Behind the Spicy Trump-Era Voice of Local Spice Seller Penzey’s

Milwaukee’s spice king perfects the melding of business with politics.

Penzey’s Spices has worn its left-leaning politics on its sweet-smelling sleeve for years, but only recently has CEO Bill Penzey Jr. found his voice in the Trump era.

Starting in early July, 2017, the business leader unloaded on the president in company e-newsletters and on social media, while expertly pairing the invective with free products, to avoid the appearance of profiteering on our supposed national decline.

July 6 was the dam-breaking day, when Penzey called the two-year anniversary of Trump’s campaign announcement speech “a good day to apologize to the people of Mexico and Latin America. That form of intentional racism designed to stoke fear and anger among voters should have raised huge red flags as to why this was not a candidate for the highest office in the land.”

Penzey offered free Mexican vanilla extract (an $8.29 value) both online and in stores. And sales spiked 1,600 percent for that day, he says, beating past holiday records to make it the company’s biggest sales day ever. Shortly thereafter, the company posted a recipe for a “Tsardust Nothingburger” using its “Tsardust Memories Russian Style Seasoning” – a warm patty topped with sour cream and beet slices, intended to poke fun at Republicans’ position that the special investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is like two slices of bread surrounding a void. ◆

‘Hot and Spicy’ appeared in the September 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.