At first glance, products from Saltworks in Woodinville seem to belong at a Nordstrom cosmetics counter. The names are similarly luxurious...

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At first glance, products from Saltworks in Woodinville seem to belong at a Nordstrom cosmetics counter. The names are similarly luxurious: Fumée de Sel, Bolivian Rose and Kala Namak.

The prices are right up there, too: Six ounces of Fumée de Sel retails for about $17.99.

However, these crushed bits of color are for flavoring food, not decorating faces.

They’re gourmet salts from all over the world, and Saltworks sells about 30 of them online and to grocery stores and restaurants all over the country. Last year, its revenues were $4.25 million.

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Owners Naomi Novotny and Mark Zoske don’t disclose profits, but they say their business became profitable in 2003, just two years after the couple launched it with about $2,500 and a spare bedroom in Sammamish.

Their timing is perfect, with restaurants and cooking shows touting sea salts.

Caterers have begun using sea salt as a palate cleanser for wine and cheese tastings, said Debra Lane, owner of a Seattle-area gourmet-meal delivery and catering service called Chef to Go.

She likes to put a mound of alaea, a red sea salt from Hawaii, on cheese boards at cocktail parties. “It only takes a few granules,” Lane said.

Zoske asserts all of Saltworks’ salts came from the sea at some point, even those now harvested from the Andes and Himalayan mountains.

“The Himalayan salt comes from a primordial ocean that was pushed into mountains,” he said. “It’s Jurassic sea salt, because it’s from that era.”

A sampler of 24 salts in a bamboo-and-glass case is available for $114 at Saltworks’ Web site, www.seasalt.com. It’s also sold by high-end online retailer Red Envelope ($165), Costco.com ($94.99) and others.

Saltworks sells about 35 percent of its gourmet salt under its own brands, which include Artisan, Pure Ocean and Le Tresor. The rest is private-labeled for grocery stores and other retailers.

Now Novotny and Zoske are launching a second company, FlavorStorm, that will sell salts fused with other ingredients such as chili peppers, vanilla and lemons. Unlike many flavored salts, these will not be coated with essential oils or mixed with bits of truffle.

Zoske is secretive about the process that will fuse the salt with other ingredients. It involves a machine that looks like a small cement mixer, and Notovny seems slightly skeptical that the whole thing will work as planned.

Her level-headedness tempers Zoske’s boundless enthusiasm. He’s convinced that FlavorStorm someday will be bigger than Saltworks, which also sells smoked salts like Fumée de Sel, a French sea salt smoked in old chardonnay barrels.

Zoske’s creativity has paid off before. When an early customer refused to take a large order because of naturally occurring black specks in the salt, he struck upon the idea of using a rice-sorting machine to filter out black specks and seashells.

The machine still sorts salt at Saltworks’ 28,000-square-foot facility in Woodinville. FlavorStorm will be in the same warehouse complex, around the corner from Redhook Ale Brewery and the Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The first chardonnay barrel Saltworks used to make its Fumée de Sel came from Ste. Michelle. “They just left the barrel sitting outside for us,” Zoske said. “I’m not sure they got why we wanted it.”

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Cost-U-Less President and CEO J. Jeffrey Meder is expected to be out of a job after a planned acquisition by the North West Co. Fund of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Bellevue-based Cost-U-Less disclosed in a preliminary proxy statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Chief Operating Officer Roy Sorensen and Chief Financial Officer Martin Moore also have no plans to be part of the newly combined company.

But to help them land on their feet, Meder, Sorenson and Moore will receive $385,000, $220,000 and $197,000, respectively, plus 12 months of health-insurance benefits, under severance agreements adopted in 2003, Cost-U-Less said.

North West announced in August it will buy Cost-U-Less, which operates midsize warehouse stores in Hawaii, the South Pacific and the Caribbean, for about $52.2 million, pending shareholder approval. — AM

Spokesman John Baird is leaving Blue Nile after seven years to write a novel. No word yet on his replacement. Baird began working with Blue Nile in 2000 while at a public-relations firm in St. Louis and joined the online jeweler at its Seattle headquarters two years later. He plans to remain in Seattle. — AM

The exclusive wine company Vine & Sun of Woodinville is taking orders for its 2004 Barons V Cabernet Sauvignon and will soon introduce a syrah called “Trophy Wife,” according to a letter it recently sent to a limited group of mailing-list customers. A few restaurants and wine shops also carry Barons V wine. Vine & Sun was formed in 2001 by five wine connoisseurs and is made by Matthew Loso of Matthews Cellars, also in Woodinville. — MA

Papa Murphy’s pizza chain has eliminated artificial trans fats from its entire line of take-and-bake pizzas, joining a host of national chains including Starbucks, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken that are stepping away from partially hydrogenated oils that contain artificial trans fats and contribute to heart disease. Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s operates more than 1,000 locations in 30 states and Canada. — MA

Bellevue American Music , which sells guitars, keyboards and other musical instruments, will open 2,000 square feet of additional showroom space next to its Overlake-area store in early October. To ramp up online sales, it’s also taking over 1,300 square feet of adjacent warehousing and distribution space, said owner Reese Marin. — AM

Kohl’s will hold a job fair Saturday through Wednesday seeking about 150 people to work at its new Redmond store, scheduled to open in November. The Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based retailer recommends interested job candidates visit www.kohlscareers.com or call 877-639-5645 to begin the application process and secure an interview slot. The job fair will be at Redmond Inn, 17601 Redmond Way. — AM

Beauty.com , a wholly owned Web site of Bellevue-based drugstore.com, has been redesigned for more personalized shopping, the company said in a statement. New features include a product zoom, touted as especially helpful for pairing cosmetics, and a fragrance finder that allows users to shop by scent categories, such as floral, woody or fresh. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com