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Gail celebrates first release of King's Pepper at Lucy Florence Gallery in Los Angeles, 2001.

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King's Pepper is a family affair.  Grandsons (left) Dante and Deji  at the Black Farmers Market in Raleigh. Daniel shot and edited the taco video.  Daughter Felicia helps with marketing.

What compelled me to take a chance on developing and selling a West African food product to the American public with no experience in the food business?  Quite simply, it was the flavor.  I loved it and knew others would love it too.


I first tasted this unique blend over 20 years ago in Los Angeles, my hometown when I was married to Abdul Sanni of Nigeria.  I really wanted to produce and sell, but the barriers to enter the food business were too high for me.  I couldn’t get funding, find affordable commissary or commercial kitchen space or bridge the knowledge and experience gaps I needed to import, produce and distribute my product. Plus in the early days, I worked full time for ABC-TV in Hollywood.  I finally found a tiny space in a market (Money Savers Meats)  that was regularly inspected.  I was so excited when I got my product on the shelves in a few stores (Monsieur Marcel, Erewon, Simply Wholesome) and farmers markets (Central Ave., Long Beach, Silver Lake, Hollywood).  We even won an award, but my inexperience showed, the marriage ended, family issues were pressing, so I had to close the business.  It hurt to fail, but I had to move on. 


Cut to 2012.  I moved to Durham to support my daughter Karon Johnson, when she enrolled in UNC Chapel Hill to pursue her master’s degree in social work.  A few years later I found that in the years since I’d stopped making the pepper, not only had the internet become a great source for finding the ingredients, supplies, packaging and equipment I needed, but North Carolina offered a supportive environment for start ups, so I dusted off my recipe and started again casually in 2017.   


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Gail Sourcing spices in Lagos, Nigeria

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Gail Jennings, owner King's Pepper

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Our Mix Master Robin (left) with Mel in the Kitchen at Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough, NC

I faced one of my biggest challenges when my husband, Melvin Mitchell became ill and was treated for lung cancer in November, 2020.  As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, I doubted I could continue into the new year because I usually sell my products face-to-face with customers. I was so worried that I considered shutting down again rather than risk his life.

Then in March 2021, I received a call from a woman who wanted to buy more pepper from me, but couldn’t find my number or website for a while.  I told her that I’d lost my domain name in 2016 and didn't get it back until early 2020.  I said the pandemic had made things so bad I was thinking of closing down, but I'd be happy to deliver some pepper to her.  


This woman listened to my story and said "You don't understand.  I'm in Los Angeles.   I've been searching for you for nearly 20 years.  Don’t you dare give up!"    She still had the pepper container.  How could I not keep going after that! 

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 I'm a Juneteenth descendant whose ancestors were emancipated on June 19, 1865 in Crockett, Texas.  I co-founded the 2-day Juneteenth Heritage Festival in  Leimert Park along with Moza Mjasiri Cooper (left).  The first time we sold African tacos, they were so popular we had to shut the line down.   

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