oo-wildmans

New Hampshire (Ohio) spice company has a zest for service

Scott Gray’s zest for doing the right thing flavors his work and his personal life.

As the owner of Wildman’s Spice Company, the Auglaize County Farm Bureau member strives to find the freshest products for his line of spices, extracts and seasonings. As a churchgoer and mission trip participant, he’s grateful that his business is successful enough to feed his appetite for doing good.

Isaac Gray adds onion to the Chef’s Seasoning spice mix.
Isaac Gray adds onion to the Chef’s Seasoning spice mix.

In the early ’70s, when Gray’s father, Rod, began carrying the Wildman’s line of spices in their general store in the village of New Hampshire, he never dreamed that succeeding generations would earn their living selling spices. The elder Gray, a farmer, thought the products would be a nice addition to Gray’s Orange Barn, a small store the family owned that sold cheese, meat and oranges that his uncle grew in Florida.

At that time, the spice company was owned by a group of engineers who had worked together at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. The friends had purchased the business from the Wildman family. In addition to spices, they made toothpastes, skin creams and lotions.

In the mid-1970s the owners approached Rod Gray about buying the company. “He told them ‘Absolutely not,’’’ said Scott Gray. “They kept on him, until finally, dad offered them a price. They took it and here we are.”

Scott Gray started at Wildman’s, which the family moved to a historic building in New Hampshire, after graduating from Wittenberg University in 1981. He focused on upgrading the building so it could function more efficiently. The family continues to farm about 500 acres in Auglaize County. “It’s been a journey,” he said. “It’s been a fun journey with a lot of hard work. This business has been very good to me and my family.”

Today, they bottle, label and package goods at the company headquarters. They also create and blend a line of seasonings, including their wildly popular Chef’s Seasoning that flies off the shelf during grilling season. It’s a family favorite, too. He and his wife, Kim, sprinkle it on meat, salads and add it to soups.

Skyla (last name withheld) boxes 5 pound bags of Chef’s Seasoning spice mix.
Skyla, boxes 5 pound bags of Chef’s Seasoning spice mix.

“That’s what makes spice companies different from one another – their blends,” he said. “I always start out with the best stuff I can buy.”

Working through importers on the East Coast, the Grays procure spices from all over the world. They buy vanilla from Madagascar, cinnamon from Vietnam and nutmeg from Granada. Most of the herbs they use are grown in California but they use thyme from Poland and marjoram leaves from Egypt. “There are a lot of spice importers to buy from,” Scott Gray said. “We’re very choosy.”

While some companies continually look for ways to add heat to their rubs and blends, Scott Gray prefers a different approach. “I like a little heat but I always prefer to have more flavor,” he said.

Blending seasonings is a bit of an art, he said. “There are very strong flavors and very subtle flavors. You’ve got to know what percentages to use. It’s pretty easy to get too much or not enough. When you do it right, you can end up with bold, beautiful flavors.”

The focus on procuring the finest herbs and spices really shows in Wildman’s products, said Elsie Troyer, manager of the Mount Hope Country Health Store in Millersburg. She’s a fan of his parsley because it’s fresh and flavorful. Many of her customers rave about Wildman’s Mexican Spice, a zippy blend of spices, garlic and salt. “His product is a quality product,” she said.

These days, Gray’s oldest son, Isaac, handles much of the blending. He joined the business in 2013 after graduating from Bowling Green State University and working for a short time in marketing. He said learning the business and working alongside his father has been rewarding.

“We’ve had to transition from father-and-son relationship to more of a coworker relationship. It’s not without its challenges. We end up talking about the business at family get-togethers,” he said. “I really like the work. It’s a small business so you do whatever needs done.”

Scott Gray would like to see his two other children, daughter, Abbey, a nurse, and son, Luke, a student at Ohio State University, join the business as well. For now, he and Abbey have the chance to work together on mission trips.

His commitment to mission work has inspired many of his friends and business colleagues to help others, said Wynand de Wet of One Plus God Ministries in Marion. “The word I would use to describe Scott is sacrificial,” de Wet said. “He gives until it hurts. He sacrifices family time and resources and energy. His enthusiasm and his commitment to do more encourages people.”

Gray is grateful that his business has provided a means to support his family and his passion to help others. He also routinely goes to Haiti to help build schools and churches. His faith permeates everything he does.

“It changed my whole view on life. I started working for God instead of me. It doesn’t make sense that something like this exists in New Hampshire, Ohio,” he said. “I’d like to take the credit, but I’m not that good.”

Wildman’s Spice Company was featured on Our Ohio television.

Featured Image Caption:  Issac Gray, left, and Scott Gray stand in front of the Cox Process Company Spice Mill used by Wildman’s from 1915 until 1977.