While it’s not yet a 100% done deal, all the death-rattle signs are there: The CP web site has been all but dismantled. The ZestFest show, once sponsored by Chile Pepper, lives on, but the franchise has been sold to the folks who have been operating the event. The magazine masthead no longer reflects a midtown office location, but rather someone’s apartment on the Upper West Side. And most egregious of all, they’ve stopped paying their writers.
The whole affair saddens me, on many levels. As a writer and editor, it’s sad to see yet another glossy close its doors. Like Gourmet, Chile Pepper had a devoted, albeit niche, audience who already are expressing dismay about its impending demise.
But on a personal level, Chile Pepper was important to me. It’s where I began writing about spirits and cocktails. I still remember the email from my then-editor, who had just taken over and was making some changes: “We’re going to start a cocktails column. Can you write that?” And I, who at that time knew next to nothing about booze, gamely responded: “Sure!”
I didn’t anticipate what I was getting myself into, not one bit. I learned on the job and asked smart people stupid questions. I developed a quirky writing voice, a roster of new contacts, and a sheaf of crazy-sounding but delicious drinks. And one day, I realized I had more than enough material for a book — and a platform that got a publisher’s attention. (Note to aspiring authors: get thee a platform, no matter how small!) And that book opened still more doors for me — speaking opportunities, offers to write elsewhere, and credibility to sell a second book. For me, Chile Pepper was more than just a gig, it was a springboard to a new life.
Looking back as I watch that springboard fold, I wonder if I could have pushed harder to prevent its demise. For a magazine with a cocktail column, I often wondered why I never saw ads from liquor companies, which have notoriously deep ad budgets. When Monin rolled out a line of spicy syrups, I suggested to my editor that we could sell the page opposite my column — and heard not a peep after that. I do know that I never saw an ad for Habanero-Orange syrup in any of Chile Pepper’s pages, let alone a Jack Daniel’s spread on the back cover.
Maybe it’s time for those Chinese walls between editorial and advertising to develop a crack or two — or before long, there won’t be much need for a wall at all.
Rest In Peace, Chile Pepper. It was great fun while it lasted, and I’ll be raising a jalapeno-spiked margarita in your honor.
ADDENDUM (7/9/10): The powers that be at Chile Pepper replied offline that they are not out of business, and I wanted to pass that along. I really want to believe this, for reasons both fiscal and sentimental, and I’ll be among the first to celebrate if this phoenix rises from the ashes. But given the abundance of substantiated evidence outlined above, a skeptical “wait-and-see” stance is the best I can muster at this time. Stay tuned.
ADDENDUM (1/5/11): Mark Twain once wrote, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” And I’m pleased to confirm that Chile Pepper Magazine is alive, kicking, and now officially owned by a new publisher, Mcaby Media, a Houston-TX company which also publishes Pilates Style and H Texas magazine. I’m sure those of you who enjoy reading the magazine will also be happy. Nice to have a happy ending to report. Viva la Chile Pepper!