Growing up in India, Meherwan Irani would take a week off of school each fall to help his family make a distinctive, completely one-of-a-kind fragrant spice blend – dhansak masala. The entire family would gather in his grandmother’s house to welcome the spice merchants, or spice wallah, who delivered jute sacks of chiles, seeds and barks. For days, the air would be strong with the heady scent of cinnamon, mace, cumin and coriander. Following hand-written recipes on scraps of paper, the seasoned home cooks oversaw heating the spices while younger hands helped with grinding. Always a keen observer, Meherwan noticed how spices, like produce, are part of the natural rhythm of the seasons and change from year to year.
Fast forward to the mid-90s. Meherwan moved to the States to attend school, and his charming disposition soon landed him in sales after graduation. But after 15 years in sales, he decided to return to his family roots in cooking. He moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and took up bussing tables at a family friend’s restaurant. The owner’s daughter Molly worked alongside him, and the two were soon spending time outside of the restaurant as well. It wasn’t long before they were married and settled in Asheville, North Carolina. Having served their time in the bussing trenches, Meherwan and Molly decided that it was time to take a gamble and open their own restaurant. His mother traveled across the world to teach the staff about the storied family spices and review the proposed menu of trans-Indian street foods.
The restaurant, called Chani Pani, opened in 2009 to near overnight success. Raves from local papers streamed in, and the Times and Bon Appétit soon followed. Only a few years later, a second branch was opened and Meherwan started to rake in not one, but three, James Beard nominations, one of the highest honors an American chef can receive.
In 2017, Meherwan found a commercial space down the street from the original Chani Pani and started on a completely new endeavor. The traditional family spice blend (along with many other blends) was packaged into colorful tins and made available for the public. Every blend is overseen by the master himself and processed by hand, similar to the way it was done back in his childhood. When it came to naming the company, Meherwan thought back to those storied spice merchants who used to visit his grandmother’s house: Spicewalla. Like those men, the company now delivers the best the spice world has to offer... just not in jute sacks.