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San Francisco Herb Co. provides wholesale pricing on bulk spices, herbs, teas, potpourri and other gourmet, organic products.
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San Francisco Herb Co. provides wholesale pricing on bulk spices, herbs, teas, potpourri and other gourmet, organic products.
Our Address:
250 14th Street,
San Francisco, CA 94103

Store Hours:
Monday - Saturday
10am - 4pm

[View a map to our Store]

Office Hours:
Monday - Friday
9am - 5pm Pacific time

Gourmet Spices, Herbs, Tea, Essential Oils and Potpourri at Wholesale Prices.

A Magazine for Food And Wine Lovers

EPICUREAN: A Magazine for Food And Wine Lovers

by Bill Kimball

A generation ago you had to go to Europe to find gourmet food products. These days you can find a wide selection at your local supermarket. The supermarket, however, can be an expensive source for some items like spices and herbs, so set out in search of a more reasonably priced source.

My inquiries led me to San Francisco Herb Company and it's east coast sister Atlantic Spice Company. Where a gram of Spanish Saffron in the supermarket cost me $10, San Francisco Herb Company sells a full ounce tin of it for just $34. For years I had tried to duplicate my mother's saffron rice without success for the simple reason that I wasn't using enough saffron (at $10 or more a gram it was prohibitively expensive). Now, thanks to San Francisco Herb Company, I can get all the saffron flavor I crave for a fraction of the retail cost.

Owner Neil Hanscomb, 55, a lean, tan, grey haired sailboard enthusiast, became a CPA after a stint in Vietnam, bought into the business in 1973 and became sole proprietor twenty years later. He's a man with tremendous energy and a passion for business, a happy workaholic who declares, "I'm a guy that gets excited on Monday. I'm ready to rip. I'm into it. It's allowed me to express myself. I'm a left-brained, numbers guy, not a speaker, not an artist, not a promoter...What I try to do is take it to the limit of efficiency."

He taught himself how to write software so that he could computerize the business back when computers were still a rarity in small businesses. Today he is constantly fine tuning the software to give him a competitive edge. Everything is tracked by computer, right down to the specific spot in the warehouse. Hanscomb has 22 computers and 15 employees to make sure that his customers can rely on a steady supply of 450 dried herbs and spices, spice blends, teas, baking items, nuts, seeds, dehydrated veggies, essential oils, botanicals and potpourri.

From the 26,000 square foot warehouse at 250 14th St., San Francisco Herb Company services the public with a small retail room, but the storefront is a fraction of the mail-order business. "In the Fall I'll do 4 to 6,000 pounds a day. In the off-season 2,700 pounds a day," says Hanscomb, whose storefront caters to the local cognizenti and some of San Francisco's finest chefs who come to hand pick from the huge stock of one pound cello/poly bags. All of the items are bought in bulk and bagged at the warehouse in San Francisco to lock in the freshness.

While cost is important, Hanscomb isn't buying second rate product. "I'm buying the best there is, utilizing all known factors," he declares. "I go to great lengths to buy..." figuring out just when to buy and how much to buy. "The point is that in the four star restaurant world the decision maker is going to go for quality. That world is driven by chefs and they've come to us by word of mouth." Fortunately for the rest of us, he doesn't sell solely to foodservice and there aren't two sets of prices for professionals and amateurs. And four stars don't get any better service than the person who wanders in off the street and buys a few items.

To cut costs he purchased the warehouse so he won't ever have to worry about a rent increase, and he has cut out the middlemen whenever possible, dealing directly with many of his suppliers, particularly in Egypt. "I get better chamomile, better dill seed, better dill weed from the Egyptians getting it myself, than I could if I relied on someone else," he explains. The lack of middlemen and the efficiency with which the company is run translates to better prices for his customers. "I market based on my cost. The difference between me and traditional...pricing is brutal. "I'm not just beating them...It's over 50%."

By the early '90's Hanscomb felt he needed exposure on the east coast. In 1993 he and Cape Cod sailing buddies, Mark and Eleanor Irving, bought a warehouse in North Truro, Massachusetts to found Atlantic Spice Company. Atlantic Spice has had great success with both the local restaurant trade and with tourists. The business has grown so much that the original warehouse has been tripled in size.

Combined sales for the two companies tops $4.2 million and the combined customer data base includes more than 30,000 names.

You don't have to travel to San Francisco or North Truro to take advantage of the great selection or prices, however, as you can either call the order desk or order online.

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