Growing up in Tifton, Georgia, Eric Wisham developed a deep love for all things Southern that continues to grow today—especially when it comes to food. While Wisham spent a lot of his childhood fishing the local Tifton ponds and riding his ATV through the network of dirt roads that connect the town, you were more likely to find him around his family kitchen helping his parents or grandparents prepare a meal. Wisham’s grandfather maintained a thriving garden at his home where Wisham would help him harvest corn, tomatoes, okra, and peppers—Wisham’s favorite. Wisham’s father, also passionate about food, preferred to do his cooking outside of the kitchen and would take any opportunity he could to fire up his smoker and cook a whole-hog meal for his family and friends—a labor of love he never felt the need to get paid for. Although these memories have always been prevalent in Wisham’s life, he had no idea in the moment that those experiences were shaping what he would ultimately dedicate his life to.
Through Wisham’s teen years, his love for food and cooking still played a large role in his life, and he would frequently experiment with recipes on the grill while hanging out and drinking beer with friends, but he looked at cooking as something therapeutic and a way to unwind from the stresses of life, not as something that he could develop into a career. When it came time for him to decide what it was that he wanted to do, he ultimately decided to pursue another one of his passions, photography. He worked successfully as a photographer for six years, but he still knew he wanted more and decided to take the leap into starting his own photography business. His journey to start the business led him to a photography studio in Tifton that he approached for advice, but by the end of the visit, the owner had sold Wisham the entire place, and his photography business was solidified. The space was more than he needed, so Wisham used the extra space in the front to create a marketplace where he could sell the products that he loved using in his own kitchen.
Throughout this entire journey, Wisham was still the happiest when he was behind the grill experimenting with different foods and recipes, and although he had just recently taken a huge risk to start his own business, his life really changed when he stumbled upon a jar of generic jalapeño pepper jelly at the grocery store. He first used it as a glaze on a holiday ham, and then he began experimenting with the jelly on pork chops and other cuts of meat. Like his grandfather, Wisham had his own garden, and upon realizing how versatile the jalapeño pepper jelly was, he began looking at the peppers he was growing in a new light. He became infatuated with different ways of growing peppers, different varieties, and how the sunlight affects them. His pepper obsession resulted in an abundance of peppers in all sorts of colors and varieties, and he quickly realized that it was time to create his own pepper jelly.
Wisham leaned on an old family recipe as a base for his new iteration, adding a few unique ingredients and subbing in the hot peppers from his garden for the mild peppers traditionally used in pepper jellies. He put his first batch for sale on social media and quickly sold out. Not only that, but word of Wisham’s pepper jelly was spreading quickly, and he was receiving high praise from his customers. He began experimenting by incorporating different fruits and before long had six different flavors of jelly. Realizing that this was the kind of business he truly wanted to be running, he approached his family to tell them that he was starting a pepper jelly business and enlisted his father, a photographer in his own right, to snap the photo of Wisham by the grill that has become Wisham Jellies’ easily recognizable logo.
Today, Wisham is still making the jellies himself to ensure the flavor is exactly right, and the Wisham Jellies line has grown to eleven unique flavors with Cranberry, Wild Mayhaw, Fire!, and Apple Fig all having won awards. Wisham still operates out of the building he purchased from the photography studio owner years ago, and the marketplace in the front of the building is still in full swing, but instead of his own photography operation taking up the back of the building, he now houses his pepper jelly inventory and ships orders to his customers there.
Wisham is always looking for ways to grow his business and sell more jars of jelly, but at the end of the day, he just wants his customers to use the jellies the way they were intended to be used—as a glaze on any grilled meat. The jellies deserve more than to be smothered on top of a block of cream cheese, and through the grilling suggestions on his labels, his demonstrations on social media, and his written recipes, Wisham does an excellent job at getting this message across.