CLEARWATER — Jonathan Toner had been told by many that he made a mean barbecue rub. But he received proof he'd created something unusual in January 2011.
"I made rubs for get-togethers, and my wife, Terri, asked me to make a certain rub that I'd made before," he said. "I wasn't sure I could make it exactly the same."
Why? Because he created his spicy rubs as he went along. But this time when he blended his Caribbean rub, he wrote down the ingredients. That recipe became the first for his new company, Pirate Jonny's — a national award-winning recipe when, on an impulse, the Toners entered it in the National BBQ Association competition and walked away with a second-place finish.
"We would typically use barbecue sauce over what we were cooking, only to result in having a mess of sticky napkins all over the table," Terri wrote in an email. "Not to mention, I could never really taste the meat well enough with the sauce covering. I asked Jon about a better way and he suggested rubs, which I was not familiar with."
Though the company started with one recipe, it wasn't their last.
"We did a dry version of the mojo (sauce) with cumin, garlic, oregano, sour orange," Jonathan said. "Most mojos are wet, with a citrus juice. We dehydrated it and came up with a dry version. It's a very unusual seasoning unless you're used to it. It's for pork, black beans, yellow rice. Very savory."
Now, 18 months after they opened the business, Pirate Jonny's has a Sarasota distributor. Its products are sold in local shops and used in area restaurants. Almost every weekend, a Pirate Jonny's tent is set up at a local festival to offer rubs and seasonings in a variety of sizes and prices, from 1.5-ounce pouches to 10-ounce flasks.
And the Toners are happy to share recipes, which are posted on their website piratejonnys online.com.
Originally from New Orleans, Terri was familiar with Cajun seasonings, but what her husband created was much different. She liked not only the taste, but also the health benefit of saving calories, since rubs and seasonings have fewer calories than sauces.
"As a personal trainer by trade, I now had delicious meals that were healthy, which I thought was well worth bringing to the attention of everyone," Terri said.
When Jonathan turned his passion for rubs into a business, he immediately had to calculate his recipes for bigger batches — at first, 5 pounds.
"Now we start at 25-pound batches and that's small," he said. "Most of them we do now are 50 to 60 pounds at a time."
By day Jonathan is a licensed landscape architect and a certified arborist, but in the evenings and on weekends, he's all Pirate Jonny. His likeness even appears on some of the labels. In 2012, those artistic labels won a first-place award from the National BBQ Association.
After working in Tampa for 18 years, Jonathan moved his workplace to the Weaver industrial park off Hercules Avenue in Clearwater. He refurbished a former restaurant to create a space that does double duty: behind one wall, office space for his landscape design work; and on the other side, a working kitchen.
Rubs and spices are freshly made as needed. Jonathan takes pride in using quality ingredients and focuses on the local market. He will even custom-blend rubs and spices for local restaurants.
He has a barbecue rub for every taste, from the Sweet Island rub to the Scorched Pirate rub. While the rubs are designed to be used on meats before cooking, they can be used on vegetables, too.
He even adds sour cream to the curry blend for a tasty dip that Pirate Jonny's gives out as samples at festivals.