Meet three locals who are expanding the palate of the Lowcountry.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
Generally, when you hear the phrase local flavor, the term isn’t meant to be taken literally. In this context, flavor refers to the general vibe of a place — its people, its culture, etc. However, when you look at the phrase literally, you begin to ask yourself — what is our local flavor?
What epicurean sensations define the Lowcountry? Is it the pulse-pounding fire of hot sauce spattered on a freshly steamed oyster? Is it the briny umami of our official state snack, the boiled peanut? Or is it the warm aroma of fresh-baked bread, made with local ingredients?
Perhaps it’s a testament to the vibrancy of our local flavor that it’s so hard to pigeonhole. Whatever our local flavor is to you, here are three of your neighbors helping to define it.
This app developer is nuts about fresh green boiled peanuts.
If you were to look at Jared Jester’s resume, you’d be forgiven for thinking that somehow three or four different resumes had been shuffled together in some kind of MS Word cut-and-paste mishap.
Trained in the arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he launched Jester Communications as a simple graphic design and website building concern. Approaching the then-relatively new worldwide web from the lens of an artist, he learned on the fly how this new technology worked, eventually landing larger and larger clients.
One of those clients, Chaparral Boats, wound up inspiring him to develop an app, and suddenly Jester had gone from artist to app developer. His app Bolster became a darling of not just the marine industry but several other tangential businesses. And when a Minnesota digital marketing firm bought up the rights to his app, Jester found himself with the one thing he’d never had before: free time.
And that brings us to Jester’s latest venture, the item on his CV that most likely seems the most out of place. Boiled peanuts.
“I’ve applied a lot of the things I learned from my previous endeavors toward this… and I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” he said. “It allows me a creative outlet.”
Boiled peanuts are the most nutritious form of peanut you can eat.”
He’s not just setting up a roadside stand with a crock pot either. His company, Heritage Peanut Company, is the real deal, with a network of shareholder farmers up and down the east coast from North Carolina to Miami for year-round supply. While Jester develops recipes from his test kitchen in Bluffton, a facility in Jacksonville produces 20,000 pounds of boiled peanuts a month.
It may seem like a sharp turn from developing million-dollar apps to boiling peanuts, but for Jester it’s more of a continuation of a passion. Beyond helping launch Bluffton’s Boiled Peanut Festival, he’s been selling these delectable legumes (fun fact, they are not actually nuts) as a side hustle for years, starting small with a single vendor in Freeport Marina.
“I’ve always known there’s a market for boiled peanuts,” said Jester. “That’s just from me tinkering on the side.”
The difference in the way Heritage Boiled Peanuts boils their goobers is that they start with a raw, green peanut. Generally, you’re eating a peanut that’s been allowed to dry and then rehydrated. By cooking them raw, the seal of the shell stays intact, turning the whole thing into a pressure cooker that seals in flavor and nutrition, resulting in a texture like a mini baked potato. (In fact, Heritage Boiled Peanuts has trademarked the phrase “mini baked potato.”)
“Cooking green peanuts, that’s the key to ours,” he said. “Boiled peanuts are the most nutritious form of peanut you can eat.”
And if you’re not a fan of shells, have no fear. The next product coming down the pike is what Jester calls “Southern Pearls,” or shelled boiled peanuts. As long as boiled peanuts have been around, it’s an innovation that no one but Jester has really ever tried on this scale. But what do you expect from someone with a resume like his?
“They don’t teach you this stuff at art school. You have to figure that out on your own,” he said. “There’s no book on building a boiled peanut company, either. It’s been a frontier, but it’s been very fulfilling.”
This former teacher is the queen of home-baked pies, breads and cakes.
If you don’t know Jannie Smith by now, just follow the rumbling in your stomach to the Port Royal Farmers’ Market. There you’ll find her in the same spot she’s occupied (more or less) for the last 14 years every Saturday, selling her delectable home-baked bread, pound cakes and pies. If you don’t smell the aroma of her cake-like creations, you’ll certainly hear her laughing and chatting with her fiercely loyal group of regulars.
“I just love the people. Every time someone buys something, they always come back the next week,” she said, the bombastic energy behind her voice palpable even through a telephone line.
The funny thing about Miss Jannie and her home-baked empire of Jannie’s Breads is that the whole thing happened completely by accident.
