Jason and Hillary McDonald’s business is about as homegrown as it gets. Jason made the hot sauce in his kitchen, mixing and cooking on the stove.
“I’d been tinkering with it for years,” he said. “When we got married, we couldn’t think of what to give out as gifts at the wedding. So we gave everyone hot sauce, and they wanted more.”
To sell it to the public, the McDonalds had to get a license and rent space in a commercial kitchen. Working out of one on Beaver Street, they starting making hot sauce and selling it at the Riverside Arts Market on Saturdays.
That was November 2011. It was a fun weekend hobby, he said. But the turning point came in 2013 with the first One Spark.
They got noticed, sales picked up and more products were added: spice blends, seasoned salts, spiced quinoa mixes, mustards, Sriracha pumpkin seeds and coconut curry.
Along their way, they quit their jobs and got MBAs from the University of North Florida.
They’re still selling at RAM, but now they’re in some local stores — Grassroots Natural Market, Native Sun, Earth Fare — as well as 62 Winn-Dixies.
In all, they’re up to about 200 products. But Jason said they don’t list them all on the company’s website simply because they run out a lot.
They have six people working for them mixing and making those products.
The next step is a really big one, one he’d planned from the beginning.
“I could always see the end goal of opening a storefront,” Jason said. “But I’d never opened one, and it took me two years to find the right spot.”
That spot is on Lake Mead Avenue, off Baymeadows Road East and Interstate 295. It’s less than half a mile from where the new Ikea store will be built and about 3 1/2 miles from St. Johns Town Center.
“It’s an excellent part of town, close to the Town Center without being in the Town Center; and we’re the first business of its kind in the area,” he said.
The storefront, with an opening planned for next month, goes well beyond the things they sell in bottles, boxes and bags.
It’ll be a restaurant with smoothies, salads, soups and baked goods. There’s also a studio where Hillary will teach yoga and others will teach fitness classes.
It’s a big jump. Jason said it’s a $300,000 investment — $150,000 of his own money and a $150,000 loan.
It will have a staff of 38, counting production, restaurant and fitness.
“Time management is still an issue,” he said. “It’s not like I have a huge staff. If I’m training someone, it takes time away from me on the phone, finding cheaper places to buy in larger bulk.
“I’m down to 60 hours a week, so it’s reasonable, but I struggle wondering if it’s worth all the hard work.”
The couple has no children yet. “That’s part of our five-year plan,” he said.
Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296
Location: Moving into its own storefront, restaurant and plant on Lake Mead Avenue
Products: Close to 200, from hot sauce to baked goods
Employees: Six, but growing to 38 when the new facility opens.