Monday, April 30, 2012

PepperJax Grill

 I work a retail job as well as teach, and one day at my retail job a customer started telling me about PepperJax Grill off of Pine Lake Rd.  She had the night kid free and wanted to do something to treat herself.  We were all giving her ideas and PepperJax came up with enthusiasm.  When I asked what it was, the customer said that it was a Phillycheese steak place that had opened in Omaha, NE.  It was so popular they opened a branch in Lincoln.  Supposedly, the owner has a patent on the way he prepares the sandwich.  The enthusiasm, statement of patented recipes, and ooh's and aah's all put PepperJax in my head as a must check-out food destination.

I finally got around to trying the place out last week.  The place has a pretty stripped down menu.  You have the option of steak, chicken, or vegetarian, in a prep of Phillies sandwich, rice bowls, wraps, and salads.  Once you pick the base, you get a list of Signature Sauce options and Complimentary Toppings.  Dennis and I both got a Philly with steak, green peppers, cheese (slices--not authentic Philly style of cheese from a can), mushrooms, jalapenos, and added jalapeno juice to make it extra spicy.  The sandwiches are served hot in large, squishy 10in sub rolls.   We also got a order of fries to split.

Once you get your sandwich, you can trot over to the saucing station.   There is Herb Roasted Au Jus, Sweet Asian, Creole, Mushroom, Original Hearty Steak Sauce, Classic Bold Steak Sauce, and Sweet Homestyle BBQ Sauce.  Near the dressings, there is also a Spicy Ranch.  I tried the Creole, Bold Steak Sauce, and the Spicy Ranch.  The steak sauce was sufficiently bold and hearty, the creole was a little too tomatoie.  The favorite was the Spicy Ranch.  It worked for the fries and worked really well on the sandwich to balance and compliment the spicy jalapenos.

As for the sandwich itself, I thought it was supper tasty, but not without its flaws.  The meat was so tender and rich, the cheese gooey, and the bread the perfect vessel.  With some sauce on top, it feels like a polished event.  My only complaint is that it is just too salty.  When cooking the meat, PepperJax adds extra seasoning, which is the same seasoning on the fries.  It has a good taste, but adds a lot of salt to the equation.  If you are sensitive to salt, it would be worth asking for half the amount or having them leave it off completely. 

Dennis called PepperJax Grill the 5 Guys of the Philly cheesesteak, and that is a really apt description.  They have a commitment to getting your food fast, but they also took the time to make sure the product is the best possible product: fresh bread, tender steak, and tasty, seasoned fries.  Like 5 Guys, each sandwich is made fresh to order and created for your personality.  By the end, you feel you did just eat a monster meal of steak and potatoes and bread, but don't quite feel like you've done anything wrong.

PepperJax Grill on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coca-Cola Identity Crisis

As my last Coca-Cola post, I thought I'd look at slogans.  On Coca-Cola's website, they have a full list of all their slogans and how the company breaks down their major campaigns.  Coca-Cola describes the mentality behind their slogans as "a simple, direct way to communicate about Coca-Cola."  On one hand, this is completely accurate.  On average, the slogans only last about four words.  One of the longer ones, "Whoever You Are, Whatever You Do, Wherever You May Be, When You Think of Refreshment Think of Ice-Cold Coca-Cola," is a length anomaly.  Instead, Coca-Cola rather goes for short observations: "What you Want is Coke;" "Sign of Good Taste," "It's the Real Thing." Often, the few words involve an imperative, making a command about Coke: "Enjoy thirst;" "Be really refreshed;" "Have a Coke and Smile;" "Drink Coca-Cola;" "Refresh yourself."

On the other hand, there is nothing simple about Coca-Cola's many approaches to marketing that is simple.  Coca-Cola has been "Around the Corner from Everywhere" and "Along the Highway to Anywhere."  Coca-cola is "Always Coca-Cola" that is "Pure as Sunlight" and the antithetical "Ice Cold Sunshine."  Coke has been the "Sign of Good Taste" because it is "Delicious and Refreshing," "Revives and Sustains" and "Ads Life." Combined, these slogans make Coke an all-pervading, all replenishing offering to not just thirst, but your very existence. 

By the time the 70's and 80's come about, I'd argue that Coke suffers a bit of an identity crisis.  In the Coke documentary I watched, the interviews talk about how in the conflicts of the 70's, Coca-Cola wanted to remind people of easier times through the jingle, "Look up America, and see what you've got . . . Coca-Cola.  It's the real thing."  Also as part of the "It's the Real Thing," campaign, Coke launched the famous, "I'd Love to Teach the World to Sing" commercial.   Already, you get the sense of Coca-Cola wanting to be the traditional symbol of America (as during WWII), while also embracing their global identity.  In the 80's, slogans like "America's Real Choice" and "Red, White, and You" support Coca-Cola as American and a sign of choosing Patriotism.  Even the 1980, "Mean Joe Green" ad champions an American pastime--the Super Bowl--with an American icon--Joe Green. Yet, the formula of this commercial was designed to be filmed in a any number of countries, with Joe Green replaced by that countries famous icon. 

