Kool Kat of the Week: Salon Red’s Jessica Soler and the Art Institute of Atlanta Get Avant-garde and Decked Out in Decatur This Holiday Season

Posted on: Dec 3rd, 2014 By:

by Alexis Owens & High Pulp Heart
Art-Loving Atlanta MavensKKJSoler4
Contributing Writers

This year ATLRetro is giving you a heads up on some amazing holiday eye candy provided by our Kool Kat of the Week, Jessica Soler!  Jessica, owner of Salon Red,  and Dr. Courtney Hammonds , Visual Merchandising instructor at the Art Institute of Atlanta – Decatur, put their heads together and envisioned a co-op project that can be enjoyed the entire holiday season in downtown Decatur. The indie-inspired town is already decked to the halls, but now with even more edge and retro flare thanks to these two amazing artists!

Local businesswoman, hair stylist, artist and Jill-of-all-trades, Jessica Soler, is the creative mastermind behind the insanely inspiring wigs and dresses featured in this year’s holiday window display at the Art Institute of Atlanta’s downtown Decatur branch. In addition to being the owner of Salon Red, a local chain of retro-esque, upscale hair salons with locations in Decatur, Candler Park and Brookhaven, Jessica is also an artist, a nature lover, a dancer, a mother of four and heavily involved in the local community.

It’s her love of arts and community that led to her involvement with the Art Institute. When she started making dresses out of unconventional materials like foam rollers and hair color boxes, she thought she was simply creating something interesting for a salon photo shoot. But her ties within Atlanta transformed that creative urge into something that the larger community now has the opportunity to enjoy.

KKJSoler3Jessica is dripping of modern-meets-retro in every facet. ATLRetro was thrilled to get the chance to see her in action. Along with Art Institute students, she created a display that is reminiscent of the early Macy’s Christmas window displays that awed so many of us as we grew up. While witnessing the magic in action, we took the opportunity to not only snap some fun photos but also ask this nifty lady a few questions.

ATLRetro: How long have you been doing hair?

Jessica Soler: In total 18 years, but I have owned my own salon for 16 of those years.

That is pretty early on in your career to own your own salon. Why own your own salon?

Do you want the lie or the truth?

Both if you don’t mind?

Well the lie is I thought it would be fun, but that is what any young entrepreneur believes.  In all honesty, though, the truth is I couldn’t work anywhere else. I have an immensely strong work ethic, and I always want to upgrade systems from the front end of business to the back end. Creative problem solving is what I am best at and what I prefer to work around, and that isn’t just found in any business. But I knew I could incorporate it into mine. Truly though, once diving into having my own business, I learned there is no other way.KKJSoler5

The project with Art Institute’s holiday windows is dripping with community relations and art.  Would you say that that encompasses you as an individual, your business and various locations?

I thrive off of any and all creative avenues. Every single member of my staff is creative in so many different ways and that is one of the many reasons why we continue to thrive as a business, a family and a community. Art is our core, and community is everything wrapped around it. Working with the various Atlanta communities is something we pride ourselves on. Not to mention, it is just such fun to involve community and family in all that you do. Community and art fuel the salons and are a huge part of why I own my own business. It brings out the best in all aspects. We all love to be inspired and want to inspire others. Art and community provide that in ample supply.

You also do a lot of education with your staff, correct?

Education has always been an initiative of mine from the get-go, be it with staff or community.

So tell us about these window displays you created and put together with the Art Institute students? What was your inspiration?

Christmas, Pinterest, The Grinch and Laurent Philippon of Bumble and bumble and his book HAIR: FASHION AND FANTASY, which not so oddly is an inspiration for me and the fabulous Art Institute instructor Dr. Courtney Hammonds, who was gracious enough to host this co-op.

KKJSoler6Laurent is rather avant-garde as is these beautiful window pieces you have created. Has that always been a part of your vision?

Being avant-garde isn’t my main focus point all of the time, but it sure is fun and adds an extra flare to a lot of my projects.

What kind of products do you use to make such amazing avant-garde pieces?

So much hairspray! I have to stay true to the best products that I know, though. I used a ton of Bumble & bumble as well as Oribe products.

The windows truly are a beautiful reflection of art meets community meets retro roots; is there anything coming up after this that we can keep an eye out for?

Spring. We have a show coming up in the spring that I can’t talk a whole lot about, but this is just a taste of that and I am very excited about it.

Be sure to check out the retro whimsical window display for yourself. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from some of Decatur’s GREAT local shops to help fill those stockings this year. The Art Institute’s gallery windows can be found on downtown Decatur’s main drag, Ponce de Leon Avenue.


