Charting a New Path
As a grandchild of ranchers and farmers, and the child of a wildlife biologist and a gardener, Jessica Bartush Rhoades was never bound for a desk job.
That’s why she waved goodbye to her corporate sales management job at Omni Royal Crescent Hotel (one she feels taught her to be an ambassador for the city) and one year ago started her all-natural skincare and home goods company, Southern Rhoades Apothecary.
The company is based out of Rhoades’ Bywater garden and cottage kitchen — where she grows (or sources locally) all of the ingredients to make organic bug spray, hand sanitizer, perfumes, salves, balms, scrubs, soaps and more. Her specialty is solar-infused botanicals: It takes our ideal Louisiana sunshine more than a month to extract the ultimate medicinal properties of the plants she uses.
Rhoades, a graduate of Loyola University, has dabbled in gardening and natural remedies much of her life and worked many years at Garden Trellis in Riverbend where she learned about the intricacies of the southern garden. It was only a matter of time before she put those experiences to work.
“My husband, Greg, and I traveled to beautiful British Columbia where I was reinvigorated through our experiences with nature, music and food,” she says. “Upon returning home, I was growing a lot of herbs, fruits and vegetables for our meals. We usually had an abundance, leaving extras on our stoop for neighbors to enjoy. I realized I could combine many of my passions and began creating a business plan to work for myself. I truly care about the people of New Orleans, and I want to provide affordable alternatives for use in their everyday lives.”
What motivates Rhoades every day: “It’s the fact that I can provide healthy alternatives to chemical-laden products in homes and purses, created from scratch using responsible practices and materials,” she says. “Maintaining a daily connection to mother nature is of vital importance to happiness, and I’m lucky that it’s part of my job.
“Achievements like seeing Southern Rhoades bug Prohibition Insect Repellent gracing the shelves next to the OFF! brand bug spray at a music festival in Canada or seeing my products intermingled with other natural solutions at New Orleans Food Co-Op keeps me excited every day.”
Family inspiration (and fun product names): “My mother taught me about seeing beauty in everything around you,” Rhoades says. “My father shared his passion for conservation, coastal restoration and nature. I have products named after both: Mimi’s Lip Balm and Wild Bill’s Hot Pepper Hand Salve. Nana’s Rose Garden is named after my husband’s grandmother, a former Rose Queen of Tyler, Texas.
“I have a tattoo that says aut naha ban, which is Native American with the loose translation meaning, ‘I’ll see you in the future.’ It’s meaningful to me regarding my grandmother, Mary Jane G. Bartush (the namesake of the Mary Jane line of products). I also love connecting history and local culture to my brands: Salvation, Purification, River Road Reflections, Citrus Alley and Cajun Harvest.”
Favorite local ingredients: “Honey, sugar, brown rice, beeswax, spirits (for infusions), in addition to growing my own rosemary, lavender, sage, citrus, peppers, rose petals, hibiscus, mint, lemongrass, lemon balm, aloe vera and more,” she says.
It’s hard work but: “Hand crafting is not an easy process — though it is a fun one — but the reward of displacing sales of a product that harms the environment or your body is what keeps me going,” Rhoades says. “It’s been an amazing journey already and quite rewarding. I’m an incredibly passionate person and apply that to my business, learning as I grow.”
Watch for it: “We’ve slowly fixed up our Bywater cottage and guest house over the past eight years,” Rhoades says. “One day we’d love to renovate an old commercial property and open a Southern Rhoades storefront.”
Her ideal day: “My ideal day involves exploring a new city with my husband, roaming the streets for hours, visiting local shops, and entertaining ourselves with food and music,” she says. “Being exposed to various cultures and places keeps life exciting; we travel as often as our dog allows.”
On owning a business in New Orleans: “Do I think I’m changing the fabric of the city?” she asks. “Never. I think I’m adding to the integral pattern by supporting local producers and farmers, and encouraging people to buy an end product that’s made locally.”
Find Southern Rhoades products at local shops; Freret Market, Piety Art Market, St. Roch Art Market; and online at southernrhoades.com.