My husband and I were able to meet with Garden & Gun on a recent trip to Charleston, SC. It was a “pinch me” moment, as I do become like a child on Christmas morning when each new issue arrives in my mailbox. It’s one of the few magazines that I never recycle.
Behind the Scenes at Garden & Gun
The day of our visit was the start of a PGA golf tournament in town, so half of the office was missing, but we were able to chat with Dave Mezz, Deputy Editor; Sterling Eason, Director of Corporate Communications; Jessica Mischner, Senior Editor; and Kim Alexander, Digital Media Editor.
Their offices are just what you would hope they would be, exuding personality and history. The building is from the mid-1800’s and the windows are huge, filling the space with so much natural light that barely a bulb is needed. Antiques are scattered throughout for such practical needs as tables and desks. The chairs are not your Office Max special and will likely make you think, “I want these for my breakfast table.”
As a the winner for the prestigious National Magazine Award in 2011 (akin to the Oscar for Best Movie), G&G has devoted fans who bond instantly over the mere mention of magazine’s name. But given that the word gun, itself, is rife with controversy, the name has given some people pause, as well. “The moniker comes from the old Garden & Gun nightclub in Charleston, a Southern-style Studio 54, filled with mix of louche characters and the old line, drinking gin and tonics.” (wwd.com) Honestly, I didn’t know this fact until researching for today’s feature, and I’m thrilled to finally say, “So that’s where the name comes from!”
I hope you enjoy the following interviews with each of the people I met with at G&G.
Does working out of an antique furniture-filled building from the 1800’s located in the middle of historic Charleston add to the character of the magazine? In other words, would the magazine be the same if it were created in a berber carpeted new office building filled with florescent lighting, standard windows and “office” furniture?
Ha! Well, it does seem appropriate. Supposedly there’s a ghost in the building, though I haven’t seen her. But yeah, certainly being in Charleston makes a difference. You’re surrounded by so much history here. You know, our tag line is “Soul of the South,” and I think there is a level of authenticity with G&G that speaks to people. I’m not sure we’d be able to capture that as well if we were in some New York high-rise looking out from afar.
Although a regional magazine, is G&G’s base expanding beyond the Southern region?
Absolutely. We really don’t consider ourselves a regional magazine. We focus on a region editorially, but we’re a national magazine with readers all over the country. I think something like 40 percent of our readers are outside the Southeast. We often hear from people who maybe grew up in the South but moved away for a job or because they got married or whatever, and they tell us that G&G helps them stay connected. But I don’t think you have to live in the South or even be from the South to appreciate it. Things like Southern food or music or good storytelling are pretty universal.
Do you find there are still unfair stereotypes of the South found in other regions of the country? To what extent, if yes?
I haven’t experienced a lot of that personally, but I think one of the biggest stereotypes out there is that the South is some monolithic thing and we’re all the same. It’s really such a huge place with all kinds of different influences and layers and cultures. I mean, Louisiana is not the same as South Carolina is not the same as Virginia, which is also what makes it interesting and why there are endless stories to be told.
I noticed fabulous idea boards throughout the office. Are these used to jump-start the creative process of topics for the next G&G?
I’m probably not the best person to answer this one. I do have a whiteboard behind my desk that I use to jot down stuff I come across—it could be a writer I want to learn more about or a musician or anything really. Some of those might turn into stories, some not. But it does help me as I’m thinking about potential stories. We’re also fortunate to have a great crew of contributors spread all over the South. As I said, it’s such a large place and you can’t be everywhere at once, so they help keep us plugged in too.
What is the most commonly asked question (or comment) when others learn that you work at G&G?
Most definitely, it is about the title!! What does it mean and where did it come from. I also get a lot of really warm and lovely comments about how much people like the magazine. It’s always nice to hear about what part of the magazine resonates with people and how they first found out about our magazine.
What is your favorite cocktail to serve this time of year when friends come over?
Years ago, my parents were living in Berlin, Germany, and they took me to the wonderful local Christmas markets. It was super cold, but they had vendors serving mulled wine made with gorgeous spices like cinnamon and cardamom. Needless to say, it made shopping and the chill much easier to handle! I love making this during the holiday season and it’s really quite easy. A side benefit of making mulled wine: your house smells incredible.
