Oct 262017

Barkley Rafferty has launched the Royal Merchant Trading Company from her Uptown home. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Armed with her Tulane MBA and a love of cooking, 31-year old Barkley Rafferty recently launched an online and direct mail spice business, Royal Merchant Trading Company, which is supplying customers with amazingly fresh, high quality, hard-to-source spices from around the world.

“I started developing this product two years ago out of my frustration,” said Raffferty. “I love to cook. At New Orleans grocery stores I can find great produce, local seafood, and fresh bread. But I could never find the exact spices I was looking for,” Rafferty continued.

“I would discover wonderful recipes in the national food magazines like Bon Appetit but I could never buy the seasonings they recommended I use to cook the dishes at home.”

While a Tulane graduate student Rafferty had begun researching the grocery industry and looking for gaps that could be filled. She also began talking with her professor John Clarke, Dean of Graduate Programs at Tulane’s AB Freeman School of Business. Clarke reminded her of a Chicago-based loose-leaf tea company, Tiesta Tea, which sources exotic teas globally.

With Clarke’s guidance, she eventually developed a sophisticated business plan for a differentiated spice and herb brand that would offer authenticity of flavor and a unique flavor profile.

“Our products are for the more experienced home cooks especially those willing to take that extra step,” Rafferty explained. If the spice being purchased is mustard seed, for example, the seeds will arrive whole, to be ground when used. By grinding spices just before adding them to the skillet, the extra flavor comes out in the dish. If the spice requested arrive pre-ground, it would have been recently ground.

Rafferty also made the decision to package the spices in smaller quantities to that all products are “very, very fresh.” Spices can go rancid and lose their flavor. “We want to avoid that problem and give our customers the best experience possible.”

Rafferty believes that each spice packet will last at least four months for a family a four who cook three to five meals a week. “Maintain a loyal customer base is essential.” Each package also includes a “best consumed by” date on the front as well as the history of the spice and from what country it was sourced. Recipes are also included.

Rafferty quit her “day job” as a fundraising consultant for non-profits in December 2016 so that she could devote herself full-time to launching Royal Merchant. Professor Clarke has become a partner in the project along with Tiesta Tea owner Patrick Tannous, a silent partner, who uses his international suppliers to source just the right herbs. “We did enough research to find out where the best products came from and their growth patterns. Therefore, we can offer such delicacies as Rosemary from Morrocco, Greek Sea Salt, Pink Peppercorn from Brazil, Cardamon from Quatemala, and Mediterranean Aleppo (pepper) from Turkey.

Rafferty began a soft launch several months ago among family and friends with a monthly offering of five spices and accompanying recipes. She sets up outside the Hollygrove Farmers Market every other weekend to gather consumer feedback. Her website, www.royalmerchant.co, launched today.


Whenever a more “senior” person with power and prestige encounters a more “junior” individual who wants to move up in his or her career, sexual harassment can occur regardless of the industry. It takes great strength to stand up against such individuals, especially when whistleblower protections are not in place.

I remember meeting Arkansas’ premiere advertising executive when I completed graduate school. I wanted to learn public relations and this man – married and a pillar in the community – offered to hire me. When he suggested we meet in a hotel room, I was nauseated and moved to New Orleans.

I also remember meeting John Besh the first week he starting cooking in New Orleans for restaurant owner Vicky Bayley. She later opened Artesia in Abita Springs with Besh as head chef. With his boyish good looks, charm and well-defined palate, it was easy to see that Besh was extremely driven and headed to success.

A former marine who loved to prepare amazing meals with fresh ingredients he personally grew or locally sourced, Besh built a strong brand as a family man and farmer who attracted a wide following. Yet as his reputation grew, Besh must have drunk the Kool Aid of his own success and lost his way. From the reports now being made public, Besh strayed from the core values that once guided him and kept him centered. Obviously many of Besh’s male employees and perhaps even his business partner followed his lead, according to the allegations against his company.

Besh fell from grace but could still have it in his soul to rebuild from the ashes and re-emerge as a better man. This must include making amends to all those he injured especially his wife and children who are obviously suffering. Only then could Besh even consider returning to public life. Either way, Besh’s future path will be long and arduous.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.

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