Jay and Shemeka Stokes, co-owners of Jay Ski’s Rub-A-Dub Spice Co., knew they had something special when their wedding guests tried to commandeer extra favors – small jars of their personal food rub – to take home.
But it wasn’t until Jay Stokes lost his job due to health issues that the couple took action on a long-deferred dream – turning their love of cooking into a business.
“After I lost my job, I had no other reason to put this off,” said Jay Stokes.
In starting a spice business, the Stokeses are pitting themselves against big-name seasoning producers in the state like Simply NC (maker of Barber’s Seasoning Salt and Adam’s Rib Rubb) and Carolina Sauce Co.
However, high consumption of new spices and spice blends is propelling significant market growth in the spice and seasonings industry, according to a recent report by Fortune Business Insights.
And the Stokeses’ rub has several factors in its favor. First is the taste. Jay Stokes created the rub when he couldn’t find one that met his standards. Given the consistent rave reviews his rub garners from customers, as well as friends and family, there is a strong market for Jay Stokes’ unique blend of spices.
In addition, unlike most rubs, which are used solely on meats, poultry and fish, the Stokeses’ rub can be used on many different types of food.
“The rub is for all your grub,” Shemeka Stokes said. “It’s not just for meats or grilling. You can use it on different dishes and snacks, pasta, veggies. It can be used on practically anything you eat.”
The Stokeses’ rub is also easy to use. Cooks don’t have to marinate food in it for hours. The Stokeses’ rub tenderizes and seasons meat in 15 to 20 minutes.
Last but not least, the Stokeses’ rub is healthy. It has a low sodium content, and all the spices are organic.
Although the Stokeses knew they had the makings of a successful product, they needed help with the business side – getting a limited liability company (LLC) designation, setting up a website, finding suppliers and financial backing and learning how to network. The Stokeses turned to the Genesis Block Accelerator Program, which advances minority-and women-owned businesses, for help and credit the group with giving them direction and furthering their ideas.
“We are so grateful to have received so much knowledge from successful business owners,” said Shemeka Stokes. “The Wilmington entrepreneurial community was so welcoming and willing to help.”
Even with extensive preparation, getting Jay Ski’s Rub-A-Dub off the ground wasn’t without its challenges. The first obstacle was the lack of a manufacturing site in Wilmington. That meant the Stokeses had to take on every aspect of their rub’s production on their own.
Undaunted, the Stokeses forged ahead and found a certified, commercial- grade church kitchen they could use. It’s there that the entire production of the rubs takes place.
After gathering the spices, which the Stokeses order from Amazon, the couple forms two assembly lines. Jay Stokes is in charge of the hot rub, while Shemeka Stokes makes the regular rub. The Stokeses measure and combine the spices for their rub, mix the batch with a spoon, and then, to ensure the batch’s texture is fine and lump-free, run it through a food processor.
Once blended, the couple measures out the rub, places the correct amount in containers and seals them. Finally, the Stokeses apply the labels, which they print themselves. The last step is placing the rubs in storage.
To date, the majority of Jay Ski’s Rub-A-Dub sales stem from its website. However, the rub is gaining other clients, too, such as the Cameron Art Museum’s CAM Café. To further increase sales, the Stokeses attend local vendor markets.
The Stokeses opened their business in 2019, but it didn’t take off until 2020. This year is their best yet. In 2021’s first quarter, they have seen a 60% increase in sales of their 8-ounce original rub, a 30% increase in sales of their 48-ounce original rub, and a 9% increase of their 8-ounce hot rub.
The Stokeses recently added meal preparation to their offerings, a move intended to scale up their business and increase revenue. The couple is offering convenient, fresh, nutritious meals for families as well as a special option for student athletes. For now the meals, which contain a protein, veggies and a grain, will only be offered locally; but the Stokeses hope to expand later.
“We are steering away from big-box and frozen meals,” said Jay Stokes. “We’ll hone in on the local area until we figure out how to deliver the same service on a bigger stage.”
In the future, the Stokeses plan to grow every aspect of their business: They would like to supply their rub to restaurants and national grocery stores, offer catering services and own and operate a food truck.
Opening their own business allows the Stokeses to do what they love, and they hope it will benefit both their family and the community. It will be there for their daughter, should she wish to pursue it when she grows up, and if all goes as planned, it will also provide jobs. The Stokeses also plan to share with other budding entrepreneurs the insights they’ve learned. Finally, there’s the pleasure the Stokeses get from seeing others enjoy their products.
“We make something people love and enjoy with meal preparation and the rubs,” said Shemeka Stokes. “That’s encouraging and motivates you to keep doing it.”
Special Focus: Manufacturing