Curious shoppers who venture inside Spiceman’s FM 1410, Tom Spicer’s unassuming storefront on Fitzhugh Avenue in Old East Dallas, could emerge with any number of things: a plastic bag full of fiddlehead ferns, a paper sack bursting with morels foraged from Central Texas, or even a single goose egg. What Spicer can’t grow on his own farm or forage himself he tracks down from a network of farmers and other producers—both local and far-flung—that he’s cultivated a relationship with over his thirty years in the business. Since he opened his doors eight years ago, in the same complex as Jimmy’s Food Store, a Dallas mainstay, the city’s top chefs have been ducking in for local and exotic ingredients. Spicer (who goes by “Spiceman”) has become something of a Dallas institution himself, with his produce regularly showing up on the menus of the city’s top restaurants, often with a reference to their origin (like “the Local,” a salad at the new ultra-hip Blind Butcher that features “Spiceman’s greens”). Sophisticated Dallas diners understand that a vegetable from Tom Spicer is no ordinary vegetable.
That’s because Spicer has a keen eye for quality and a sixth sense for tracking down the unusual. He says it’s in his blood. His great-grandfather Arthur Griffin was head gardener at Sea Verge, an estate in Rhode Island, where he grew an array of produce, including his own hybrid melons. Spicer, the son of a Navy officer and a Danish beauty, spent his early years in Holland and New Orleans with his six older siblings (his sister Susan Spicer is the James Beard Award–winning chef-owner of Bayona, in the French Quarter). After an early career as a musician, Spicer moved to Dallas thirty years ago and got a job “just stacking apples” at Bluebonnet Natural Foods, on Greenville Avenue. He soon began working for several local farms and discovered he had a knack for the business. By late 2005, he was ready to start something of his own.
Spicer is a salty character, with closely cropped hair and a tanned face. He can hold forth on organic farming or foraged greens for ages, and does so often while swilling a beer at one of his impromptu pig roasts or crawfish boils in his back lot. He seems both excited and grumpy about the locavore movement. “I’ve always eaten local,” he says. And he doesn’t have much patience for preciousness or “whippersnapper chefs” who wander into his store looking for some obscure item. “Stuff like finger limes,” he says. Showing up with a particular item in mind won’t serve you well here. Shopping at Spiceman’s FM 1410 is an adventure precisely because you can’t predict what will be on offer. “Tom comes with seasonality built in,” says John Tesar, the executive chef at Spoon Bar & Kitchen, who got to know Spicer seven years ago, when Tesar planted a garden in front of the Mansion on Turtle Creek, where Tesar was then running the show. “Tom will forage or grow or find something wherever he is. That’s his calling. He was born to be a farmer.”