The idea was simple: Create a blend of spices for
foolproof potato salad that anyone could use. But there was a catch:
Use no additives or preservatives, and still feature shelf
stability. Professional pilot Alan Swan and his wife, Laura, who
works in corporate retail, achieved their goal, and together,
they’re now expanding CJ’s Premium Spices, looking to reach more
home and commercial cooks.
The pair sat down with M Magazine at a local
restaurant for lunch, bringing along samples of their finished
potato salad, dill dip and onion dip. (And there weren’t any
leftovers for the Swans to take home.)
Tell us how the
Alan: I’m a professional pilot, and I privately fly
the top 1 percent of the world, and I’ve been inspired by them. I
was working with another pilot, who had this great recipe, and there
was no other potato salad mix out there.
Laura: We eventually bought out the pilot (whose name
was Captain Jeff).
Alan: We changed the name from Captain Jeff to CJ’s,
and it worked out because our son’s name is CJ.
Laura: Our daughter, Hannah, (now) wants to have
something named for her.
Alan: The problem with most spice packets is that
they’re pulverized, so the ingredients stick together. Then
(companies) have to add things like silicon dioxide, which is like
sand, so (the ingredients) flow out of the packet. They’re also
usually packaged in foil packets, so you can’t see the (bad
ingredients). Our mixes look as great as they taste, so we want
people to see them.
additives, preservatives or chemicals, your mixes are gluten-free,
kosher and organic. Anything else to note about them?
Alan: They’re not pulverized. They’re whole spices,
and our potato salad mix contains 12 ingredients, while our dips
contain 11 each. No other mixes out there have that many spices. And
while you could replicate them in your kitchen, it would cost you
$65 to buy each ingredient individually. We also have a patent
Are you both big at-home cooks?
Alan: No, and that’s why this is great — even I can
make it. If you follow our three steps, you can make our potato
salad in 21 minutes, taking 18 to boil the potatoes, and it’s
delicious every time. It’s scratch cooking in a bag. Our tagline is
“culinary joy in a packet.”
Laura: We always have homemade dip in our
Where can people
get your spice blends?
Alan: They’re in all the Sendik’s stores, Good
Harvest (Market), Albrecht’s Sentry in Delafield, and other stores
throughout the state. We’re also at Camp Randall Stadium and the
Kohl Center in their luxury suites. We also are at some farmers
markets, and we are in some restaurants, food service and catering
companies. We’d like to get in more stores, and we really believe
our product is ideal for fish fries and catering companies. Often,
potato salad is the worst (side dish) for a catered event.
Laura: It’s just a matter of breaking in. We’re at
the Wisconsin State Fair, and that’s created a lot of excitement
about our product.
Alan: And we can’t explain it over the phone — you
have to taste it. I’ve even had people who don’t like potato salad
taste ours, and they love it.
Laura: We have a team of women who go out and
demonstrate in stores. We call them the “spice girls.”
Do people use
your spice packets for things other than dips and potato salad?
Alan: They’ve cooked salmon with our dill mix; our
onion dip has been used as onion soup in beef dishes and in pot
roast — it’s delicious. They’ve also used the onion in chicken and
pork (slow cookers). People have used our potato salad mix in potato
soup, in faux potato salad using cauliflower, in scalloped potatoes,
mashed potatoes and pasta salads.
Any suggestions for cooks?
Alan: Follow the
three steps. Mix the spices with the mayonnaise before adding the
potatoes. You don’t have to even peel the potatoes if you use
thin-skinned potatoes like reds, Yukon Golds, Klondikes. But russets
are for baked potatoes and are not so good. Also, rinse the potatoes
off in a colander with cold water first to cool them down. You don’t
want the mayonnaise to curdle like a gravy.