Clay Buddies: Jefferson Ellison

Jefferson Ellison is a senior brand marketing manager at East Fork. An Asheville native, he takes us on a tour of places that have shaped him, ending with dinner at his house. Lucky us!

Jefferson, what do you do here at East Fork?

I am one of the Sr. Brand Marketing Managers and I oversee PR, Social Media, Brand Partnerships and Events.

Your job seems to bring quite a bit of variety to your days. Can you run through the things you might do during any given week?

I always explain my job as relationships, awareness and connection. It’s my job to get East Fork in front of as many eyes as possible. Sometimes that means making sure the writers talking about North Carolina brands know that we’re in Asheville. Sometimes it’s making sure the TV set designer who is about to do a kitchen scene for a show has access to our plates, sometimes it’s making a lot of fun social content.

My week starts with two questions: What do we as a brand want to share with the world? What is going on in the world that we can be a part of? With that in mind, you can imagine my weeks are mostly emails, phone calls and lots of “research” aka Tik Tok and Instagram.

What do you like best about your job?

I love storytelling and I love people. I would describe myself as a maximalist, meaning that I think that the products we bring into our lives have value—monetary of course—but they also hold our memories and serve as these visual cues of who we are and how we live our life. I believe in that and care a lot about telling stories and building communities that make those memories possible. So what I like best about my job is that, in some ways, I have a part in shaping how people see the world and experience the really beautiful objects that we make.

You had your own agency before you joined East Fork. What sort of work did the agency do?

My agency focused on intersectional storytelling and communications for consumer-facing brands. Essentially, the same thing I do here I was just doing it for other people as well. East Fork used to be a client, so the transition has been pretty smooth.

Where else has your career taken you?

In terms of scope, I used to work exclusively in fashion—this was right after college when I lived in NYC. But I’ve also worked in politics, 501(c)3 and food & bev. In terms of places, my career has taken me around the country, to China and more than once it’s driven me to therapy.

You’re an Asheville native. Though I know that the city has changed a lot, if you were to give a walking tour (or a driving tour for that matter) of places that are dear to you because of personal history or simply because you love them, where would you take people? What would you tell them? Or, if the place is gone or changed too much, would you describe it and what it means to you?

I’d take them to Asheville High, where I first fell in love and first realized how different people can be. It’s the only public high school in the city limits, so you have such a cool mix of people and anyone who has ever attended will tell you, those mighty cougars are their own breed.

Then, I’d take them to the Grove Park Inn. I basically grew up there—summers by the pool, Sunday dinner with my family, hearing Ms. Sammons—may she RIP—tell stories of all the crazy things celebrities would order when they stayed there. It has such a great old Southern charm to it and really defines what “old Asheville” used to be.

I’d take them to The Block and show them the parts of downtown that they’ve probably never seen.

And then I’d take them to my house for a cute little dinner party. Because it’s not a proper Southern experience if you don’t go to someone's house for dinner and the best thing about Asheville is the people. In regards to what I’d tell them? Take off your shoes, grab the good wine from the cabinet, and don’t get anyone started on the cost of living in this city.

I’ve got to ask: what would you serve your guests? Do you like to cook?

I love to cook and grew up with big family people and lots of dinner parties. I’m a Taurus so I believe in long nights and decadent meals. So assuming people will start showing up around 6 pm, I might start a batch martini while everyone is arriving and I’m getting my stations in order. Then open up a few bottles of white wine (my BFF only drinks Ovum Big Salt) and serve sautéed mushrooms over fried bread and whipped miso ricotta. Then for dinner, I’ll do something red, full-bodied and full of tannins, and serve either a carbonara situation or maybe chicken confit—cooking with fat is my love language. I typically like salad at the end (I’m told that’s how Europeans do it) almost as a palate cleanser and then slide into dessert. I’m a cliché so a crème brûlée or chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream feels right. If we’re feeling festive, champagne will be popped, because every day is a celebration and then once dinner is over, we’ll slide into the whiskey, cigars, and the CBD.

And before you say it, I know it’s obnoxious but in my defense, it’s also a really great time. Life is hard and weeks are long, so a Saturday night with people who make me laugh and hold me close feels worthy of celebration.

What else do you do for fun outside of work?

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of my time trying to physically connect to the world. Cooking meals instead of going out, listening to records instead of watching Hulu. I read a lot. And I spend a lot of time with my family and close friends. Usually doing one of the things I just listed.

If you could live in any other time and place besides present-day Asheville, what would you choose and why?

Truthfully? As a queer black man, the only time in history I feel safe is present-day or the future. In terms of places, NYC is a place that always feels like home and Africa is a place I'd love to explore. So either NYC 20 years from today or somewhere in Africa in the 1500s.

What is your very favorite place?

My favorite place is wherever I can find joy at that moment.

I should probably get us back around to East Fork talk. What’s your favorite core glaze? Can you explain why you chose it?

Eggshell is really THAT girl, to me. She goes with everything. She’s classic. She really does a lot of heavy lifting. I dream of her.

Got any favorite retired glazes?

Connie mocks me, but I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Pollen. It reminds me of Lady Gaga in 2008 and that speaks to me. I won’t be explaining further.

What about forms? Are there any that you gravitate to more than others?

I would marry a bowl of pasta if I thought it would love me back, so The Coupe is definitely a house favorite. That being said, the Serving Platter is so stately and elegant it comes in at a strong second.

Now it’s the part of the Clay Buddies where I ask you to share five significant objects and the stories behind them.

I LOVE this question because I LOVE stuff! In no particular order:

1. Me and my mom have matching gold heart pendants and I wear mine every day.

2. I have a leather chair that I stole from my parents. My dad used to own a Jazz club and the chairs were in the cigar room. They are big and broken-in and they remind me of Jazz.

3. I have sketches from when I was about 3 years old that I did. I’ve always told this story of how I fell in love with fashion one night when I watched my mom getting ready for an event. And after I did an interview, my pre-school teacher mailed me copies of these sketches that she kept of the exact dress completely out of the blue. I was a wreck for about 2 weeks.

4. I have a beautiful letter from a really sweet boy who broke my heart. But showed me that our kind of love was possible.

5. I have a hoodie that I got when I graduated high school. I was drum major in marching band, and the band chipped in and made me this cheesy hoodie that says “You Better Work.” I’ve never felt so seen by a group of children in my entire life.

Finally, to accompany this interview, you’ve put together a playlist. What would you like for us to know before we listen to it?

Consider this my post-dinner party night playlist. The sun is shining, the house needs to be clean and I’ve got a hangover. This playlist is meant to make me smile, soothe my nerves and maybe give a bit of a groove in the process.

Jefferson's Playlist

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