I have to reflect on what I’m going to say a bit, hold on,” says Cozell Wilson. He sets up his cell phone on a tripod in a booth at Central Pizza, where he has filled in on shifts since the start of the pandemic, and hits record. Suddenly, sitting in a booth becomes a performance. Wilson greets his viewers and holds up a slice of what looks like a regular sausage and kale pizza. The sauce, however, contains a special ingredient—pumpkin spice. He takes a bite, yells in delight, and comments on its deliciousness between mouthfuls. He admits he wouldn’t be embarrassed to order such a pizza in the future and delivers his final judgment: “Damn, this slaps.”
A pumpkin spice Jell-O shot made to look like a miniature pie soon follows as Wilson dances his way back from the bar to his table. He steps up onto his seat and announces to the otherwise empty restaurant (and his camera, of course) that it’s “the most exquisite way to get drunk, ever.” Later, he’ll post these as 60-second clips to his Instagram account, @31daysofpumpkinspice, which began as a monthlong project back in October 2019 and has since grown to include a YouTube channel with more than 4,000 subscribers.
Weirdly, this pumpkin spice odyssey began back in 2012, when Wilson uploaded a video of a giraffe doing “something inappropriate,” as he terms it. Years later, it saw unexpected traction—enough that YouTube granted him the ability to monetize his content. Wilson decided to make more videos. The pumpkin spice conceit began as a joking suggestion from a friend; it was early fall, and the flavor was already ubiquitous, since Starbucks unleashes its own pumpkin spice latte season earlier and earlier each summer. Now, for Wilson, it’s an unexpected, year-round way of life.
“I don’t even like pumpkin spice,” he admits. But the creativity and the absurd combinations make his videos worth watching. When Wilson isn’t searching for his next novelty foodstuff, he’s a member of the band Beverly Crusher.
A 35-year-old Black musician, spewing joyful F-bombs and dressed in skinny jeans and Vans, isn’t the evangelist you might expect for pumpkin spice—a flavor whose memes usually star white girls in yoga pants and Ugg boots. The irony isn’t lost on Wilson, who pokes fun at this notion, but sparingly: “Some people that follow me are like that person who really digs pumpkin spice so I’m not trying to rip on them too hard, but it’s funny.”
Sometimes he tackles mass-market products—pumpkin spice Frosted Mini Wheats, perhaps—or checks out fall-flavored items already on local restaurant menus, like a pumpkin spice white russian at Captain Blacks. Increasingly, he calls up restaurant friends, like Wakefield Bar chef Elvis Bello, to request a one-off concoction. One afternoon, Bello prepared a custom order of pumpkin spice chicken with cinnamon and vanilla waffles. Wilson set up his tripod and directed Bello to walk up from behind and set the plate in front of him. His assessment of the dish: “This is so fucked up.” Which he means, of course, in a good way.
His status as an unlikely pumpkin spice influencer comes with a growing collection of seasonal curiosities. Kraft gave away 1,000 boxes of limited-edition pumpkin spice macaroni and cheese this past September as a promotion, so Wilson got his on eBay for $45. He showed up to his Central Pizza session fragrant from a pumpkin spice bath bomb. Things like pumpkin spice Spam and Beemster pumpkin spice cheese also live at his home on Capitol Hill, along with pumpkin spice sparkling water sent to him by the British brand Ugly Drinks. “I got it, I opened it, and immediately shotgunned it. It was amazing,” recalls Wilson, “like I’ve made it because I got free stuff off the internet.”