“It’s more relaxed out there, slower, not as stressful,” Don Ports said.
The couple have three children and have been active in their community, especially Ginger Ports.
She participates every year in the American Cancer Society‘s Relay for Life. She worked first with a team in Sykesville, then formed a team six years ago called Colleen’s Crusaders, in memory of a friend who had ovarian cancer.
She also volunteered at oldest daughter Brittany’s school, Piney Ridge Elementary, and at Winfield Elementary, which Tyler and Bethany attended.
A soccer mom, she spent lots of time taking her son to games with his travel team.
“We were always, soccer, soccer, soccer and more soccer,” she said.
Tyler, now 19, is at Carroll Community College, studying golf management. He works at Rattlewood Golf Course in Mt. Airy, where this summer he taught golf to children.
Brittany, 21, hopes one day to take over J.O. Spice Co. She is studying business at Carroll Community College.
Bethany, 15, attends South Carroll High School.
All three have worked for J.O. Spice, doing everything from sweeping floors to sticking labels on bottles to stocking the store and running the cash register.
“Just because they were family, they didn’t get special treatment,” said Don Ports. “They probably had to work harder.”
Running a business meant a lot of time away from the kids for Don and now for both parents — although weekends usually remain open, Don said. The family had its first summer vacation together four years ago.
Now that she spends as much time in the office as her husband does, his wife understands his level of commitment.
“Working together has improved our marriage,” she said as her husband nodded in agreement.
Now, she explained, she understands the long hours and the customer service that gets Don Ports in the car to make a delivery on a Sunday evening.
For a small family run company, they have a big job. Ginger Ports said there are some 800 Mid-Atlantic restaurants, crab houses and carryouts among its regular customers.
Local crab houses, as well as seafood houses from New Jersey to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, are their main focus. Another 25 distributors handle orders in North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey and New York. Small as it is, J.O. is spicing things up as far away as Australia and Singapore, too.
With the company delivering its spice mixes directly to restaurants and crab houses, you might not have heard of it. “J.O. has always been on the wholesale side,” Ginger Ports said.
Locally, restaurants such as the Woodbine Inn, Salerno’s, Park’s Landing, Winfield Inn, Captain Bob’s Manchester, Steamin Mad Crabs in Hampstead, and Casa Rico’s use J.O. Spice.
The familiar yellow and blue Old Bay can, on the other hand, is stocked in major retail outlets. “It’s a consumer brand and a consumer item,” said Laurie Harrsen, McCormick’s director of public relations and consumer communications. “That’s the way it started.”
Old Bay, marking its 75th anniversary, is available wholesale for restaurants and, to a small degree, for companies with licensing agreements to use the spice blend in their products.
“Primarily, it’s a consumer business,” Harrsen said. “That’s a good, long-standing heritage.
McCormick, which bought the brand in 1991, produced 50 million ounces — 3.1 million pounds — of Old Bay last year, she said.
J.O. produces enough spice to season 7 million to 12 million bushels of crabs a year. Some 1,750 to 3,000 tons of raw materials produce 3.5 to 6 million pounds of spice blends every year, according to Ports.
Spice only begins to describe J.O.’s participation in the traditional crab feast. They print bushel boxes for crab houses, stock brown paper to spread on the tables for crab feasts, order crab mallets by the trailer truck-full. They stock big paper bags and even vinegar, too.
“We literally provide everything but the crabs,” she said.
Since the demand for crab seasoning tends to drop in the off season, J.O. started a small gift shop in an unused space a few years ago. It expanded when the facilities grew last winter.
The diversity of their products keeps the staff working year round, Ports said. The work may change according to the season but “it keeps them busy,” Ports said. That way, she explained, there are no layoffs, or temporary employees and everybody works full time, with holidays and two weeks at Christmas off.
“Everyone is like a family,” she said.