Spokane Journal of Business

Meet & Greet with Spicelogy’s Darby McLean


  • Print Article

Darby McLean, president of Spokane-based Spiceology Inc., has been appointed the spice company’s CEO as of July, cementing her position as the fast-growing company’s highest-ranking officer.

She had assumed the role of president in August 2022 after Chip Overstreet retired following a three-year tenure as CEO. Previously, McLean was the company’s vice president of channels and distribution.

McLean, 47, was born and raised in Cheney, 14 miles southwest of Spokane, where her father was the chief of police for 27 years, and her mother was a middle school counselor. She attended Bellevue Community College in Bellevue, Washington, and returned to her hometown to complete her undergraduate studies at Eastern Washington University, where she graduated with a degree in microbiology and a minor in chemistry.

Upon graduating in 1999, McLean joined the bio-tech startup GenPrime Inc., where she began her career as a scientist and rose to become the medical diagnostics development company’s chief operating officer and chief technology officer.

McLean joined Spiceology in early 2020.

The Journal recently sat down with McLean to discuss her new role, her science background, and what’s next for the spice company.


What made you leave biotech after 20 years for Spiceology?

I had been there a long time, and I’d done many things. It was a great experience for me working in a startup where you wear many hats. While we were a small innovative instruments company, it allowed me to have exposure to work with mainly larger companies, like Tyco, Smith’s Detection, Echo Lab, Abbott Labs, and LabCorp. The real point of transition for me came when we had just completed a large project for Abbott Labs. We had made them a custom diagnostic instrument, and also signed a new contract to do one for LabCorp. I knew what the next few years of my life would look like, and I was ready to do something new and exciting.

I had heard about Spiceology. It’s hard to not know about the wonderful creative things that were happening here. I came in on the sales side to help scale it out to be a larger mainstream company.


How have you helped grow Spiceology to a larger mainstream company?

I think Spiceology was really at a place of development. When I started, there were 34 full-time employees the company was growing from $2 million in annual revenue to $5 million. Today we have about 80 full-time employees and the projected annual revenue is $22 million.

The heartbeat of the company is still its culinary focus on creative product development. But behind the scenes, in order to be a national and even an international brand, there is a lot to support those efforts. We’ve had to work on our business systems. We’ve had to get our enterprise resource planning software up and running, and we must have customer relationships management on the front end. Our distribution channels are indirect to the consumer or direct to the chef. Food service is also a huge part of our business. We’re selling delicious flavors to chefs, restaurants, and warehouse stores.


Do you miss working in science?

I feel that I do science all the time. We have a lot of automated equipment here. It’s a facility full of examples of electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering. It’s fun to see how that works.

Spiceology is also very data driven in every part of our business. I have learned about how you get insights from your customers about what to make, what they need, and what they’ll find delightful. We also use data on our supply-chain side, locating where raw materials are moving and how quickly they can get in and around our facility. I feel I do science every day. And then I guess I look at the periodic table of flavor.


Who are your mentors?

I really have been lucky that I’ve had the best of the best. Starting in college with my professors who became entrepreneurs in the Spokane ecosystem. They had a little startup while I was finishing up my degree. Back then there was an organization called SIRTI, which stands for Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute. They applied for a grant through SIRTI and received it. SIRTI was unique because, in addition to providing dollars, it gave you incubator space, and for high-tech startups that can be important because space is really expensive. My first job out of school was working with people who were already fantastic mentors in my life. And then I got to learn business by doing business in a field that I love. That’s how I got my start.

During the course of my career, I’ve worked with some of the most lauded top-performing companies in the country and had a lot of exposure to smart, fantastic people through those experiences.


What obstacles do you foresee in your new role?

They’re the fun kind of problems whenever you have a company that is growing as quickly as Spiceology. We have to be able to anticipate our needs and change quickly and be able to predict our growth.

You want to grow responsibly and be able to follow through with an experience that the customers are expecting. We are challenged in a fun way with making sure we can always deliver. And there’s a lot that goes into that.


What’s next for the company?

I’ll give you a hint because I’m so excited: Spiceology is going to go cross category, and we are coming out with a hot sauce. It’s going to be unique, true to the Spiceology spirit. It’s going to be a flavor that is completely different from anything you can get today.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Karina Elias
  • Karina Elias

  • Email Karina Elias
  • Follow RSS feed for Karina Elias

Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list