Photo’s provided courtesy of Farmer Dude & High Pulp Heart







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Kool Kat of the Week: Half-Baked’s J.J. Tomlinson Dishes About Casseroles as the Ultimate Retro Holiday Comfort Food and Shares a Recipe

Posted on: Dec 21st, 2011 By:

J.J. Tomlinson of Half Baked Casseroles.

When picking a Kool Kat for this week, we thought a long time about the ingredients for a Retro Christmas in the South which had to make us think of food. And being the south, that means not just a ham or a turkey, not just sugary cookies—but a feast fit for an extended family with a seemingly endless supply of casseroles made by your mom, your grandma, your aunts and maybe nowadays a male relative or two as well. That tasty thought led us to two Atlanta chef/entrepreneurs Lee Bradshaw Johnson (Dog Days doggie daycare) and J.J. Tomlinson (The Fickle Manor boutique) who this year co-founded Half Baked Casseroles, a Buckhead bakery specializing in the quintessential seasonal comfort food.

Traditionally, casseroles became a winter staple because they put good and long-lasting use to winter vegetable and meat staples like potatoes, sweet potatoes and pork—or in my Finnish mom’s case, rutabagas and liver (No, casseroles aren’t just a American holiday tradition!). At Half Baked, Lee’s and J.J. give recipes handed down from their grandmothers a modern twist, with fresh ingredients, no preservatives and all-natural, antibiotic-free, hormone-free meat. The dishes are prepared for convenience, oven-ready or frozen. They come in recyclable pans in three different sizes, and most bake in 45 minutes or less. Larger sizes are available upon request for special events or a hungry family. Half-Baked even delivers for a small extra charge or mails gift casseroles to nonlocal family and friends. And if you want to fill out the entire holiday feast, the menu also includes yummy appetizers, soups and desserts!

In the spirit of the season, ATLRetro asked J.J. if she’d tell us a little bit about what Christmas casseroles mean to her, what customers are hungry for in the holidays and the lucky side of a special New Year’s treat cooked up to bring you luck in 2012 and even share a recipe!

Casseroles and the holidays just seem to go together, especially in the south. What role did casseroles play in your Christmases growing up and who made them?

As a child, my grandmother was the chief cook, and I can’t remember a Christmas without casseroles. My personal favorite was the sweet potato casserole. Every time I smell it, it brings back a picture of Grandma’s holiday cooking.

How did you both get the idea of a casserole specialty bakery, and why do casseroles seem to have such staying power?

We got the idea for frozen casseroles after my business partner Lee had a baby. She received some casseroles as gifts from friends. Everyone is so busy these days, and we are always in need of quick dinners.

We’re guessing you’re pretty busy this week. What menu items are most popular this holiday season?

We are slammed this week! Many people are buying appetizers for drop-in guests. All casseroles, appetizers, soups, bread and desserts can be frozen up to three months, too.

Which casserole hasn’t been as popular but folks really ought to try it and why?

There doesn’t seem to be an item on our menu that people aren’t buying. That may be because we thought long and hard before we opened in order to have a variety that would be appealing. The word-of-mouth aspect has been wonderful. It seems that friends are telling each other about their favorites. Of course, there are also many different tastes and we seem to have something that will appeal to most everyone.

Chicken and Half Baked Biscuits.

What’s the deadline to mail or schedule a delivery for a gift casserole?

We will try to accommodate your requirements for a gift casserole, but as a rule, we need at least one day’s notice.

You don’t just bake casseroles, but appetizers, soups and desserts. What other holiday delights do you recommend to start or finish off a meal.

My recommendation for the holidays is that you try our pecan pie. It’s crustless, so those calories are saved for the extra rich filling—and maybe some vanilla ice cream to top it off. We also have gluten-free casseroles.

Finally, we understand you’re cooking up a special dish for New Year’s celebrations called the Hoppin’ John Casserole (black eyed peas, collard greens, rice, and pork). Why should we put it on our menu and will it bring us good luck?

Southern tradition says that eating Hoppin’ John on New Years Day will bring you good luck and financial rewards all year long. We can’t guarantee that, but you’ll feel mighty lucky when you taste this dish.

Recipe: Hoppin’ John

1 bag of dried of black-eyed peas
1 stick of butter
1 chopped onion
16oz of cooked collard greens
2 ham hocks
10 cups of cooked white rice
1/2 cup hot sauce
2 tablespoons of sea salt

Soak black eyed peas overnight in water. Drain peas. Add onion, hot sauce, ham hocks, butter, and salt to peas in crock pot. Cook for 8 hours on high. Take bones from ham hock out of black eyed peas. Combine rice, collard greens and black eyed peas into a pan. Cook in oven on 350 for 30 minutes.

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