Brian Hepp has a thing for salt. Not like most of us, who when we crave it, reach for a bag of chips. Instead, Hepp has a passion for the nuances of salt. So much so that he's turned it into a business, called Hepp's Salt Barrel, which sells at local farmers markets, at a couple dozen local retail stores, and starting in August, through Sur La Table stores nationwide.
Hepp's got 24 salts in his Venice-based line right now. Some of them are single-origin finishing salts, such as the Portuguese Flor de Sal and Aussie Flake (the Portuguese has a dense flake and an explosive flavor, the Aussie is lighter and more delicate).
Most of what he sells are flavored salts that he has manufactured to his specifications, including his best-selling white truffle and black truffle salts.
It all started with a broke guy trying to figure out cheap presents. "I'd always played with different kinds of salts when I was cooking," Hepp says. "I thought I'd put them together in a gift pack for my family because I didn't have a lot of money."
He found that people were fascinated by the seasonings. "I thought 'Nobody else knows about all these different salts'," he says. "What if I could just share this with people? I just had a dream, a vision. I just thought if I could share this with people, it might be successful. "
He started selling five salts at a single farmers market a year and a half ago and within a couple of months had expanded his list to 20 salts and nine markets. Today, you can find him at the Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Larchmont, Studio City, Calabasas, La Canada, Yamashiro and Autry farmers markets. He also has a stall at the newly opened Crafted collection in San Pedro.
Greater things are in store. He's packaged his 10 best-selling salts -- white and black truffle, black lava, roasted garlic, rosemary, ghost pepper, Thai ginger, Aussie flake, Himalayan pink and a smoked salt called applewood -- and will be selling them through Sur La Table.
The salts come in 3-ounce portions and sell for $10 each, with the white and black truffle salts selling for $20.
Hepp has even earned the coveted CSA title -- Certified Salt Advisor. In fact, he's the only one in the world. "It's kind of a spoof," he says. "People were always asking me how I knew so much about salt. So I made up a list of 30 questions and guess what -- I passed it!"
Photo credit: Russ Parsons/Los Angeles Times