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Exploring Life & Business with Hillary Danner of Jenkins Jellies

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hillary Danner.

Hi Hillary, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Originally from NYC, I moved to LA in the early 90’s and was a working actress in Los Angeles for over ten 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.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
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. I would say that one of my biggest hurdles to overcome has been understanding the importance of pricing and knowing your numbers. It took me more years than I wish to admit to — to get to this point of clarity.

Looking back, I am flabbergasted that I persevered through what often seemed like an exhausting, no-win, wacky idea that wouldn’t find its 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.”

And so it is: As long as the tomorrows keep coming — I WILL continue to get up and try again.

We’ve been impressed with Jenkins Jellies, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Today, 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.

I’m most proud of how my products have been integrated into menus of some of the most respected and busiest restaurants, bars, cafes and charcuterie companies in Southern California. I’ve been producing my pepper jellies for well over a decade and it still is a thrill to hear from the chef’s and food biz owners: ” Your jelly is the most requested item on our charcuterie platters” or “Our turkey sandwich with your pepper jelly is our #1 seller”. I am a hostess at heart and nothing makes me happier than doing something that results in someone else having a great experience.

Cultivating a genuine connection with our customers makes my heart sing and I will always encourage and welcome communication to learn from each other, share ideas, receive feedback, to answer questions or simply to celebrate a great recipe.

One of my all-time favorite parts of this business is working with customers to curate gifts for their friends, family or co-workers. Personally, I enjoy giving more than receiving and so, admittedly, I get an extra kick out of helping folks to create something special for others.

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. A tongue-tingling twist on an American classic – Jenkins Jellies will turn your culinary ordinary into extraordinary, one dollop at a time.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
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 experiencing 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.

It was necessary to pause, get quiet and listen to what stories I had been telling myself about myself and about my business. Recognizing that most of them were false, I embarked on a mindset-shift journey. Putting on my big girl pants, I 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.

I will always be in a state of learning, but when folks ask my advice about starting a business, 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.

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