Two years ago, Tawse, 39, had a very different Los Angeles existence: A freelance researcher for unauthorized biographies of Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie, she spent her days making calls and trawling the Web, "trying to find Angelina's junior high boyfriends," she explains. Though she felt a rush of pride with each new scoop, Tawse acknowledges it was "weird" probing strangers' lives so deeply. So she and her husband, Peter—a concert producer—started brainstorming ventures that would bring more stability and deeper psychological rewards.
Inspiration struck while Tawse, an enthusiastic cook, struggled with a recipe for tava, a casserole that Peter's Armenian mother made for him as a child. It called for exotic spices like Aleppo pepper and Urfa biber, but Tawse tried to wing it with what she had in her cupboard. The result was underwhelming. "I realized maybe other people had this problem, too," she says. There was no one-stop Mecca for international spices in the city. But a few months' research confirmed that they could be purchased cheaply by sourcing directly from importers, not distributors.
The couple opened Spice Station in December 2009, using their savings and money from a few investors. "It exploded within weeks," says Tawse. ("Tarragon sells for more than $17 an ounce at the supermarket. We sell it for $3," she adds.) Customers often pop in for a specific seasoning, then while away the afternoon, chatting with Tawse about the wonders of turmeric or relaxing on the patio near a lending library of cookbooks. "I feel like I'm selling something that's helping to enrich lives," Tawse says. "People get crazy when we're out of ghost chili salt." —Monica Corcoran
Next: Brewing up a bubbly new life