literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

At The Table With...Tom and Jim of Urban Accents Seasoning Blends [+ Giveaway!]

At The Table With...Tom and Jim of Urban Accents Seasoning Blends [+ Giveaway!]

Today we're spicing things up with Tom Knibbs and Jim Dygas, the president and chief creative of Urban Accents, an inventive, Chicago-based seasoning blends company. I have a special place in my heart for entrepreneurs since I spend my day job telling their stories, and learning about how Tom and Jim started Urban Accents turned me into a fan. It all started with Tom lost his job in 1996 and decided to strike out on his own (with his partner Jim's help, of course). The rest, as they say, is history. Urban Accents is known for its seasoning blends (Chicago Steak & Chop, anyone?!) but I spied some popcorn and seasoning on their site that got my mouth watering... Read on to get to know Tom and Jim!

PS: Scroll down for a special Urban Accents giveaway!

What is your all-time favorite book?

Tom:Trinity by Leon Uris – I’ve read it every few years since college. 

Jim: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet — I love the fact that is was one part history book, one part architectural textbook, and three parts "Dynasty." 

What meal do you love to cook?

Tom: I am a fanatic about family Thanksgiving dinner. I have to cook everything except the desserts. And I don’t like a lot of help. Has to be done my way.

Jim: I love to cook weeknight meals — finding something in the cupboard, pairing it with one of our spice blends and whipping something quick and interesting. All the meals usually have garlic, onion and fresh lemon in them. 

What is your favorite food scene from a book?

Tom: OK – not a book but how about those dogs eating spaghetti from The Lady and the Tramp? Or the restaurant scene [in The Godfather] where Michael Corleone shoots the police captain and the mob boss to finally show he is going to cross the line and join the family business.

Jim: I just finished The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. One of the characters almost dies from an allergic reaction from an excessive food tasting with his depression meds. It stuck with me how powerful and hidden flavors can be.

Coffee or tea?

Tom: Coffee – hot and black and lots of it.

Jim: Coffee in the a.m. and I love iced tea in the afternoon. Iced coffee creeps me out!

What is the last book you abandoned?

Tom:Days of Fire about Bush and Cheney in the White House. Just too depressing to get through.

Jim:Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe.  I am a fan of Wolfe but this Miami Vice [sic] book was filled with pages of sound effects — onomatopoeias that go on for sentences "....he coughed accccckkkkk---grulb psplatttttttttttttttttttttttt."

Author you'd most like to meet for dinner, and your order?

Tom: (Alive) John Le Carre – Martinis and maybe an olive but martinis for sure. (Dead) Gore Vidal – the menu would be the same.

Jim: John Irving — over a big New England dinner of lobster mac and cheese.

Where do you go to find new recipes? 

Tom: Lisa Kamerad (Urban's VP of Marketing). After that, America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated, Bon Appétit and the New York Times.

Jim: Big Epicurious fan for functionally....but love the food porn in magazines. Bon Appétit has been visually exciting lately — great fonts and design, stunning photography and recipes have become less arduous. 

New reads?

Tom: New York Times and used bookstores.

Jim: Amazon but again I like a good bookstore — most of my finds are from airport bookstores.

Tell us about your company — the inspiration for it, why you do it and your favorite aspects.

Tom: Being a part of creating Urban Accents has been the highlight of my life. We literally started in our basement with a big Tupperware bowl mixing spices. I’ve had friends and family help throughout the years. Each year we try to get better and better. We strive to exceed the expectation of all of our stakeholders — employees, retailers, consumers, associations and the rest of our “community” however big or small that may be. My favorite aspect has been creating a company from scratch with my partner, Jim Dygas, of which we are proud. Proud of our employees and how they make up the soul of the company. Proud of the products we make because they are truly exceptional. Proud of the retailers that sell our products because that allows us to continue. Proud of the consumers who purchase our products because they experience the finished products we create and I’m proud that we will be around for years to come, doing the same things we love to do.

Jim: Tom's passion for cooking is the backbone of the company. His family would go to great restaurants as a child and the kids all learned to cook. As a designer I always wanted to own a brand — be responsible for not only the graphic content but the culture behind it. I think it's exciting that we work with the country's best retailers and people and what we create gets to shelf quickly and either lives or dies right before our eyes. We get to identify trends and figure out how we connect as a brand. Sometimes we're way too early and we don't see the sales materialize but I love being the most creative player in the centuries-old spice trade.

What are your favorite food companies, and why?

Tom: I love all big shapes of dried pasta imported from Italy. I’ve also become a little obsessed with KIND Nut bars because of the low sugar.  

Jim: I've just discovered Cornelia and Co. They have just launched a stunning new two color packaging line and their brand integration with their store and website is flawless. Bolthouse Farms is on my radar for their innovative ways of marketing, web design and their Food Porn Index is amazingly creative.

Connect with Tom and Jim: Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Urban Accents Veg Head Trio


We are partnering with the Urban Accents team to give away a Veggie Spice Trio Gift Box to one lucky PAPER/PLATES reader! The box includes three blends best suited to veggies. They are: Heartland Pepper & Garlic, Thai Heat Stir Fry and Herbes De Provence.

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win the gift box ($19.99 value). Entries are open to U.S. residents. The more ways you enter, the better your chances of winning! Winner will be selected at random and contacted directly.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

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