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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024
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@work – St. John Spice

Ron Piccinin and Ruth Ernst hold a jar of prize-winning Cruz Bay Grill Rub. Visitors on an Internet travel forum rave about Cruz Bay Grill Rub, so it’s no surprise that St. John Spice recently received a third place Scovie award in the dry rub/seasoning-all purpose category.

The awards are handed out annually by the website www.fiery-foods.com.

"It’s pretty cool," owner Ruth Ernst said.

She began developing the Cruz Bay Grill Rub around 1999 by mixing up small batches to see if they’d sell. She tweaked the recipe until she came up with one that captured the prize.

"You can’t believe how much of this stuff sells," she said.

While it comes in small-sized packages, grill aficionados can also buy it in pound-sized tubs.

According to Ernst, the interest in grilling that began in the 1980s hasn’t gone away. She said that customers buy Cruz Bay Grill Rub along with other rubs to use while on their St. John vacation but also when they get home.

"More and more people grill all year," she said.

Ernst, 50, and her partner, Ron Piccinin, 58, bought St. John Spice in 1999. In 2005, they moved the shop from Wharfside Village to the Dockside building adjacent to the Cruz Bay ferry dock.

While the store and its sister shop, St. John Spice Too, sit on the second floor, Ernst said that usually unpopular retail location hasn’t deterred people from trekking up the stairs.

Ernst credits the store’s success to the fact that her goods are priced low enough so people can afford them for take home gifts.

"You can buy a lot of stuff in this store for under $10," she said.

In addition to the spices, St. John Spice carries coffee, hot sauces, jams and jellies, candies, cakes, cookbooks, books about the Virgin Islands, hand painted glassware, pottery, and much, much more. St. John Spice Too has women’s and children’s clothing as well as beach items like floats and masks.

Ernst and Piccinin moved to St. John in 1996 after successful careers in the Boston area. Early in her career, Ernst worked for East Coast Grill, which had a focus on grilling. The move into spices and grill rubs was a natural for her.

She also had some marketing experience, which helps with promoting St. John Spice and St. John Spice too. She’s a regular contributor an Internet travel forum where people look for advice on their St. John visit. She said many of those folks have become customers and often stop by to visit.

"It’s all about the people. You have to like people," she said.

St. John Spice also operates a web cam aimed at the Cruz Bay ferry dock. It gets an enormous amount of traffic from folks who reach it through the St. John Spice website. And the website includes a list of when St. John restaurants are closing for the summer season and reopening for the winter that draws more traffic to the store’s website.

Ernst and Piccinin are workaholics who spend every day at their stores. They mix and bag spices at the store, deal with the challenges of getting supplies to St. John’s remote location and work hard to keep staff in a place where the workforce tends to be transient.

They’re also building a house in Chocolate Hole to put into the vacation villa market.

"We like to work," Piccinin said.

Those interested can call St. John Spice at 693-7046 or visit the store’s website at www.stjohnspice.com.

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