Ann Arbor-based Cheeky Spices makes allergy-free eating taste good

Rita Shelley started Cheeky Spices after needing tasty, allergen-free spice mixes. (Cheeky Spices)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Cheeky Spices creator Rita Shelley missed eating her favorites foods.

Although she loved to make Thai, Indian and Mexican dishes, they were off-limits to her after an IBS diagnosis coupled with her food allergies.

Anything with gluten, garlic, onions, fats, salts and sugars was off the menu and she was left deciding between foods that “tasted like cardboard and higher quality cardboard."

Enter Cheeky Spices, Shelley’s own allergen-free spice brand that launched during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Each blend is vegan-friendly, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, non-GMO, low sodium and made without garlic and onion. Shelley said that the spice blends are made in an allergen-free facility in Michigan and are safe for FODMAP, keto and diabetic diets.

Currently, the brand has three to choose from: Lady Liberty, The Herbalist and The Silk Road.

Although the Ann Arborite created Cheeky Spices with food allergies in mind, her products are also enjoyed by a growing number of vegans and individuals looking for better quality foods.

"People really care about where their food comes from, what’s in it, why they should consume it and how it’s going to affect their bodies, " Shelley said.

Each Cheeky Spices blend is free of common allergens, sugar, dairy and is low sodium. (Cheeky Spices)

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Since starting her brand, she’s also discovered a secret fan base: Parents.

“The most frequently asked question every weeknight is ‘What’s for dinner?' And the answer most often is ‘I have no idea yet,'” she said. A parent herself, Shelley knows what it’s like to juggle the myriad of responsibilities parents deal with, in addition to making nightly meals.

“Having on hand a pack of spices that your picky eater, your health-conscious eater, your foodie all are going to enjoy has become kind of a household staple,” she said.

For those forced to restructure their lives around food allergies, Shelley said that having a quick-and-easy go-to, like Cheeky Spices, is important.

The Ann Arbor-based brand currently has three spice blends available. (Cheeky Spices)

Having lived in the Ann Arbor area for around 25 years, the Cheeky Spices owner said that the community-focused way of thinking embedded in Tree Town helped contribute to her own business.

Right now she partners with local grocers to carry her spices and collaborates with local hot sauce maker Jeff Mharg. She sells his piratey habanero-based hot sauce through her website.

Shelley met Mharg at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and decided his hot sauce had to join Cheeky Spices.

“It literally goes with everything," she said. “It’s absolutely delicious.” The hot sauce also meets Shelley’s allergen-free product standards, something many other sauces can’t do.

She said that her business philosophy and guiding principles are rooted in what she has seen while in the area, namely, local vendors working together for communal success.

About her brand, Shelley said, “It’s a little cheeky, a little fun. And that’s the Ann Arbor way, isn’t it?”

Cheeky Spices can be found at People’s Food Co-Op and Sparrow Market and By the Pound.

Learn more about Cheeky Spices on its website or check out its blog for recipe ideas.

A photo of Cheeky Spices at Sparrow Market in Ann Arbor. (Cheeky Spices)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.