By Emily Hoover | email@example.com
Photos by Phillip Sunkel IV
On the corner of Cuna and Charlotte Streets, two wooden buildings, blanketed with elegant vines, offer more than a garden and free wireless Internet.
As joint businesses Gourmet Hut and Crucial Coffee, they also offer freshness and cultural sophistication to all who enjoy a meal.
“Fresh is the only way to eat,” owner Wendy Relph said.
“Everything we serve is made from scratch as you order it,” she said. “[With Gourmet Hut] there is no reheating, no powders or fillers, only the best ingredients we can get. As for our hot chocolate [at Crucial Coffee], it is made with Ghirardelli chocolate only!”
Relph was born in Johannesburg, South Africa but has lived all over Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom. She stumbled upon St. Augustine when her son, Jason, entered Flagler College and later graduated with a degree in Psychology.
After working North American Top Gun’s sales manager, Relph, a self-proclaimed “workaholic,” decided “it would be fun” to open Crucial Coffee 12 years ago. Her love of food and ambiance brought about the opening of Gourmet Hut one year ago.
Despite harsh memories from her homeland, including two carjacks in the same day, Relph cites her extensive travel as the primary reason for her success.
“I think because I have traveled, I strive for top quality ingredients,” she said. “I know how an espresso should taste.”
Relph’s diversity is shown in the Gourmet Hut’s items like English sausage rolls, Indian curry, Asian-chicken lettuce wraps, Mexican scrambled eggs and Hawaiian lei.
Vegetarian items like avocado delight, veggie lover’s choice and vegetable pasta salad cater to healthy eaters. Homemade desserts like tiramisu, key lime pie and New York cheesecake are perfect for any sweet tooth, especially when combined with a macchiato or an espresso.
Relph said that she and Gourmet Hut manager Heidi Cragg, also from South Africa, run a tight ship. However, she has nothing but compliments for her small staff of baristas and cooks.
“My staff is excellent, all incredibly trained,” Relph said. “Heidi and I are particular and we believe strongly in constructive criticism. Therefore, if a customer wants something special, we always do it.”
Relph’s dedication to the customer’s experience has not only resulted in 30 unique teas and a flavorful menu, but it has also contributed to the local community. She added Minorcan datil peppers – which only grow in St. Augustine -to her mustard sauces.
Relph also supports one-man-band Charlie Brown, 87, who has played as a street musician for 35 years. Patrons can watch him during weekends in the garden.
While Relph recommends mango passion fruit smoothies, chicken coronation salad and Indian curry to guests, she said that the staff is always thinking of unique ideas for both businesses. As bubble teas and frozen lemonade continue to dazzle customers, Relph hopes to add Middle Eastern cuisine, bruschetta platters and cheese plates to her menu in the future, along with mist fans to combat the humidity of summertime.
Complete with entrees which average $6 a plate, sandwich cards which produce free sandwiches and a creative, multifaceted staff who welcome change and experimentation, one thing is constant for Relph.
“I want my customers to return and they do,” she said. “Although they have traveled all over the world, I want this to be the best coffee they’ve ever had. Every time they come to St. Augustine, I want this to be their first stop.”