We had the good fortune of connecting with Hillary Danner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hillary, we’d love to start by asking you about lessons learned. Is there a lesson you can share with us?
A powerful realization for me was recognizing that business growth and personal growth go hand-in-hand. This is especially true for solopreneurs, as we navigate our own unchartered waters of building a business and trying to wear all the proverbial hats. For many years– the twists and turns of my personal life mirrored the uneven course I was experienceing in my business.
One morning I woke up– recognized that the personal narrative I was living wasn’t my truth — and that just being tenacious, in my business, wasn’t going to cut it.
So, I embarked on a mindset shift and took a leap of faith, coming to the realization that I needed to invest both in myself and my business– simultaneously– and leave fear and doubt at the back door.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Originally from NYC, I moved to LA in the early 90’s and was a working actress in Los Angeles for over 10 years. In 1997 I moved to Highland Park, bought my first home and had two children. I found myself at a creative/life crossroads, juggling kids and call-backs, so I turned to my garden for inspiration and serenity. Surrounded by a plethora of citrus & fig trees along with an abundant vegetable garden — I grabbed the Ball canning jar book and taught myself how to make fruit jams, butters and the like.
Unsure of what my next chapter in life would be — I opened a small boutique in my neighborhood; celebrating local artists. Diving into the unknown world of retail was challenging, to say the least, but my creativity muscles were being exercised and most importantly, I was able to remain available anytime for my young kids.
I started sampling my jellies on our monthly art-walk night events. To my happy surprise the crowds went wild for my preserved offerings – and my pepper jelly, an instant hit! Around this time, the artisanal food scene was just emerging in Los Angeles and I quickly found myself jumping from one pop-up market to another, trying to keep up with the demand — hand pouring jars in my kitchen late into the evening hours.
Even though I experienced numerous (and I mean a TON of) learning-on-the-job missteps, Jenkins Jellies started receiving celebrity accolades from folks like Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Daphne Oz, Mario Batali, Kate Capshaw and more! Clearly it was time to get out of the kitchen and find a co-packer! Which I did.
Working with a co-packer introduced the concept of scaling up — But, it also introduced a whole new set of challenges and learning curves that I needed to either dodge or tackle.
Looking back I am flabbergasted that I persevered through what often seemed like an exhausting, no-win, wacky idea that wouldn’t find it’s wings. Each night when I felt like I was at the end of my rope — I would say,out loud, to myself – “And tomorrow I will get up and try again.”
I still have a lot to learn, but when folks ask my advice, I say: “Show up, check your ego at the door, keep an open mind, ask questions and most of all — BE KIND”. I have learned that It’s so important to expect, welcome and even celebrate the challenges. This is where we learn our truth and ultimately how to be the best we can be for ourselves and our businesses.
Jenkins remains a small, family run business. We are determined to offer our customers the best pepper jelly you will find by using the freshest & natural ingredients. Our customers are our inspiration and we encourage and welcome communication for feedback, to learn from each other, share ideas, to answer questions or simply to celebrate a great recipe and bond over a foodie moment.
Jenkins Jellies is an award-winning, premium line of all-natural pepper jellies crafted in sun-kissed California. Savory, sweet & irresistibly spicy, Jenkins infuses an iconic Southern treat with a fresh coastal twist, a heartier texture, brimming with jewel-like nuggets of pepper & fruit; a complex blend of seven peppers & peak-season fruit purees. A stunning accompaniment to cheese & charcuterie platters, each jar is a secret ingredient for the creative home chef or foodservice professional.
A tongue-tingling twist on an American classic – Jenkins Jellies will turn your culinary ordinary into extraordinary, one dollop at a time.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I take all out-of-town guests who want to experience the Pacific ocean to a special, but easily accessible, spot in Santa Monica: Back on the Beach Cafe. After enjoying the sand and sea in Santa Monica we walk a short distance over to Back on the Beach cafe, where the tables are set in the sand. Take your shoes off and enjoy delicious food/drink while watching the sunset.
For a Malibu visit — I make sure to drive up the 101 and head to Malibu driving thru scenic Malibu Canyon Road, stopping at Paradise Cove for a refreshment on the beach.
Heading back East from the West side — I would also introduce my guests to a delicious meal at either The Eveleigh on Sunset Blvd, or On The Thirty in Sherman Oaks. Both are winners.
Other (rapid-fire) tour options for my out-of-towners:
Mt. Washington overlook, the Lummis Home, The Heritage Square museum, Southwest Museum passage, Grand Central Market, Disney Hall, Grand Park, Arts District, Flower Mart, Hollywood Bowl.
I live in Highland Park and take my guests to dine at Triple Beam Pizza, Cafe Birdie, Kitchen Mouse & Highland Park bowl.
An example of a tour from Eastside to Westside: Mt. Washington view to Silver Lake Reservoir, to Sunset Junction up to Griffith Observatory, back down to Sunset Strip past Chateau Marmont, Beverly Hills Hotel. Keep heading West to the Brentwood market, down to Ocean Park – wave at the Santa Monica Pier, continue down to Main St. – enjoy the Venice Boardwalk or Abbott Kinney then head back East by way of going through Downtown LA (preferrably dark enough to enjoy the city lights) and end the day at the Highland Park Bowl in Highland Park. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
While there have been numerous points of support, mentorship and encouragement along my journey that I am deeply grateful for, I must dedicate my #1 shoutout to my father, Harry Danner. Even though we reside on separate coasts– he has ridden along side of me during this 11 year food business journey.
I remember going to a seminar, 10 years ago, on How To Get Your Food Products On The Shelf. The buyer said to “succeed in the food business you must demo your products like your life depends on it!”.
I had two small children at the time, not much help and certainly less cash flow to hire a demo company. I shared what the buyer said to my father — and like a lightning bolt — he took off and got to work on figuring out how to demo my pepper jellies in and around NYC.
I was born into a theatrical family and so my father took his Opera singing, acting, charming self — grabbed a folding table, pepper jellies, cream cheese, crackers and hit the road. Over the last decade he has spent 1000’s of hours on his feet in the grocery isles– stopping folks with “Wanna try my daughter’s pepper jelly?” and singing an aria or two.
Because of his dedication we were able to build our Jenkins presence on the East coast to include Brooklyn, Long Island, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Before covid, he would join me yearly at the Fancy Food shows in San Francisco–where we got to share the prestigious sofi-award win for our Guava Brava pepper jelly. Working side-by-side with my dad tops some of my favorite memories.
If not for my dad’s unwavering emotional and all-around generous support in those first turbulent years of building my business — I can’t imagine I would be where I am today. I know it hasn’t been easy, dad (and mom!!), but I thank you (both) from the bottom of my heart, now and forever.