Shortly after I opened my first shop, in November of 1984, Carol Hall moved her little restaurant in next door, in the north end of the old Coast Hotel. That was the first time I met her and it was plain love, right from the start. Those were lively days on Franklin Street, with the irresistible aroma of roux wafting out of her doors and into mine, driving us all mad with desire.
I had never even heard of pepper jelly before, and when i asked Carol what you are supposed to do with pepper jelly, she said, with her sparkly Louisiana accent, “Why I put it on my red beans and rice!” — like it was perfectly normal. Needless to say, I was a convert instantaneously. Sometimes we would just have a red-bean-and-rice attack around three o’clock, close the doors to my shop, and go over and beg.
Carol’s spicy New Orleans home cookin’ perfumed the street for blocks. Gumbo, jambalaya, andoille sausages…it was hard to pick one thing off the menu, once you had tried it all. Every single thing made you want to die from pleasure.
Lucky me…Carol asked me to make her logo when she started putting up pepper jellies to sell to the NOLA-starved throngs. I used a lead typeface i had bought from an old hobby printer, called Chic. I was just starting out on my own and everything was so exciting and fabulous. Sorry I don’t have any photos of that long-ago logo to post here.
Eventually, Carol moved over to a little shop on Main Street and called it by the same name, Carol Hall’s Hot Pepper Jelly Company. Her line of preserves grew and grew. And grew. By that time, she wanted the labels to reflect a more handmade character, so she had her husband Albert draw the label art that would last for years and years, with a darling, naive rendering of red and green peppers and vines.
She sold all kinds of jams and jellies there, mustards, chutneys, vinegars, and she brought in other products too, locally made wine jellies and salsas, interesting, food-related stuff, pottery, but the Red and Jalapeno Pepper Jellies, now joined by Ginger, Peach, Mango and Roasted Garlic Pepper Jellies, held their own, and still do to this day.
Fast forward: business was good, the name well-established, and many honors and awards had been bestowed on her scrumptious products. Carol decided she wanted to slow down a bit. She had been working her tail off for a couple of decades. That’s when she passed most of the business to her daughter Leslie Hall.
The labels changed again when the Halls all sat down and together hammered out a really different look for their products that was a little more upscale. All the labels were on cream colored paper, with burgundy type, small gray drawings, accented with gold foil, and die cut in a distinctive shape.
The store too was passed to a long-time employee, and now Leslie was just doing the wholesale end of things, with part-time help from Carol on bookkeeping and consulting. “Just” is the wrong word to use…Leslie figures she has made over a half-million jars of jam, jelly and preserves in the years she has womanned the stove.
Leslie is a dervish in the kitchen. She is so organized and fast that nobody can keep up with her. Four or five pots of various jams are bubbling away on the stove, she is sterilizing jars, cleaning up constantly, putting the labels on by hand, answering the phone incessantly, making plans for trade shows, and taking care of her granddaughter, all at the same time. I could go on but…
Well, finally we come to the actual point of this blog post: A few months ago, Carol and Leslie called me up and said they wanted me to redesign their branding, to spark it up with a more modern look. WoW! Was i ever happy to revisit this with them.
They had had a family meeting and talked about all the things they liked about past labels as well as what was not working. They knew they wanted an updated look, but it needed to keep that trademark handmade quality as well. With a lot of experience in redesigning labels (and a certain amount of dread — it’s really an upheaval, you know), they leafed through lots of clip art books, culling for that special wood engraving look they loved, thinking about typefaces, whether to use foil or ink, and etc., etc., and so on.
When I went over to the kitchen to meet with them, Leslie was all ready with a carefully drawn label on a jar to show me. She was pretty happy with it and wanted me to do something to adapt it a little bit — but she also said she wanted me to use my own imagination too… OK. I said, “You know, Leslie, this looks nice, but it has this wood engraving from what looks like the 1600s, of a woman wearing a snood, stirring a black pot over a fireplace. Umm…do you think it’s modern enough?”
I took the drawing away and lots of notes and ideas and went to work. Honestly, I dont know how this happens, how i get these notions for designs. Really, I can’t even begin to figure it out. Something starts coming through, I play with type, colors, layouts…really I don’t know. The first thing that happened was, I made a square out of the long name, Carol Hall’s Hot Pepper Jelly Company. I tried a bunch of faces out. I got a little feeling about this. Something started to jell, as surely as a pot of bubbling plums and sugar starts to set up…
I took the idea over to Carol and Leslie to see how I was doing. At first, they were in shock. They didn’t know what to say. It was so different from their idea that they could hardly absorb it. They kind of had to push back against it. Then they started to look at it and think about it, warm up to it. Then they said a lot of stuff that I had not known about originally.
Number one thing: the word HOT is NOT a good selling point. People are often scared of HOT (I am not one of them). After thirty years of doing this business, they had a firm grasp of what did and did not work. HOT had always been problematic, and HOT was in the name of the company. In my first rendering, HOT was the biggest thing on the label.
OK, back to the drawing board with more notes and admonitions. As I said, this was jelling. The process, however it works, is always a back-and-forth, a conversation and a communication. I am a medium between what the clients want and what the logo wants to be. That is such a fun position to be in. Witchy!
After more messing around, I called them again, and went to meet with them, this time with a bigger concept. Each label would be a different color. All of them would have the product name in white letters on a black rectangle, with “HANDMADE” floating in a separate rectangle underneath. The “Hot Pepper Jelly Company” part of the name would only appear on the back of the label. The name Carol Hall was all that would be on the front. Each label would have the name of the contents in big enough letters to be read from an aisle. The colors would be vibrant and coordinated so they would look beautiful all together, or by themselves, or in a gift basket. Oh la la! They liked the idea more and more, warmed to it, and finally embraced it. It was thrilling, as exciting as the first time we worked together when I was brand new to having my own business and so was Carol.
Carol and Leslie went to work picking the color palette. I loaned them my Pantone ink books and they went on an exploration of colors, trying various hues on the various products to make sure the label looked good with the jam or mustard color, leafing through William Morris books in search of saturated, sophisticated combos, making sure that everything harmonized and popped.
At last, we put the whole thing together. Like this:
(The painting in the photo above is a portrait my friend Bob Ross did of me in the ’80s.)
So that is a kind of (not really “kind of”) lengthy synopsis of my relationship with Carol and Leslie Hall. A big, long love affair of mutual admiration and respect, with a happy ending. They love the twenty-six labels we have finished so far and they are getting rave reviews from most of their clients (some people can’t stand change, of course, but overall, it’s a home run), and orders are rolling in like crazy. We already had to order a reprint of some of the most popular items. This is the best news to me. That the labels are beautiful, exciting, popular…and, truly the acid test, effective.
If you are looking for really great presents for the holidays (with good looking packaging — wink, wink), I cannot give you better advice than to find Carol Hall’s Hot Pepper Jelly Company and buy a bunch for all your friends and yourself. As the seal I designed for the labels says “Still cookin’ — Small Batches — Family Owned — since 1985.” It’s an amazing product line that comes from an amazing family. Yummy in every way. I am so honored to have been given this assignment.