Ana Hernandez went into the government-mandated COVID-19 closures with a different perspective than many of Jacksonville’s small business owners.
For the 68-year-old owner of All Spiced Up in Avondale, executive mandates by mayors and governors throughout the U.S. brought echoes of growing up under the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba.
“For me, when this all started, it really brought those memories as a child trying to leave Cuba — seeing soldiers in front of people’s homes, anecdotal stories from my grandparents, aunt and uncle being detained by the police because they had suitcases in their car,” she said.
Hernandez said she wants to keep her customers and employees safe, and understands slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The order to close the business Hernandez started with her father 12 years ago scared her more than the pandemic.
“I always said, I didn’t want to lose a second country. I love America. We had an opportunity to have a life here, and to see those freedoms erode scared me more than anything else,” she said.
“We all come at things from our experiences in life, and mine certainly colored the way I looked at what we were doing,” Hernandez said. “That didn’t mean we didn’t want to keep people safe and follow directions.”
All Spiced Up makes and sells spices and rubs blended in-store, sourced from around the world. Hernandez also sells domestic and international wines and local craft beers.
Hernandez reopened her store at 3543 St. Johns Ave. in The Shoppes of Avondale to customers at 25% capacity May 4 when Gov. Ron DeSantis and Mayor Lenny Curry allowed nonessential business to reopen.
A small federal Payroll Protection Program loan through VyStar Credit Union, as well as continued sales from her core customer base through curbside pickup and home delivery orders, allowed Hernandez to keep her three full-time employees paid during the COVID-19 closures.
However, she didn’t always cut a check for herself.
“I’m very proud I was able to do that,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said All Spiced Up did not receive the full $10,000 she requested through the PPP program, so she kept revenue flowing by taking the store’s weekly wine-tasting events and cooking demonstrations online.
Before the pandemic, the spice retailer partnered for years with area small businesses like Le Macaron French Pastries and Avondale neighbor Blue Fish Restaurant to hold Wednesday Wine Tastings. Hernandez halted in-person special events and service at All Spiced Up’s wine bar.
COVID-19 pushed the All Spiced Up events to its Facebook page. Hernandez said the 20- to 30-minute tastings and cooking demonstrations would bring an average of 10 people live but more than 1,200 views on the recording post.
On May 27, Alberto Scarani of Cà Montebello Winery took over the All Spiced Up Facebook page and went live from the winery in Pavia, Italy.
Since March 13, All Spiced Up has been live from Bold City Brewery for a “virtual taproom,” and Hernandez held a virtual tasting paired with a charcuterie tray for 34 attorneys from the Jacksonville Bar Association via GoToMeeting.
All Spiced Up’s virtual tastings and online events are free, and Hernandez posts wine lists and menus on Facebook a few days in advance so customers could come in and purchase supplies to follow along.
“That’s kept us afloat, and it’s been fantastic,” Hernandez said. “The response has been great. People are having fun. They can go live or they can look at it afterward.”
The store’s small space prevents All Spiced Up from opening the showroom to full events at 50% capacity restrictions, but the virtual events’ popularity led Hernandez to continue them after the pandemic.
She started a spice club where customers can buy a six- to 12-month subscription to receive a box with a handcrafted spice blend, spice pairing, pure mineral or sea salt, a complimentary grain and a recipe card for $25 per month.
As state and local officials consider reducing more restrictions on businesses related to COVID-19, Hernandez doesn’t expect immediate changes in her revamped business model.
“I think we have to keep going the way we are for a while and be careful to not let too many people in the store,” Hernandez said. “We cannot have people sitting at the bar. We want to be in compliance with everything.”