A labor of love: Local sea salt maker expands to keep pace with demand

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Sea Love Sea Salt Co. owner Amanda Jacobs places labels on her products. Jacobs recently purchased a warehouse in Burgaw to manage growing production demands. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Sea Love Sea Salt Co. owner Amanda Jacobs places labels on her products. Jacobs recently purchased a warehouse in Burgaw to manage growing production demands. Photos by Hilary Snow.

It has been more than a year since Amanda Jacobs and her husband have sat down to eat at their dining room table.

That’s because it has literally been covered in salt.

What started with a simple question–“Can I make my own sea salt?”–has spread so far so fast that it has now reached from the waters of Wrightsville Beach to a farm at the outer edges of Burgaw, where Jacobs has moved her inventory and supplies and is now trying to keep up with the demands of her fledgling Sea Love Sea Salt Co.

After an exhaustive eight-month search, Jacobs purchased the property in May to expand her line of products–from gourmet seasonings to body scrubs–with salt harvested from the Atlantic Ocean that is her front yard.

Soon, Sea Love will launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for the construction of a larger greenhouse–needed for the solar evaporation process Jacobs employs–as well as solar panels and a drying room to help squeeze out remaining moisture from the salt. A preview video of the upcoming campaign is available on Sea Love’s website.

A warehouse on a 4-acre farm in rural Pender County is not exactly where Jacobs, a former teacher from upstate New York, imagined she’d ever be.

But soon after moving to Wrightsville Beach, she decided to try her hand at making her own sea salt.

“My husband and I are pretty big foodies, so I just thought, ‘ I wonder if we could make our own salt?’ I never intended on selling it,” she recalled.

After trying her hand at boiling and baking the salt–a process that didn’t work on food but consequently led to her creation of scrubs–Jacobs discovered solar evaporation.

“Boiling and baking removes all the really awesome minerals,” she said. “Solar evaporation takes longer but it makes a really great product.”

Still, it was just a hobby–until one night James Doss, co-owner of Pembroke’s and Rx restaurants, overheard Jacobs and her husband joking at the Pembroke’s bar about having her homemade salt on restaurant tables.

Jacobs fills all her Sea Love containers by hand.
Jacobs fills all her Sea Love containers by hand.

Doss asked her for some, which she delivered in a Tupperware container. He eventually called her up and asked for more.

“He said, ‘If you could produce enough every week, I’ll buy it from you.’ That’s when I started thinking, if he would be interested like this, other restaurants might be, too,” she said.

She got confirmation at her first farmers market, in which she sold out in an hour.

“I called my husband and said, ‘I think this could work,'” she said, laughing.

Cut to a year and a half later, and Jacobs’ creations are in 15 area restaurants, as well as a handful of gourmet shops in the Port City and the Triangle area. She routinely sets up at farmers markets in Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Poplar Grove. And Sea Love is sold in three Whole Foods stores–Wilmington, Cary and North Raleigh.

“I’d like to be in more Whole Foods; they would like me to be in more stores,” she said. “But right now I feel like I’m juggling salt.”

With demand outpacing supply, Jacobs is busy operating out of a small, store-bought greenhouse, constantly shuffling salt between interested buyers.

“For example, today I sold some to some chefs and now I don’t have enough for the [next] Carolina Beach farmers market,” she noted.

Her greenhouse is lined with glass lasagna pans containing salt water, just waiting to become salt. She hauls the water, which she collects twice a week in big buckets, to Burgaw.

She filters the water, which is collected from a N.C. Division of Water Quality testing site, before the evaporation process.

Jacobs harvests her salt through solar evaporation in an onsite greenhouse. She hopes to build a larger greenhouse in the near future to create larger tubs of salt at a time.
Jacobs harvests her salt through solar evaporation in an onsite greenhouse. She hopes to build a larger greenhouse in the near future to create larger tubs of salt at a time.

The pans take a few days to evaporate but she is hoping to start using larger tubs. Those, Jacobs said, have to sit for four weeks before all the water is gone and the large, white chunks are all that remain.

“I’m just not producing enough in my current greenhouse,” she said.

Though she’s expanding, Jacobs isn’t exactly moving into a factory-style operation. In her new warehouse–still largely empty, with some supplies in need of unpacking–Jacobs still fills all Sea Love containers by hand, sifting out cinnamon-infused scrubs and cocktail salt made with dried fruit zest, among others. She heat seals the lids by hand before putting on the Sea Love labels.

She grows the garlic and rosemary for her flavored salts at home but hopes to soon have an onsite garden. She even sells a “pinch” tin–a small on-the-go container of salt that fits inside your purse or pocket.

“I came up with that when I was waiting at an airport and eating a boiled egg. You know how they just give you those little paper things of salt? I thought, I make salt. Why don’t I carry some with me?” she said.

And that’s how Sea Love goes–and why it bears the name. Born of curiosity, of a fondness for home-cooked food and an affection for the ocean, Jacobs’ company remains, at heart, a labor of love.

“Someone asked me at a farmers market the other which is my favorite, and I always will say it’s the garlic salt because I love it. It’s so good. And that’s what they bought. People really listen. They can hear it, that I love it,” she said. “Because I really am passionate about it. There is nothing I’ve put out there that I’m not thrilled about.”

Jacobs collecting water at Wrightsville Beach. Courtesy photo.
Jacobs collecting water at Wrightsville Beach. Courtesy photo.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.