Inside an ordinary industrial-looking building on the northern border of Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood, Suzi Sheffield and a crew of folks who call themselves “The Saltines” spend their days mixing up any number of the sweet and savory mixtures that are the stock in trade of Beautiful Briny Sea.
They might be mixing up French Picnic Salt with mustard, garlic and herbs. Or Hickory-smoked Campfire Salt with sumac, chili and cumin. Maybe it’s a batch of Friends Forever, a salt and honey mix. Or it could just be they’re concocting a whole lot of Pocketful of Starlight vanilla sugar, a mix that just won them a 2016 University of Georgia Flavor of Georgia Food Product award.
The whimsical names reflect the sensibility of founder Sheffield who named the company after a song in the Disney movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and designed a logo that features her father as a Naval Academy student looking out over the Pacific Ocean.
Walking into the kitchen, or “salt studio,” visitors are greeted with smiles and an intoxicating mix of pungent, floral, smoky, sweet and herbal aromas. Fifty-five pound bags of salt and sugar are stacked on pallets, staples of the kitchen that are ordered in batches of 2,500 pounds at a time.
And as for the exotic aromas? They come from the over 300 jars and tubs of herbs and spices that go into the company’s 15 different mixes. “We are currently using about 180 different seasonings. The rest are for our experiments. We have a big wall full of Mason jars and apothecary jars full of things we don’t use every day, but are here so we can play around with different ideas,” says Sheffield.
Sheffield founded Beautiful Briny Sea about six years ago when she returned to hometown Atlanta after running a small restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina. Coming home, she didn’t want to open another restaurant but she wanted to stay connected with the people she loved in the food business, particularly local chefs. What could she create that was shelf stable but still connected her to the things she loved? Her brainstorm was flavored salts. And sugars.
The first small batches were salts with single flavorings. Rosemary Salt. Mushroom Salt. Lavender Salt. The mixture have evolved to more complicated flavorings with the most recent addition being Sultan Papadopoulos, a mixture of curry, Greek herbs and Turkish spices.
Sheffield says her mission is to create a great product and just as importantly a great place to work where everyone treats each other well. She’s been just as thoughtful in planning for the company’s growth, developing a custom salt bar for Whole Foods Market and special flavors for Williams-Sonoma. all the while making sure these collaborations provide room for creative growth.
Beautiful Briny Sea maintains an open door for local chefs and bartenders. They can come into the salt studio and experiment to create their own custom combinations. Neighborhood favorite Six Feet Under mixes up its special blackening seasoning there. And the chefs from Gunshow came in to build a gunpowder black finishing salt.
What’s next for Beautiful Briny Sea? These days Sheffield is intrigued by sour flavors like those produced in fermentation and the flavor profiles created when combining elements that are earthy, spicy and sour.
Where to find Beautiful Briny Sea products? You can buy Beautiful Briny Sea’s mixes at retail locations like Cook’s Warehouse, the Beehive and the DeKalb Farmers market, or you can meet a Saltine or two at a local farmers market. They sell each week at the Saturday morning Peachtree Road Farmers Market. They are also rotating vendors - on one week, off one week – at the Wednesday evening Peachtree Road Farmers Market and the Saturday morning Freedom Farmers Market at the Carter Center.