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Spice business started with a pizza night

SYCAMORE – Twisted Taste, LLC, in Sycamore is a mom-and-pop business.

The company’s only two employees are Jim and Barb Hancock, proud parents of four children who serve as unpaid marketing ambassadors. Jim Hancock says that his seasonings are great for non-foodies who want to make flavorful meals themselves.

“If you’re just cooking for sustenance, it is a way to enhance the flavor of your food without a lot of effort," Jim Hancock said.

Twisted Taste smoked seasonings come in four blends: Smokin’, FaGhettaGarlic, Butt Rub, and Red Meat. The biggest seller is FaGhettaGarlic (said in a Brooklyn accent), followed closely by Smokin’. Their products are available at Hy-Vee in Sycamore and Riccardi’s Red Hots next to the Sycamore State Theater, as well as other retailers outside DeKalb County.

Jim Hancock got started in the seasoning business around Thanksgiving of 2011, when he smoked the peppers from his garden, mixed them with spices, and brought them to the neighbors' for pizza and beer night.

It went over so well that he ended up making 50 bottles for his neighbors, friends and relatives between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That mixture became his “Smokin’” seasoning.

Shortly after that Thanksgiving in 2011, Hancock’s 9-year-old daughter, Maggie, told Suzi Riccardi at Riccardi’s Red Hots in downtown Sycamore about her dad's seasonings. Riccardi decided to try them on her burgers and tater tots. They were a hit.

“We were just starting bison (burgers) at the time, so I thought it would taste really good on that,” said Riccardi.

Hancock decided to expand the production of his seasonings and ended up with a co-packer in Elmhurst, a small father-and-son business called Sentry Seasonings.

As he worked out the flavoring and blending with his co-packer, he learned a lot about everything that goes into creating bottled seasonings.

“The biggest thing [was], the first batch I got back I noticed soy oil and silicate," Jim Hancock said. "I didn’t want any soybean in there, because 95% of all the soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified, and I’m very much into keeping everything as close to the earth as possible.”

He asked someone from Sentry Seasonings why the soy oil and silicates had been added and found out that the soy oil keeps everything blended well during shipping, and the silicate keeps the seasoning from caking after you’ve added the soy oil.

“‘I got a crazy idea,” Jim Hancock said, “Why don’t we not put either one in and we’ll just put, ‘Shake well before using,’ on the label?"

Hancock’s network extends beyond the DeKalb County area. He has several friends who use Twisted Taste Seasonings in their restaurants, including Lucky’s Bar and Grille in Madison, Wisconsin.

In the near future, Twisted Taste is planning to expand their product line with a couple more seasonings and is also looking at going away from the bottles and labels and using bulk bags for packaging. The bags also would be biodegradable and better for the environment.

Hancock’s product has had a big impact on one local charitable organization, Feed’em Soup Community Project. They use at least one of Hancock’s seasonings daily, and it helps them provide high quality and consistent food, said Derek Gibbs, Executive Director of Feed’em Soup.

“Jim started donating seasonings to us," Gibbs said, "and the more we used them, the more we liked them.”

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