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Daily Inspiration: Meet Gail Jennings

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gail Jennings.

Gail, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I love the look on the face of my customers when they taste King’s Pepper for the first time. I’m reminded of how I felt when that bold, spicy flavor first hit my tongue.

It was more than 30 years ago, in my hometown of Los Angeles, but I remember vividly the fragrance, the flavors melding together, and the lingering heat from the blend of fiery herbs and spices. At the time, I was married to a man from Nigeria, and a friend of his brought some back from their hometown.

Before long, I was using this pepper on everything from eggs to chicken, fish, veggies, and seafood. I loved it on popcorn, pizza, and anything I put on the grill.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I knew when I tried it I wanted to learn how to make it. That was easier said than done. In fact, many years went by before I sold the first bottle. By the early 1990s, we had divorced but remained on good terms. When he’d come to California on business, I’d say please bring me some pepper.

Eventually, I traveled to Nigeria and imported the pepper from Lagos. I struggled to maintain the business in Los Angeles where I was working full-time in television production. The barriers to full-time business were quite high. I lacked capital, had no distributor, and the copacker – the only one who’d take on a small client like me, went out of business.

Online sales weren’t a thing in those days. I sold the product in a few stores, at farmers’ markets on the weekend, and at other live events. Eventually, I had to set the business aside and move on with my life.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I also make earrings from vintage 35mm film trailers and editorial pieces. I found it much easier to promote and sell my film earrings, so I turned my attention to that.

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?
The change came in 2012 when I moved to Durham. I have two daughters, and my oldest, who had been living in Durham since the mid-1990s, went back to college to earn her master’s degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. I moved in to help with my grandsons who were still at home so she could focus on her studies.

I was familiar with Durham since I’d been visiting since the ’90s. It didn’t take me long to find the farmer’s markets, stores, and other outlets for my products. I first sold the earrings, then found the path to bring the pepper to market. I’ve been on the move since 2017. I’m fortunate to have the support of my family – from my husband Melvin Mitchell to my son-in-law Robin (our mix master) daughters and grandsons who lend their time and muscle.

So much has changed since I first tried this pepper blend. Then, people in my neighborhood had little to no knowledge of West African food, or its connection to the American South. Today, you can find a variety of products in the Triangle and across the US, like jollof rice, seasonings, and spices as well as, restaurants, food trucks, caterers, and others bringing these delicious West African flavors to the public.

Of course, King’s Pepper is right there with them. We are now in more than 10 stores, selling online and at live events like the Black Farmers Market, Durham, and Raleigh Night Markets, during Kwanzaa at the Hayti Heritage Center, and most Saturdays at Cecy’s Gallery on Foster Street, and more as you’ll see on our website.

Through mentoring programs like the Helius Foundation, women’s support groups like WE Power, the Women’s Business Center, the Small Business Center at Durham Tech, and others, I’ve carved out a path.

I’m proud to say I’m the recipient of a grant from Thrive Community Partners and from the Orange County Economic Development agency. This year our King’s Pepper African Taco kit won 2nd place in our category of an international fiery foods competition bringing home a Scovie Award.

So when you see me out and about selling King’s Pepper, please stop and have a sample. Let the bold and spicy flavor of King’s Pepper fire up your imagination and your grill.

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