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20 Questions

My NOLA: 20 Questions with Jess Leigh Gholston

Local jewelry designer Jess Leigh Gholston of Jess Leigh Jewels shares her favorite things to do, see, eat, and drink in New Orleans.

“I’m casual with a little sparkle here and there,” says New Orleans jewelry designer Jess Leigh Gholston of her personal style. Gholston moved to New Orleans almost six years ago and has never looked back.

Jess Leigh
Jess Leigh Gholston. (Photo via @JessLeighJewels on Instagram)

“I came to live here in New Orleans because I fell in love with the spirit of the city, but it was the supportive art community that has fostered my small business,” Gholston says. “I realized I could pursue my dream of being a designer and an artist when I attended my first Bayou Boogaloo and saw the Art Market. It was like a new path was all of a sudden laid out and waiting for me. I just had to make that leap.”

Gholston praises the New Orleans community for its support of her business, called Jess Leigh Jewels, and the work of other artists. The city is her muse, but her artistic eye and thoughtful process complete her unique designs.

“I always start with one thing, the centerpiece,” she says. “It can be tangible, like a vintage piece I’m trying to repurpose, or intangible, like an idea of something I want to make, and then I design around it. How can this work? Is it balanced? If it’s a necklace, how long? Chain: dainty or chunky? I will also take a tray and gather up my materials that I want to fit into a design and try to piece them together one by one. It’s always fun.”

Check out Gholston’s work, and read about her favorite things to do in NOLA below.

Jess Leigh jewelry
A Jess Leigh Jewels design. (Photo: Mark Gholston)

20 Questions with Jess Leigh

1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?

Hands down, Ashley Longshore. Every day her amazing art floods my social media stream, coupled with inspiration and hilarious antics. To me, she represents New Orleans with her “take me as I am” persona and enviable approach to not giving a damn if you don’t. I love that.

2. What first brought you to New Orleans?

I was just passing through… and it’s been nearly six years now. I happened to be here during Halloween and of course, New Orleans does every holiday better than anyone else. I fell in love; what else can I say? I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere until I was here. New Orleans is home.

3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?

I really love Mid-City. From City Park to the diverse eateries, the architecture, and the small neighborhood feel. I feel like it has elements I like from each of the other neighborhoods in NOLA.

4. If it’s a beautiful day, where are you going to spend it?

Stephen (my husband) and I like to ride our bikes to the French Quarter and find something fun to do. If there isn’t an event going on, we’ll wander down Royal Street and grab a snack wherever our feet take us. I like to end these bike trips at Pandora’s Snowballs stand before we head home.

5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?

Jess Leigh earrings
Jess Leigh Jewels earrings. (Photo: Mark Gholston)

So many to choose from! Lola’s on Esplanade Avenue is fantastic. The green salad and homemade vinaigrette, Ruby Red Rainbow Trout, basmati rice and fresh veggies, a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Delicious.

6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?

The Ruby Slipper in Mid-City is our favorite breakfast spot regularly.  For brunch we’re pretty adventurous. Top spots include Cake Café, Toast, and Tartine.

7. What’s your favorite po-boy?  Where do you go to get it?

Fried Shrimp, dressed, from Parkway.

8. You’ve got friends visiting, and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?

During the day: Royal Street or Magazine Street, City Park or The Fly, Bayou St. John, NOMA, and we literally try to cram in every favorite restaurant!

For evening: Lafitte’s on Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Art Market, and Frenchmen Street in general for evening entertainment.

Late night: The Gold Mine.

9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?

Finn McCool’s. That’s where my husband and I met… so romantic 😉

10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?

I’m a wine and beer kind of gal. I love Oak Wine Bar and Bayou Beer Garden for the selections and atmosphere.

11. What’s your favorite dessert or sweet treat in the city?

Angelo Brocato’s St. Joseph Chocolate Almond. Yum.

12. Best spot to see live music?

Bacchanal is a cozy place for music. I love the backyard soirée feel.

Jess Leigh neclace
A Jess Leigh Jewels design. (Photo: Mark Gholston)

13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?

I love Leah Rucker. She’s got a beautiful voice for jazz.

14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?

Bayou Boogaloo is my favorite in the summer, Voodoo Fest in the fall. They are both great to attend and to be a vendor as well.

15. What’s your ideal New Orleans date night?

Get all dolled up, try a new restaurant, listen to music of any kind afterward. The last time we went out we went to Peche and then to Preservation Hall to hear jazz. It was a lovely evening and the gentlemen at Preservation Hall brought tears to my eyes. It was so beautiful.

16. What are your favorite local shops?

I frequent Bella & Harlow on Magazine and FiFi’s Mahoney’s on Royal regularly. 

17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?

We have front row seats at [a friend’s house]. 

19. Describe New Orleans in one word.

Inspiring.

20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?

Today, when I was delivering an order to someone and realized we had met the week previously at an event and then again when I was at Willa Jean for a meeting and our waitress knew my companion through a friend of a friend. I love that New Orleans is one big small town. It makes me smile.

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