“Flavor is at the center of food,” McKinley told Project Q Atlanta. “We remember something that smells or tastes like home. So when I create my blends, I remember those things that were important to me growing up.”
“I love when people come in the store and are talking spices and blends,” he added.
In a pandemic pivot, the shop is a far cry from what the couple’s lives were like two years ago. Brewington retired from a corporate job at Federal Express that November and started flipping houses. The following March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and McKinley’s medical sales employer laid him off.
McKinley couldn’t find another corporate job that he could connect with. Then he thought about his love of spices. He could start his own business doing what he loved and use his background in sales, marketing and product development to make it happen.
Southern Roots Spice Shop opened as an online store in July 2020. In March of this year, McKinley and Brewington opened their 3,000-square-feet bricks-and-mortar shop on Clairmont Road.
They offer more than 300 global spices and blends, as well as handcrafted coffees and teas.
Tea parties and best blends
The biggest thing McKinley learned since opening Southern Roots is juggling all his duties as a business owner.
“I’m having to really remove distractions and be hyper-focused,” he said
McKinley and Brewington also had to learn how to work together for the first time after 25 years as a couple. A sense of humor helps, according to McKinley.
“I think that can keep down the real frustration,” he said. “We really balance each other out.”
McKinley loves engaging with customers and finding the right spice for each one.
“It’s never my goal to get you to cook more,” he said. “It’s that when you cook, it’s elevated more.”
Southern Roots Spice Shop’s most popular blends are the Garlic Garden and Blackberry Blend. McKinley has a couple of new ones lined up for the fall, including the Chili Bomb.
“Because it makes the bomb chili,” he said. “It’s a mouth explosion. It’s smoked chipotle powder, ancho chili powder and medium chili powder mixed with spices.”
Southern Roots Spice Shop is also busy hosting events that just may spice up your own activity schedule with something new.
“We do spice tastings and Queen Victoria-style tea parties,” McKinley said.
McKinley and Brewington aren’t the only LGBTQ Atlanta couple that made a pandemic pivot. Atlantic Grill patrons Sean Bishop and Reggie Stotts bought the restaurant, Kristin and Missy Koefed of 18.21 Bitters created hope from hardship, Virgil’s owners Juan and Gee Smalls expanded into breakfast and brunch, and David Wilmott and Darnell Morgan opened Forks & Flavors in Kennesaw. Melvin Buchanan and John Graves made a Pride pivot.
(h/t The Reckoning)