There are LOTS of bottles of liquor sitting around the G&G office! I’m assuming these are mostly samples sent to G&G. Did you ever think there would be so much food and beverage involved in the daily life of the magazine? And, has anything you’ve received recently caught your attention?
I LOVE that part of my job! Free food and liquor! Seriously, it is really fun and you never know what is going to come through the door each week. During Mardi Gras we get King cakes, in the summer, fresh peaches from local farms, and in the fall, cured meats. I think one of my most favorite food delivery moments was when Deputy Editor Dave Mezz received a box of chocolate-covered lard balls. I hovered next to him as he opened the box and begged for a taste. It was really unusual and fun—like dipping bacon in chocolate.
I noticed that 3 of the 4 members of the executive team are women. Does this stand out in the magazine world, or is it the norm?
Prior to the 1970’s, women were not traditionally found in executive roles in the magazine industry; rather, they were assigned to administrative and research roles. However, women like Eleanor Clift and Helen Gurley Brown, just to name a few, broke that glass ceiling, and today we celebrate a rich diversity of women at the executive level. They paved the way for women like me, and I try to always remember what was told to me years ago, “Carry when you climb.” As a result, I make sure to spend time mentoring young women who want to break into this area.
What is your favorite G&G recipe to use for a dinner party?
I’ve served Sarah O’Kelley’s pimento cheese more times than I can count, but Martha Foose’s bacon crackers are my secret weapon. I’ve served those bacon crackers on casual Saturday nights and on Super Bowl Sunday, at my annual “Mischmas” holiday party, and for a Back Porch Session brunch with the Punch Brothers. I keep waiting for people to get tired of them, but they always—ALWAYS—ask for them. By name.
Sarah O’Kelley’s pimento cheese: gardenandgun.com/article/spread-love
Martha Foose’s bacon crackers: http://gardenandgun.com/article/martha-hall-foose-bacon-crackers
Has there been one particular article or feature in an issue that has hit you stronger than any other?
The New York City portrait I wrote probably means the most because it brought me to Garden & Gun, but for me, Allison Glock’s essay on Southern Women was soul-shattering. Allison has an enviable way with words to begin with, but she went next-level with that piece.
New York City article: http://gardenandgun.com/article/southern-invasion-nyc
Southern Women: http://gardenandgun.com/article/southern-women
How would you describe the office aesthetic?
G&G come to life: Filled with images that inspire us, a bit of healthy clutter, including a turkey foot and a few half-filled bottles of bourbon, and lots of personalities.
What would people be surprised to learn about the magazine business?
That we work really hard to make it look easy.
I love the Southern Food Bracket during the NCAA tournament. Is this your most commented on and shared item on G&G’s wall? Did you ever expect it to take off like it did?
This is our second year doing the Southern Food Bracket, and based on the success of year one, we thought it would do well, but it truly exceeded our expectations. I’m not sure if this is the most shared or commented on our Facebook wall, but it may be the most controversial. Our readers are very, very passionate about their favorite foods (maybe even more than college sports), and when Mac & Cheese beat Pulled Pork in the quarter finals, believe me, we had some pretty devastated readers!
Southern Food Bracket: gardenandgun.com/southern-food-bracket
Is there a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Charleston that you love that doesn’t receive all the accolades you think it should? What would you want others to know about this place?
Fast and French (fastandfrenchcharleston.com) on Broad Street. It has been here forever and most locals know it, but it’s my all-time favorite place to grab lunch. The place is unassuming. There is one long running counter where you sit. It’s the kind of place that brings the daily special over to you on a plate and, yes, they all come with a glass of wine.
Where is your all time favorite place to take a vacation?
That is such an unfair question! There are so many amazing places, and it all really depends on what type of vacation… But today my answer is Greece, specifically Crete. I spent my honeymoon there and just loved the relaxed coastal feeling. Lots of fresh seafood, the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen, friendly people, and plenty of quiet beach to relax. Come to think of it, those are some of the same reasons I love Charleston.
Thank you Garden & Gun for hosting us and letting us all get a behind-the-scenes tour!
Here’s my inspiration board from my visit with G&G:
Check out Garden & Gun online: gardenandgun.com