel director in New York City, he was inspired to start Bantry Bay by his wife's Connecticut herb garden. After moving to Virginia, he ran Bantry Bay– named after the mussel capital of Ireland (and Mullarney's father's hometown)– out of their home in Troy for 14 years.

The new location, as well as help from production manager Amber Lively, allows Mullarney to expand his retail and wholesale business. As the only local spice company in town, Bantry Bay could have a niche all its own.

Since herbs and spices get significantly marked-up at grocery stores and national food distributors, Bantry Bay's prices are appealing. Mullarney says he averages 25 percent less than US Foodservice, for instance. Mullarney began carrying Da Vinci flavored syrups at the request of Mudhouse.

"Patrick's a smart man," says Christian Tamm of Christian's Pizza, whose Bantry Bay weekly deliveries include two gallons of oregano and about the same quantity of garlic. "He's the only one doing what he does in Charlottesville, and his prices are very good."

Chef Jonathan De Costa of Maharaja drives to Maryland once a month for his cumin, turmeric, cardamom, and Alphonso mango pulp. Unaware of Bantry Bay when we spoke last week, he says that a local alternative would make his life a lot easier. So, if Mullarney can find hard-to-find Indian products (like the Alphonso mango), Bantry Bay could be adding Maharaja to its 50-odd restaurants base.

Home cooks can purchase (small quantities) at Bantry Bay or in the spice aisle of Foods of All Nations.


THE BIG CHEESE: Feast! rises to "Top 20"

Charlottesville's own Feast! appears as one of Saveur Magazine's "Top 20 Cheese Shops in America" in the April 2005 issue.

"To be in a top 20 list that also includes Zingerman's and Fairway Market is a real honor," remarks Feast! co-owner Kate Collier.

Feast's cheese selection includes cheeses mentioned in Saveur's "50 Favorite American Cheeses," such as Everona Piedmont, made in Rapidan, as well as Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog goat cheese (CA), Old Chatham Camembert (NY), and cheddars from Grafton Village Cheese Company (VT).

Cheeses at Feast! are cut to order and tasting is encouraged– so why not start a top 20 list of your own?

Patrick Mullarney