‘Duke’s or die’: Loyal fans win free Duke’s Mayonnaise tattoos

Eight pairs of Duke’s Mayo fans made a permanent commitment to the brand on Friday.
Taylor Bell of Richmond, Virginia, poses with her new Duke's Mayo-inspired tattoo at Yellow Bird Tattoo. / Courtesy of Duke's Mayonnaise

Credit: Courtesy of Taylor Bell

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Taylor Bell of Richmond, Virginia, poses with her new Duke's Mayo-inspired tattoo at Yellow Bird Tattoo. / Courtesy of Duke's Mayonnaise

Credit: Courtesy of Taylor Bell

Credit: Courtesy of Taylor Bell

Duke’s Mayonnaise is a beloved condiment in the South. The fans are a loyal bunch, a fact that was only reiterated on Friday when a tattoo shop in Richmond, Virginia inked the most dedicated of the pack with tributes to the brand. These fans and their families gathered in Yellow Bird Tattoo to make a permanent commitment to Duke’s Mayo.

This is the second year Duke’s has partnered with Yellow Bird Tattoo to provide free tattoos to loyal customers. Last year, they held a flash tattoo pop-up where 75 people were inked over the course of a day. This time around, Duke’s took a more intimate approach.

In early October, the Duke’s Mayo team sent out a call for customers to send in their cherished mayo memories. They received over 120 submissions sharing how the creamy condiment became a cornerstone for family dinners and beloved recipes throughout the South.

“I think to me, it’s still incredible that there’s so much emotion around, let’s face it, mayonnaise,” Rebecca Lupesco, Duke’s brand manager said.

Credit: Courtesy of Ashley Mills

Credit: Courtesy of Ashley Mills

The love for Duke’s runs deep in the South. There are cookbooks dedicated to this one ingredient, and an Instagram account showcasing a range of Duke’s tattoos. It’s a cult-like following, 33-year-old Richmond resident Lauren Clark observed.

Duke’s Mayo is an integral ingredient in the Hanover tomato sandwiches Clark’s grandmother used to make. She even wrote a blog post about the beloved sandwich in 2015.

It was this story that won her a matching tattoo with her mother, Kathy Ashworth. Joseph Fessman, owner of Yellow Bird Tattoo, collaborated with Clark and Ashworth to design the tribute ahead of their appointment. It depicts a picnic basket with a jar of Duke’s, a loaf of bread and some Hanover tomatoes in honor of her grandmother’s beloved sandwich. Fessman also mocked up a replica of Clark’s grandmother’s recipe card and pulled her signature from the last letter she wrote before her death.

“She taught me how to be proud of being from the South and also how to show that pride through cooking,” Clark said.

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Clark

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Clark

They’re a self-proclaimed “Duke’s or die family,” Clark explained. Her husband, who’s from New York, is a Hellmann’s fan, much to her dismay, so they keep separate jars of mayonnaise in the fridge. Clark makes sure to never touch “his swill mayonnaise.”

When Clark told her mother they would be getting a tattoo, Ashworth was ecstatic.

“She’s over the moon excited to have this thing that her and I can do together,” Clark said. “And also something that links in a physical way me to her and her to her mother.”

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Clark

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Clark

Taylor Bell, a 26-year-old from Richmond, Virginia, was another tattoo recipient on Friday. Her grandmother was always very defensive about Duke’s, going so far as to send one of her cousins back to the store when they came home with the wrong mayonnaise brand.

Bell chose a tattoo design that combines Duke’s Mayo with other figments of her childhood, like magnolia flowers and the weeping willows her grandmother would pick a switch from when the kids got in trouble. At the event, she said she was able to meet several of the other families receiving tattoos and learned about their mayo stories, including an older woman decked out in a fur coat whose grandchild entered her into the contest without telling her.

Credit: Courtesy of Ashley Mills

Credit: Courtesy of Ashley Mills

The submissions solicited both heartfelt memories and comical ones. Christopher Dukes, 28, of Alabama, said part of his family’s love for Duke’s Mayo comes from the likeness in their names. He also just prefers the brand’s tangy kick.

His winning submission recalls a time when he was swinging around a bag of groceries after his family got back from the store. There must have been a hole in the bag because a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise escaped its plastic confines and “squared up daddy right in the nose.” He busted his dad’s glasses and knocked him down in the yard.

“It’s that tang, I’m tellin’ you,” Dukes said.

Dukes and his father drove to Virginia for the tattoo, about a 12-hour journey. It was the first time they had traveled outside of Alabama together, he said. Before the road trip, Dukes said they planned to chat about deer hunting, listen to podcasts and maybe do some singing together as the “karaoke masters of the South.”

Their matching tattoo is a deer skull with antlers that pays tribute to their mutual love for hunting and the outdoors.

In addition to a free tattoo, this was an opportunity for them to spend some time together, something Dukes cherishes.

“Spend time and make memories with the people that are real close to you,” he said. “Really soak it up and enjoy it, because you never know when you won’t get to.”

As for the rest of the tattoo recipients, they’ll likely remember this day for a long time to come as they return home with a bit of Duke’s attached to them forever.

“It’s really the experiences that are connected to Duke’s,” Lupesco said. “It’s not about mayonnaise at all.”

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