Finally, in the 80's, you also get the legendary New Coke vs. Classic Coke identity crisis.  The positive spin on the decision is that it reminded consumers how loyal they were to Coca-Cola.  The slogan also tried to turn the identity crisis into a statement of identify choice, telling Coke drinkers that "We've Got the Taste for You" and "America's Real Choice."   But, American didn't want choice, and the 8000 calls a day the company received showed they wanted Coca-Cola, the real thing.    

Eventually, the New Coke went away, and Coca-Cola went back to simple: "You Can't Beat the Feeling" (1990); "Always Coco-Cola" (1993); "Life Tastes Good" (2001); and "Make it Real" (2005). Though the slogans change, the commercial formula varies, and Coca-Cola wrestles with cultural identity, at least the one guarantee is the formula will stay the same. Coke ads maintain the feeling that Coca-Cola is going to be a central component of life, the real thing, and always by your side.  Over 100 years of advertising and through different approaches, the association is the same.  Coca-Cola is the drink you can trust and will be there to pick you up, no matter where and no matter when.  

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coke: The Gift You Give Yourself

Both the Coke documentary as well as Coca-Cola's website takes credit for the birth of the image of Santa we know today.  Coca-Cola launched its image of Santa Clause in 1931 and his likeness was developed by artist Haddon Sundblom.  With that Coca-Cola ad, Santa moved from a small elfish character to a full-grown, distinguished man with round belly, rosy cheeks, and a wholesome twinkle in his eye ("Coke Lore").

The ad campaign was meant to help boost Coke's winter sales.  Because it was so strongly associated with a cold, refreshing drink, it was tied to warm weather refreshment.  By using Santa as a spokesman, Coca-Cola hoped to persuade loyal summer fans to enjoy Coke all year round ("Coke Lore").

In looking at Santa Clause Coca-Cola ads, the meaning of the ads centers on Coca-Cola as the gift one gives themselves.  This is a really clever tactic.  Coca-Cola could keep that connection of "refreshing," their summer weather selling point, and tack-on "pausing for refreshment."   In the ad on the right, Santa dominates most of the image.  While the kids at the bottom open presents and look up at Santa with thankful glee, Santa looks at the viewer, with a look of knowing and recognition on his face.  Santa, tired from a night of gift-giving, raises a toast to us and rewards himself with a bottle of Coca-Cola.  .

There's also a series of Santa ads that are laid out like the ones above.  In these, there is always a tagline at the top that sounds like Santa's words of wisdom: "Thirst asks nothing more;" "'Give and take,' say I;" and "And the same to you."  All three ads also include a narrative about Santa taking time out for a Coca-Cola.  The first ad attaches drinking a coke to "the friendliest moment a busy man ever met."  The second take an intriguing altruistic turn that reminds the viewer, that Santa "gives so much and asks so little," just like Coca-Cola.  That ad then has a "real-life" demonstration of that motto by showing a little girl giving her mom the present of Coke in response to her mom bringing home several gifts.  The insinuation being the mom, who gives so much, can, like Santa, be rewarded with a bottle of Coke.   The last shows both Santa and a mother tired from shopping or wrapping packages.  After reminding the reader that even Santa takes a moment to refresh and relax with a bottle of Coke, it adds, "So this Christmas, in refreshing others, don't forget to remember yourself now and then . . . with an ice-cold Coca-Cola for the pause that refreshes."   

The connection between drinking Coke and giving yourself a gift shows up again and again in the Santa Coke ads.  Through either modeling or directly reminding the reader, Coca-Cola encourages busy moms to reward themselves with a bottle of Coke.  The same Coke that provides a cold, refreshing break in the summer, now gives that bright little pep to your Christmas shopping step. 

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wartime Coke

From the Coca-Cola documentary I watched, one of the details about their history that struck me was what happened to Coca-Cola during WWII.  Letters from troops stationed overseas started mentioning fighting for the right to have Coca-Cola and how they missed being at home, on the front porch, drinking Coca-Cola.  So, on insistence from Eisenhower, Coke decided to make sure that all soldiers could have a Coca-Cola for 5¢, regardless of where they were stationed.  Since shipping Coca-Cola to Africa and Europe was tricky because of the priority of military shipments, Coke decided to ship small bottling plants instead.  This meant that Coke become an omnipresent icon in trenches.  In doing so, Coco-Cola became a morale booster for troops because it reminded them of better, happier times at home.

In one Coke ad I found, the connection between Coca-Cola being on the front becomes part of Coke's visual and verbal rhetoric. 

