Ten years ago, Ihsan Munir was urged by his wife to give his friends and family bottles of his homemade spices as Christmas gifts. Now, Munir runs a prospering retail business that distributes his spices to the Virgin Islands, Guam, the continental United States and Japan.
Though originally born in New York, Munir’s family moved to St. Thomas just a year after his birth. He spent his entire childhood in the Virgin Islands and, after studying at Rutgers University in New Jersey for four years, returned once again to the islands in 1998. Although Munir eventually moved to California in 2006, he stated that he will always consider himself a Virgin Islander.
Islandboy Spices, the name of Munir’s business, started out as an online retailer in 2011. However, as the business grew, Munir and his associates began looking for shops and stores that he could directly sell to. By the end of 2014, Islandboy Spices products were available at Brasilia Gift Shop and Medicine Shoppe on St. Thomas as well as one store on St. John.
Munir’s expanding business has also been recently impacted by the current boycotts against Goya products. The company’s CEO, Robert Unanue, is receiving intense backlash from the Hispanic community, one of the company’s principal consumer groups, due to his praise of President Donald Trump at a press conference at the White House earlier this month. Since then, many would-be consumers have called for a boycott of all Goya products and have started using the hashtag #Goyaway on their social media platforms.
In light of this boycott, Munir said, “More people are taking notice of Islandboy Spices and not only as an alternative but as a healthy one with all-natural ingredients, low salt, and no GMOs.” Munir went on to say that every customer has the right to choose whether or not they want to purchase goods and services from companies with different values than their own.
When talking about his aspirations for his business, Munir stated, “I want to share our beautiful Virgin Island culture with all people regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity or religion. Food is what binds us all together.”
In addition to his broad selection of Caribbean spices, Munir is also currently working on a cookbook titled ‘Granny’s Islandboy.’ In an excerpt from the cookbook, Munir writes, “As far back as I can remember, I used to sit on the opposite side of the counter and watch Granny in the kitchen as she chose, sliced, chopped and minced vegetables and herbs, gathered and blended spices, seasoned and cooked masterful dishes.”
Although he does not consider himself to be a chef, Munir said that he did have the best culinary training from simply watching his Grandma. He hopes that the cookbook, dedicated to creating authentic Caribbean dishes, will broaden people’s understanding and appreciation of the local recipes that he loved as a child.
Islandboy Spices products are available on St. Thomas at Plaza Extra and Moe’s Fresh Market, on St. Croix at Plaza Extra West, and on St. John at Starfish Market. Additionally, customers can purchase a range of spices online via the business’s website https://islandboyspices.com/.