Bill Penzey, Jr. founded Penzeys Spices in 1986 and followed in his parents' footsteps. William Penzey Sr. and Ruthann Penzey opened The Spice House, a specialty spice store in Wauwatosa, Wisc., in 1957, where Penzey Jr. first worked as a young man.
Penzey unabashedly shares his political views with his customer base. He has criticized former President Donald Trump and has promoted racial justice.
Bill Penzey founded Penzeys Spices.
Penzey opened his mail-order version of Penzeys Spices at the age of 22 in 1986. Previously, he opened a small shop in New York in 1984, Forbes reported, which failed. For the mail-order business, Penzey was frugal and sought to keep overhead low. The business grew steadily, which led to the first retail store location by 1994.
Currently, Penzeys Spices operates brick-and-mortar store locations as well as online shopping options for loyal customers. Although it reached a peak of 67 retail locations in 2012, the COVID-19 pandemic led to some permanent store closures, which left the company with 53 locations.
Bill Penzey mixes business with politics.
While many business owners shy away from disclosing personal and political views, Penzey has been outspoken about the causes he supports. For example, a New Yorker piece reported that Penzey launched a giveaway of Mexican vanilla extract two years after Donald Trump's campaign, when he called Mexican immigrants "a tremendous infectious disease."
Penzey has used his public platform to critique America's mass shootings and to celebrate marriage equality. Other promotions and commentary have supported issues like truth in science and praising Democratic election victories.
Penzey sent a customer newsletter in the fall of 2020 saying that he intended to "loot" his own stores and send free inventory to food pantries. In his explanation, Penzey said, "Human life means everything; stuff, not so much." The initiative was in response to Kenosha business lootings after the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Penzey has spent money on anti-Trump ads.
In 2019, The New York Times reported that Penzey had spent the second-highest total on Facebook ads related to Trump and impeachment. He came in second only to Trump himself, who spent over $700,000 in pro-Trump advertising. Penzey clocked in with $92,000 in spending on Facebook advertising from September 29 to October 5, 2019.
Publicly available data about Facebook ads also revealed that Penzey spent almost $120,000 from October 2–8, 2019 on blatantly anti-Trump ads. One of the ads read, “This week the curtain was finally pulled back on how deeply un-American the Republican Party has become.”
How much is Penzeys Spices worth?
Since Penzeys isn't a publicly traded company, there's little financial information available on its revenues and value. The founder has said in the past that his strong political stance might have lost some customers while gaining others in the meantime. Penzey's net worth isn't known but it's likely in the millions.
Penzey refuses to be silent on social issues. In 2019, he said, “If you are a company and you have values, now is the time to share them.” For MLK Day in 2022, the company promoted "Republicans Are Racists" Weekend.
His sister, Patty Erd, who took over their parents' business in 1992, prefers a non-political stance. The New Yorker noted that she offered a promotional code to customers—NOPOLITICS—in response to brother Bill's vocal behavior.
When Penzey shared criticism of Trump and his supporters with customers, a Facebook boycott group formed called "Goodbye Penzeys" which still exists.