“My son had seafood I would sell at the market, and it would sell out in the first hour they were open, and I would wind up sitting there the rest of the time because we couldn’t break down until the market was over,” she said. “Kit (farmers market manager Kit Bruce) said, ‘Miss Jannie, can’t you put something else on that table? Can’t you bake?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I can bake.’”
I work more now than I worked when I was working, but I like it because it’s my own time.”
The next week, she showed up with 10 loaves of banana nut bread. They sold out in just under an hour. The week after saw 10 more loaves disappear in similar haste. “I just said, ‘I have to do something different.’”
She expanded, laying out on her table eight different varieties of her signature spongy-soft bread in a dazzling array of flavors from apple cinnamon to peaches and cream. The banana nut bread remains the top seller, but her other flavors have each built a cult following of their own to the point they can never be taken out of the rotation.
A true Port Royal native, Smith grew up the eighth of 14 children, learning to cook first at her mother’s side and then going pro at 14 in the kitchen at Joe’s Spaghetti House. “I was washing pots and pans, then the chef went on vacation. I started cooking and I’ve been cooking ever since.”
The cooking remained a hobby for her while she pursued a career as a special-education teacher with Beaufort County School District, then a side hustle for 12 years working at a variety of restaurants after her retirement. Now, every Saturday, it is both her calling and her passion.
“I work more now than I worked when I was working,” she said. “But I like it because it’s my own time.”
Expansion to other farmer’s markets and a partnership with a commercial kitchen in Savannah were on the cards at one point, but for now, Jannie is content to simply sell her wares every Saturday, meeting people and sharing her delightful, calorie-free bread. OK, she says it has no calories, but we’re pretty sure she’s joking.
“I tell people all the time, there are no calories here. Just love.”
This NAVY veteran is the boss of hot sauce.
For years, the United States Navy recruited sailors with one simple enticement, encouraging them to “accelerate your life.”
It was something Shane Christensen heard before joining, serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and in multiple roles throughout his tenure with the Navy. After ending active duty, he accelerated his life using the G.I. Bill to attend St. Leo University where he earned his MBA.
It was during one of his undergraduate business courses that “Sh’ That’s Hot” hot sauce was born.
“I had to write a business plan for a fictional company, and my wife suggested I either do a brewery or a hot sauce, since that’s what I’m into,” he said. As part of his assignment, he had to work up every aspect of a business plan, from a break-even analysis to marketing strategies, all in pursuit of a hot sauce that didn’t exist. Yet. “After all this work, I’m looking at all this and said, ‘I gotta do this.’ I got an LLC and trademarked the name, and we were off.”
For his new venture, Shane went with the name Sh’ That’s Hot, based on his name and his wife Shelli’s name, and not the expletive you’re probably thinking of.”
But first came experimentation, taking the standard hot pepper, vinegar and salt and putting twists on it. One early blend, a beet peach hot sauce, proved to be the breakout hit to the select crew of taste testers. “One of the guys asked me if he could take the rest home with him,” he said. “People don’t say that unless they really like it.”
For his new venture, Shane went with the name Sh’ That’s Hot, based on his name and his wife Shelli’s name, and not the expletive you’re probably thinking of. “We’re proud to be a family company,” he said with a laugh. “But I hear it all the time, ‘You don’t think that’s bad?’”
Starting off with three sauces, Christensen dove into the experimental side of hot sauce. “We were trying to do things that were different,” he said. Varieties include the Habanero Hop Infusion with dry hops as a nod to Shane’s passion for beer, the Mariachi Ninja which pairs a traditional Verde sauce with Matcha green tea powder and blue agave, and the Carolina Reaper Throat Punch whose name sort of speaks for itself. “A lot of it came from trial and error.”
Since then, his business has doubled and tripled in size, thanks to constant experimentation and a devotion to creating partnerships. “Marketing is huge, as is getting the word out,” he said. “There are hundreds of hot sauces like mine, and 98 percent of us are friends. We know each other as competition, but we work together.”
Shane and Shelli moved from Chicago to the Lowcountry after the pandemic hit, but he still runs his business from afar, including his company’s support for Hope for the Warriors. “They were ranked No. 1 for veterans’ charities,” said Shane. “I’m proud to support them.”
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