Carrboro Commons

‘Plutopia’ spices up Carrboro

Posted on April 14th, 2011 in Features,Food,Music by jock

By Trevor Kapp

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Pluto Richards stands next to his sauce at Weaver Street Market, where he worked for two years after moving to Carrboro from New York City. (Staff photo by Trevor Kapp)

As a child growing up in the parish of Saint Andrew in eastern Jamaica, Pluto Richards did not take Tylenol when he had a headache or a cold. Instead, he would wait as his parents went to some nearby bushes to find the right combination of herbs and spices for a healing tea.

“You get better,” Richards said. “I grew up like that—seeing how my parents utilized herbs.”

When he was 15, Richards left Saint Andrew, Jamaica, for New York City to pursue better educational opportunities.  He remained there for 10 years, working in graphic design at a printing shop.  On a visit to Carrboro with a friend in 1994, he fell in love with the town and decided it would be his next home.

When he made the move a few months later, though, Richards—who declined to give his age—realized he had a major adjustment to make.

“Living in New York,” he said, “you could get almost any kind of food you wanted. But here, you couldn’t.”  Confronted with this difference in culture, Richards drew upon his childhood.

“I started experimenting with a combination of herbs and spices, what my mom used to use and all that. From there, I…developed this spiced rub that I have now.”

Richards, who worked at Weaver Street Market following his move, said his popular jerk seasoning took him two years to master, but when he presented it to a group of friends one evening, they were immediately hooked.

“The first bite my friend took, he said, ‘You got to market this!’ And he kept eating—until about the sixth bite, he said, ‘You can call this ‘Caribbean Bliss,’” Richards recalled.

“And there it was born.”

Fifteen years later, Richards’ Caribbean Bliss is sold all across North Carolina—including at Weaver Street Market—and even in parts of Europe.

“It’s off the chain, man. It’s really good,” said Jeffrey Lindsey, 46, a drummer from Chapel Hill who said that he has been adding Richards’ products to his meals for several years.

He added, “I’ve been cooking since I was 5, and now I add the spice to my cooking. My girlfriend loves me for it.”

Richards declined to divulge the content of the rub, but said it relied heavily on red pepper.

While the sale of Richards’ sauces and dry rubs has exceeded his expectations and is his main source of income, his advertising budget is limited.  For this reason, Richards said, he must be extremely selective about how and where he presents his brand. He makes regular in-store appearances to promote his sauce and takes out the occasional advertisement in select magazines.

“Your product can be the best product in the world, but if you don’t market it right, it’s not selling anywhere,” he said.

In addition to producing seasoning, Richards is a guitarist and lead singer for Plutopia, the same local group that now features Lindsey.

“Meeting Pluto was a delight,” Lindsey said. “He will give you the shirt off his back. He’s outspoken, he’s giving—every time I go over to his house, he’s cooking for people.”

Richards said that despite his increasing fame, North Carolina is, and likely forever will be, his home. Though he acknowledged he has musical ambitions, he said he also realizes that the sauce has been his calling card and has made meals more enjoyable for thousands of North Carolinians over the years.

“I get emails from people all the time saying they love the sauce,” he said. “When somebody writes me emails, it’s really rewarding. I think those are the things that keep me going.”

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