One of Us

One of Us: Jeff Spear


Jeffrey Spear, of Jacksonville Beach, is a food writer and president and creative director for Studio Spear, a global branding company for food, beverage and lifestyle. His most recent book is “My Life in Gluttony: A Culinary Adventure.”

Tell me about Studio Spear

Studio Spear started out as a graphic design studio specializing in logos and trademarks and what have you. Over time, we earned a national and somewhat international reputation for the work that we were doing, and we started attracting clients who needed packaging design.

Then, over time, I decided that the work that we were doing with food and beverage products — the trademarks and the logos and the packaging, whatever — was more fun than anything else, so we specialized in food and beverage.

We’ve been in business 40-plus years. In that time, kind of organically, we’ve become experts in brand development, strategic planning, global marketing and, as a result, we’ve attracted engagements. We now have clients on every continent except for Antarctica.

Now, mind you, the company is basically me and a handful of consultants or contractors that I work with. We’ve always been a small firm. The people I work with, we’ve been working together for anywhere from 12 to 20 years.

How is the company structured?

I wear a number of hats. I am the president of Studio Spear. I’m the director of strategic planning; I’m the only one at Studio Spear that does the strategic part. Then, I’m also the creative director. As creative director I can work with designers, web developers, copywriters, public relations providers, and direct what we produce so that its strategically in line with what our client needs and expects.

And because I’m the strategic guy, I’m the one that keeps everything in line.

All your clients appear to be involved in the food industry.

They are now. When we started out — we were based in L.A. when we started — I would say that our clients were broadly consumer lifestyle products and services. We were representing or working with real estate developers, toys and game manufacturers, healthy living products and then food and beverage. We did some other stuff in finance and technology and what have you, but mostly it was just the consumer lifestyle arena. Because it was a preference and more fun, I narrowed it down to food and beverage.

Now, the one caveat is: all of this happened before the Food Network ever existed. When the Food Network came into play, all of a sudden food became the cool and groovy thing. So, from having very few competitors, all of a sudden, we had lots of competitors. Everybody wanted to play in that same space.

The thing that keeps Studio Spear alive and competitive and important is the fact that we are global so that we bring international perspectives to everything we do. That helps our clients, whether they’re domestic or international. It helps them compete.

The competitive advantage we bring is significant.

Your headquarters is Jax Beach.

Jax Beach. That’s right.

Do you live in Jax Beach?

Yeah, but the people I work with are scattered all over the country. I used to be based in L.A. for a long time and then Baltimore for a while. When I was in Baltimore, that’s when I had most of my contractors come aboard; they were all in the mid-Atlantic.

I wanted to live someplace where there wasn’t snow. They all had preferences, as well, for various reasons and didn’t want to go anywhere, so we never moved in under one roof.

Now I’ve got people out on the West Coast. I’ve got people in the Northeast. I’ve got people here in Jacksonville. We work well together.

Anything else you can tell me about your clients?

The only other thing that I would add is that over the course of time, our clients, some of them, have been quite visible and recognizable. In particular, what put Studio Spear on the map many, many years ago is we were involved with designing the title art for Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” When you see that word “Bad” on the album, that’s literally my work.

… We did a lot of work in the entertainment industry. A lot of movies, movie titles, record album titles. Not the covers. We didn’t do the posters. Just the title art. That’s in the logos and trademarks arena.

But doing that entertainment work was how we got noticed. We worked for Disney, Baskin Robbins, Anheuser Busch, a lot of big companies.

These days, most of our clients are small gourmet food producers. Every now and then we have a bigger client. Locally we work with Beaver Street Fisheries. They’re a big company. But most of our clients are small food producers in various parts of the world.

How did you get into this line of work?

I’ve had art training since I was 6 years old. I went to a very good art school in Baltimore where I learned the fundamentals of drawing. Went to the University of Arizona with a focus in graphic design.

That graphic design training is where I started. I worked for other people for probably the first few years of my career but then broke off. I wanted to do my own thing — and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Tell me about your books.

I write primarily for food-oriented publications, or I write a food column. …

That’s sort of my writing side, but from the marketing side, from the Studio Spear side, I do copywriting for clients. And they’re all food and beverage, so I’m doing food-and-beverage writing.

Microplane was one of our clients for a while. (Microplane is a culinary grater or zester, and it is an iconic culinary tool that every chef has.) One of the things that they had us do was develop a cookbook for them.