The image features several different type of soldiers, drinking Coca-Cola to escape the war around them.  The verbal rhetoric of the piece starts by saying, "The location . . . an airfield somewhere in the Pacific area," which reminds the viewer how Coke is wherever there are soldiers as "a global high-sign."  The ad continues to talk about how the soldier are served Coke "from its red dispenser just as at familiar fountains at home." This canteen ritual allows sharing Coke with fellow soldiers to be a "familiar pause that refreshes, a flashback to their own way of living . . . in one happy, home-like moment."  The patterns of the word choice--"happy," "home," "home-like," "own way of living," and "familiar"--make Coke a glass of refuge and comfort.   

Another ad makes the same connection between Coke as the "global high-sign" and being a soldier's connection to home.   In this ad, the sales text starts with "No matter where you go, somewhere near you is a big, friendly red sign with the trade-marked, 'Coca-Cola.'"  In this page, the ad places Coke in a position where it is literally looking out for soldiers, reminding them of home and the familiar. 

What is so fantastic about how Coke markets itself through these war time images is the two-fold meaning.  The first meaning is marketing to those at home who want to think about the little pleasures that their sons, husbands, and brothers are experiencing.  Although not in a way that demands thanks, Coca-Cola initiates that sense of gratitude from the family by showing how Coke gives soldiers a taste of home.  For the soldier, where they are at may not look like home and the situation is far from home-like, but the same, familiar taste and logo is what will take them back to the familiar. 

The second meaning goes beyond gratitude to Coke.  The ads circle the idea of Coke with home, friendliness, and thus peace.  In that way, drinking a Coke is more than refreshing from a hydration standpoint, it is refreshing for the soul.  To the soldiers, every Coke becomes a reminder of what they are fighting for, making Coke synonymous with America and home, better times and familiarity. 

Coke eventually profited greatly from stationing bottling factories around the world.  It gave Coke a foot-in-the-door to start selling globally.  As GI's shared Coke with people in other countries, they, too, developed a taste for it, thus creating demand.  So, the Coca-Cola campaign that worked so hard at making Coke synonymous with America resulted in making Coca-Cola a literal "global high-sign" across the world.   
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Monday, April 9, 2012

The Meaning of Coca-Cola

In my freshman composition class, I've been teaching Visual Rhetoric over the last couple of weeks.  Last Friday, my students had to pick an image (an ad, movie poster, famous photo, political campaign, etc.) and write an essay that looks at the meaning of the image.

I'm about halfway through grading them and, overwhelmingly, the most repeated image chosen is Coca-Cola ads.  Although a slight coincidence, it speaks volumes.  When you look at the span of Coca-Cola's advertising history, they have been somewhat remarkable in their continual evolution of their product and how those ads become cultural icons.  Coca-Cola is such an omnipresent drink for us, that when Tom Standage wrote the book, The History of the World in Six Glasses, he listed Coca-Cola as the one that defined the 20th Century. 

So, this week, I'm going to do a series of post on the meaning of Coca-Cola as seen through its advertising.  Filling in with a documentary on Coca-Cola that I watched a couple of months ago, I wanted to get a sense of how Coca-Cola has become not just a something we drink, it is an icon that reflects us.

I'll start my first ad on Tuesday.  Hope you enjoy it!

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ethnic Side of Lincoln: El Rancho

For the next installment on The Ethnic Side of Lincoln, I'm continuing by exploring Hispanic food in Lincoln by reviewing El Rancho (27th and O).

I found out about El Rancho when a co-worker, whose Mexican, recommended it to a couple people as being the most authentic Mexican food in town.  From the outside and inside of the building, it does have the aura of being a dive.   But, the things that rallied optimism was a busy outdoor taco cart and a large sign announcing that they serve pozole and menudo.

Both Dennis and I started with $4.50 double shot margaritas and munched on fresh salsa with tasty (slightly spiced) tortilla chips.  Then, because I wanted to try a couple of things, I got the "Fiesta Plate," which includes a taco, quesadilla, and enchilada with a side of refried beans and rice.   You can choose between beef, chicken, pork, and vegetable, and I went with vegetables.  Although this can translate into just onions and green peppers, all the dishes had those two plus bright red peppers, making everything look bright and colorful.  Plus, instead of large dollops of sour cream, there were nice little swirls that helped makes things creamy without over-powering.

Dennis got the Pollo en Mole, which was chocolaty and a spicy red, and served with a side of really fresh flour tortillas.  The sauce was great and I found myself stealing tastes from Dennis's plate--one of the hazards of eating with me.

So, if you are looking for an authentic Mexican food experience, go to El Rancho.  Next time, I'd like to try either the tamales or the pozole, and, maybe, work up to trying menudo.
El Rancho Authentic Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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