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Sound Bites: With Caribbean Roots, Jerk Soul Finds Home In St. Louis

Jerk Soul owners Zahra Spencer (at left) and Telie Woods.
Izaiah Johnson | Sauce Magazine
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When one thinks of “the island life,” sentiments of a tropical ocean breeze, easygoing lifestyle and good food likely come to mind. And that is very much part of the experience. But with the good, comes the bad — and Zahra Spencer and Telie Woods saw the worst of it. 

They are the owners of Jerk Soul, a Caribbean carryout restaurant on Cherokee Street. Before it became one of St. Louis’ staple Caribbean food spots, it was supposed to be a prime destination for tourists visiting St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. That was until devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria shattered that possibility in 2017.

Spencer and Woods barely made it out of the Carribean, and fate led them to St. Louis, where they opened up Jerk Soul in north St. Louis. Their dream of operating a restaurant was a hit and led them to a bigger space on Cherokee Street.

Sauce Magazine detailed Spencer’s and Woods’ harrowing story of opening their first restaurant — despite hurricanes, transatlantic moves and barely knowing one another — in its July issue. The duo’s journey is also one of keeping an eatery stable during a pandemic and how recent protests over police brutality have personally affected them.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, guest host Jeremy D. Goodwin talked with Spencer and Woods for our monthly Sound Bites segment alongside Sauce Magazine managing editor Heather Hughes Huff. 

Listen to the full conversation: 

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.