Monica Grover ’99: Flavor, Health, Soul

Every morning, just as dawn is beginning to light up the sky, merchants unload goods and set up stalls in markets all over the world. Each region of the earth has its own special blend of smells that fills the air as baskets of spices, herbs, and fresh produce are set out. In the bazaars of New Delhi, the color of the saffron competes with the bright fabrics of nearby stands. The air is pungent with cumin, curry, and coriander. In northern France bright red festoons of the mild piment d’espelette pepper hang to dry in the sun, later used to flavor sauces, aged cheeses, and dried meats. People congregate in the markets; they greet each other, exchange news, and purchase their food and the spices to flavor it.


Monica and her husband, Ivan.

It was the energy of these markets that inspired Monica Grover ’99 and her husband Ivan to leave the world of nine-to-five careers and open Bazaar Spices in Union Market, Washington, D.C. Not only are they helping D.C. residents make great-tasting, healthy food, they are also seeking to replicate the interconnectedness that markets provide for communities elsewhere. “Our approach is not only to offer a diverse assortment of high-quality spices, herbs, botanicals, rice, flours, and lentils from around the world,” says Grover, “but also to educate and be educated about these wonderful natural gifts.” As much as Grover and Ivan like to help their customers select the perfect spices for whatever they are making, they also love to hear stories about the meals and memories made with their ingredients.

When Grover studied abroad in Italy, she was struck by how often human connections and food were inextricably linked. She recalls a time when she and a friend were invited to watch a soccer game with the family that owned the hostel at which they were staying. “It was all about family, food, and soccer. They effortlessly extended their hospitality and warmth without skipping a beat.” The adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit that she cultivated at Mount Holyoke was essential when she finally decided to follow this long-time passion of hers. Of opening her own business she says, “I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been rewarding and challenging at the same time. I’m excited about what our business endeavor will look like in six more months. I’m confident that we have really stumbled upon something and I’m excited about it.”

—By Zanna McKay ’13

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One response to “Monica Grover ’99: Flavor, Health, Soul”

  1. Julie Dole (@JewelDole) says:

    Ms. Grover’s comment about noticing the Italians’ socializing around food reminded me of a book I bought recently, called Everyday Traditions: Simple Family Rituals for Connection and Comfort. It’s out of print now, but used copies can easily be found on Amazon and elsewhere.

    The author and others mention how the family dinner serves as a key bonding ritual. The demise of the family dinner is mourned by social commenters as likewise contributing to the demise of the bonds within the modern family. Community advisors in troubled neighborhoods currently counsel local parents in skills that include reviving family rituals, including family dinners, to help bond and guide the family. In fact, an article about reviving family rituals as part of parenting skills sent me online to buy the book I mention!

    Maybe Ms. Grover’s shop could include these sorts of books, and/or mention of the benefits of family dinners in her shop and blog? Of course, suggested menus and spices would be included. 🙂