So, that brought in our food marketing capabilities but also our writing capabilities. The book was actually co-authored by me and a woman named Dara Bunjon [Editor’s note: The book’s title is “Yum! Tasty Recipes from Culinary Greats.”]

With Dara and myself and a few chefs we brought in to help us out, we developed this book, which is our first cookbook.

I was not really culinary at the time. I have culinary training now, but I didn’t have it then. Anyway, over time, I acquired culinary training. I’m not a chef, but I have a fair amount of experience and training.

Then, when I moved to Jacksonville, some friends and I decided we wanted to go into publishing, and so we created our first book, “The First Coast Heritage Cookbook.”

It’s now out of print. You can find it on Amazon.

“The First Coast Heritage Cookbook” dealt with the culinary traditions along the First Coast from 14,000 B.C., which is the first evidence of human habitation, to 1821, which is basically the cutoff date, because there are a lot of books that happen from the Civil War onward.

We talked about the culinary influences of the indigenous peoples, the European settlers or conquerors, whatever your perspective is — the French, the Spanish and the British — and the Africans that came with them.

So, I did the research and used the Jacksonville Library, the main library. They have a very good selection of older books. And I managed to get the history of Jacksonville through that and found out what people were eating at the time. Did the research and found out where the foods came from. Then, we developed recipes to go with it.

That was the second book.

This latest book is because of the work I’m doing all over the world. [Editor’s note: The title is “My Life in Gluttony: A Culinary Adventure.”]

The work I do internationally tends to be in countries that are considered emerging economies. They don’t have very sophisticated export programs yet, so I come in and help them develop their brand, communicate the value proposition and compete in markets that they’re very unfamiliar with.

So, I’m working in Malawi or working in Georgia or working in Ghana or working in Guyana. These are places where the companies don’t necessarily know how to enter these higher-value markets, such as the EU or the Middle East or Northern African countries.

So, I’m coming home and telling people about all these wonderful experiences and some of the food that I’ve had, and my friends were saying, “Hey Jeff, you ought to write a cookbook.”

So, rather than just write a book that starts with my international work, I decided I would take it back to the very beginning and have a book that focuses on all of the remarkable culinary encounters I’ve had since I was a child.

The book starts in Baltimore when I was a Boy Scout, and one of the first culinary encounters I had that was truly remarkable. I had to pass a test, and I made tuna noodle casserole. So, the recipe for tuna noodle casserole is in my book.

Then, growing up in Maryland, it’s crabcakes. In Washington, D.C., I encountered flourless chocolate cake. In Los Angeles, it was chili dogs. You know, lots of different things in different places.

Then, I started to travel. In Italy, it was gelato. In London, it was scotch eggs or fish and chips. And then you get into places like Malawi, where I encountered char-grilled mouse. It was a very interesting encounter. And I had some of the best hummus in Palestine, in the West Bank.

So, that’s what this book is about. It’s all adventures in culinary encounters.

It sounds like a culinary memoir.

That’s what it is.

When was the book published?

It was published during the pandemic, 2020. I was writing the book while I was overseas on various assignments. I wasn’t in any hurry to finish the book, but when the pandemic happened, all of a sudden I had time on my hands. So, I just sat down and finished the book.

The book’s done reasonably well. It’s available on Amazon, so whenever I promote it, people go online and buy it.

They can get it locally at The BookMark in Neptune Beach and Happy Medium Books Café in Riverside.

What do you like best about what you do?

I definitely enjoy eating, so my work is fun. My friends like hanging out with me when I do some of this stuff. They get to experience some of these culinary experiences with me.

What do you like best about living in Northeast Florida?

The beach. I like the fact that Jacksonville — even though it’s growing — is a very manageable place to live. The traffic isn’t terrible. The population density issues are not so terrible yet. We’ll get there, but we’re not there yet.

So, I wanted to move to a smaller place where, you know, the living was easier. It was calmer. I’d been living in big cities all my life. You know, Los Angeles … The Baltimore-Washington area is a highly, densely populated place. Parking is terrible.

There are amenities in all these places that are definitely worthwhile, but I was just done. I always enjoy going to New York, but I can’t wait to get out.

It’s quieter and peaceful here. And then from April until November I can cross the street and go hang out on the beach and chill out for a while.