Sept. 3, 2006 – The little shop tucked in the back of Tillett Gardens looks like somebody's kitchen. Sort of. There's a stove and a refrigerator, a sink and what could be a kitchen table.
But there is wax all over the place. And dozens of bottles of herbal oils. And shelves and shelves of candles.
For it isn't a kitchen after all. It's the home of Caribbean Herbals and Candles, where owner Jason Budsan might be found outside demonstrating to youngsters how he makes water candles, candles that are submerged in water to form designs that look like coral.
Budsan treats his business as his home. "I'm here nearly all the time," he says.
Budsan, who has a degree in pastry arts from Johnson and Wales University, is a man of many talents and possibly one of the island's most active community activists.
"I'm sort of a butcher, baker and candlestick maker," he says. "I'm not really a butcher unless you count butchering the politicians," he laughs.
But Budsan has never been reluctant to take public officials to task in order to get something done. He was instrumental in the recent reopening of the Dorothea Fire Station.
But, for now, back to candles. "I opened the shop in 1999," Budsan says. "I was juggling about five different things when I came home from college. I did bike tours, and I would stop by here at Tillett's and chat with George White, who was the resident candlemaker then.
"I always loved to make things on my own. I made salad oils and vinegars with basil and other fresh herbs," Budsan says, "and I'd sell them at the Tillett arts and craft fairs.
"One day while chatting with George, he said, 'Why don't you come in, and I'll show you how to make candles.' And that was important – I loved it. George had been making candles for 30 years. He was my mentor.
"Then, a while later, I realized one day that I was ready to open my own business," he says. "I had so many people urging me on when I finally did it. It's fun to work for yourself," he says. "It's challenging because you have to pay the bills."
Before setting up in business, Budsan got some local and stateside experience with his first love, pastry. "I worked for some hotels in the states," he says. "And I worked for Hershey Foods creating new formulas."
When he came home, he worked at the old Stouffer Hotel as head pastry chef.
"Then Hurricane Marilyn came," Budsan says, "and the island changed completely, and my life changed. The hotel closed."
Budsan says there's a definite connection between pastry and scents and candles. "It's all about presentation," he says. "The pastry has to look beautiful, and it has to smell good. So do the candles."
And they do. The small shop resonates with fragrances. "Mango," Budsan says, "that's always the most popular." But the shelves are stocked with dozens of bottles of scented oils – some local: frangipani, lime in de coconut, jasmine and ripe pineapple; some exotic: ginger fig, orchid, lavender, rosemary and mint.
Budsan says he goes through about 400 pounds of wax a month, but he doesn't use shells for the local beaches.
"I don't use the local conch shells because there aren't enough of them, and I have to have a reliable source." He picks up a graceful peach-colored shell filled with a mango candle. "These are tonna shells I get from the South Pacific."
Budsan takes an obvious pride in his creations. "I sell to shops on all three islands now," he says, "and I just got an order for the BAI. That's exciting."
As we are talking, Budsan is busily packaging some orders. He reaches for tags which hang over a V.I. Waste Management Authority coffee mug.
Budsan is on the authority's advisory committee. He is a member of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John (EAST), the Northside Civic Association, Friends of St. Thomas Public Libraries, V.I. Hotel Association and the St. Thomas Historical Trust. He was a Small Business Administration Person of the Year in 2004.
Budsan is running as a write-in candidate for membership on the Democratic District Territorial Committee.
One wonders how he has time to make his candles, but he expresses no frustration with time restraints – just with environmental and government issues.
"If something doesn't get done, it's our fault for not getting involved," he says. "It won't happen if you don't make it happen."
We go outside to look as his nearby garden. "See this sea grape tree," he says. "I get my leaves here to wrap many of the candles in, the ones not in shells." A blue bicycle is chained to another tree. "That's my contribution," Budsan says. "End global warming, one person at a time. I bicycle to work, every other day."
The 39-year-old Budsan is a native Virgin Islander. He has a wiry build, muscular from biking and swimming, lively brown eyes, wavy brown hair, and possibly the biggest grin on the island.
And for other public causes, Budsan just found out that he is to be recognized as an Emerging Leader at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 36th Annual Legislative Conference next week in Washington, D.C.
"Isn't that great?" he asks. Budsan is beside himself with excitement. "I'm really looking forward to it. I'm so flattered and willing. To be selected is such an honor. Delegate Christensen nominated me," he says. "Lots of my role models will be there. I will get to hear Sen. Barack Obama."
He no doubt picked up some of his abundant community spirit from his mother Thyra Hammond, United Way executive director for the last 18 years. Budsan and his fraternal twin brother, Alexie, both graduated from All Saints Cathedral School in 1986, and went to Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island where they both earned bachelor of science degrees in hotel management.
Budsan runs outside where he is being hailed. He returns, flushed. "I just signed up for the Love City Triathlon on St. John this weekend," he laughs. "That's 17 miles biking, two miles swimming and three miles running. Wish me luck."
That will give Budsan just time to dry off and head for Washington, D. C.
The candle shop is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Candles can be ordered online at www.caribbeanherbals.com.
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