Seasoning’s greetings from Peter Urio:
Bottles of secret spice blends from the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. Treasured recipes handed down from the former Tanzanian’s father and grandmother.
Taste sensations Urio vows will wake up our jaded junk-food palates with multicultural zing.
“Americans know salt, sugar, pepper. Everything is salt, sugar, pepper,” says Urio, 51, who moved his family to Spokane in the mid-1980s.
“My spices don’t overpower food. They let you taste chicken and meats more than you ever have.”
Urio’s African Flavor Delight business is so much more than another wannabe capitalist dreaming up a new scheme to make a buck.
This is the saga of a humble man’s struggle to find a way out of the sticky web of the welfare system.
That milestone was reached last summer, says Urio, when sales of his spices grew enough to get his family off assistance. Today, with 300 cases sold and orders climbing, Urio dares to think he may really be onto something.
“I’d love to see this take off really good,” he says in a British-influenced musical accent. “But I just want a roof over my head. Food on the table. Kids going to school. Medical expenses paid. That’s as rich as I want to go.”
This is as grass-roots as enterprise gets. Urio and his family all have a hand in the spice business - from mixing the ingredients to selling the bottles at open-air markets.
Urio, a skilled artist, designed the attractive labels that show off a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro. Labels are glued and rolled onto bottles one by one.
“We’ve done everything on our own,” says Kristie, Urio’s wife of 20 years. “We’ve built it step by step and it’s gratifying now to see the response.”
He was born Sunguroi Kikyogoo Urio, the seventh of 13 children. His father, Athanasio, was a professional hunter in East Africa’s Momella National Park.
Urio now relies on a high-speed computer to keep his burgeoning business organized. But he grew up in the African bush, light years from technology.
“I never saw a store. I never saw money in action,” he says. “I saw one car. It was red so I thought every car must be red. They were all the same to me.”
When a leg wound grew infected, Urio was taken to a city for medical treatment. He was 11. It was his first look at urban life.
Urio laughs. “I saw donuts. I saw cars like ants. I turned to my father and said, ‘So this is London, eh?’ I went home and tried to tell my friends. They couldn’t relate to anything I tried to say.”
Curiosity and natural artistic talent took Urio to a different universe. He went to art school and eventually migrated to the United States to attend the University of Washington. He met Kristie while visiting Glacier National Park.
Missing the way food tastes in his homeland, Urio began experimenting with spice blends. A common Swahili saying - “Chakula ne viungo” - he says, translates into: “the root of a good food is in its seasoning.”
And so Urio began perfecting spice combinations, searching for the right balance. The results are wonderful blends that vary in zestfulness and use. Some are more for chicken. Others can be sprinkled on a meal like salt.
After a year of frustration, Urio believed enough in his product to give samples to friends. Their enthusiastic responses prompted him to take a chance.
Success may be a long way away, but Urio, if anything, is a patient man. Besides, he knows true success is not measured on a balance sheet.
“Intelligence is a by-product of humbleness. If you are humble you will learn,” says Urio. “An obnoxious person is never fully successful.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Peter Urio’s African Flavor Delight ($8 a bottle) is sold at a number of Spokane stores including The Big Mamu Burrito Co., 8 N. Howard and Harry O’s Fresh Market, 508 E. Third.