How many different lines are you doing with the pickles?
We have the beans. The zing beans we call them–they have a nice kick to them [it’s a nice, building heat that doesn’t overpower the subtlety of flavor]. They’re really good with Bloody Marys or if you want to make a martini. You can substitute the juice for olive juice. We do [pickle] spears and chips, regular spicy or garlic dill. Keeping it in the spirit of Philly, we also do a hoagie relish, which is just hot cherry peppers, onions, sweet peppers, and garlic. We roast it all up and puree it. It’s really good for sandwiches, eggs, cheese spreads, you name it. And we’re also going to do one pickle of the month just to keep it seasonal. We’re trying to keep it local as much as we can. So, this time of year using cucumbers and beans isn’t happening since they aren’t growing [locally] right now. In the next month, we’re going to be doing big batches of pickled beets and pickled shallots. The beets will be really tasty (allspice, rosemary, and onion are some of the main ingredients). Every month we’re going to find another seasonal item to do and we’ll put out an Instragram blurb. Hey, we’ve got a hundred jars–until they last…that type of thing. So techinically, 6 [product lines].
The subtitle on your Facebook page is Fruit & Vegetable Store.
We do make a jam. I just did a clementine jam–obviously not local. We haven’t pushed that out yet, but we would sell that.
Besides the story about the green beans in New Orleans, why keep running with pickles?
We saw a potential for it here. There aren’t that many people doing it. And especially when you walk into these small shops and you see these pickle companies from New York, we figured, we could do this and people would rather want to support a Philly brand. So, our tagline is Philly born, Philly brined. Most of our partners [his friends] were either born here or they moved here from work. We were just talking to some store owners and they were like, yeah, we would sell pickles made in Philly. It’s kind of that easy. It made us take the leap. The more people we talked to, the more potential we saw for it.
How many partners do you have?
There’s five of us.
Are you’re the guy when it comes to the pickling?
Yeah, it’s all my recipes. It’s always been my ideas but I was too lazy to do it on my own. People were like, you should do this, you should do this. I said, I have a regular job and it’s really hard to balance the time with that. But then we had enough people and everyone has their own expertise. My one friend, she works for a big PR/ad agency, so she handles all the social media stuff. She created the label and is in the process of creating a website. My other buddy, he works in the law arena, so he handles all the paperwork. We have another friend, an MBA who helps handle how to build the business. It all came together through like minded people.
What are the next steps?
The idea is to have a website to pair up with a Kickstarter that we’re thinking is going to launch in the summertime. We’re planning a dinner sometime in March with the people at Iron Hill Maple Shade. I’m meeting with the brewer and the head chef, and my buddy who’s the GM. I basically made a couple different products [for them to try]. The initial idea is that they want to do a beer dinner that incorporates my pickles or a facet of them into every dish. So I made some IPA beer pickles to experiment with. I made a couple other things to give to the chef. We’re hoping to have some other collaborations on the horizon but we’re at the point where it’s so young. I really want to connect with some bars for the build your own Bloody Mary thing–that’s really going to be our target market. We have a few bartenders who know my face enough, some who have tried the product and have sold out right away. They pop them in the Bloody and they’re like, people love them.
What’s in them?
Fresh dill. Thai chili. Our proprietary blend. It’s a mix of spices: mustard seed, peppercorn and a few other things. Our heat spices and the brine ratios are something I wouldn’t give up. It took me three and a half years. It’s all about the spices, the ratio between the vinegar and water, and the liquid to salt ratio.
How did you get your first client?
I was playing golf with my buddy at his country club. I was talking to the bartender. Real good dude. I was still in the experimental phase. He said, yeah, I’d love it if you’d bring some in. That was about a year and a half ago. So next time I went there, I dropped two jars off and I hadn’t seen him since. Then in October, I bumped into that bartender in the parking lot during a tailgate before an Eagles game. It was right when we were getting things started. It was a total coincidence. He said, what’s going on with those beans. Funny you should say that–we just started a pickle company, I said. Right away, he sent me an email and we sent him two cases next week.
That was our first client. We started at kind of a bad time since that’s when cucumber and bean season is ending. We were able to do one batch of local produce. All the stuff we got was from Iovine Brothers in Reading Terminal and they sourced it from South Jersey. We could still make pickles [from cucumbers and beans] but we wouldn’t be sourcing it locally. That’s why we’re going with things like beets. We’re using Common Market from Northeast Philly. They’re a local wholesaler. They team up with farmers from PA and South Jersey. We aren’t buying large enough quantities yet where the produce wholesalers will allow us to buy on our own, so we go in with our friends and buy as a group to meet the minimum order requirement. By summer we hope to have a direct connection to a farmer. The beets are really cheap right now, so that’s one reason to stick to the season. I’m still learning as I go after only starting with cucumbers and beans. We’re going to retailers with 3-4 things. That’s the advice I’ve been given. People don’t have that much shelf space. They say, give us your top 3.
*Passyunk Pickles, recently joined Zayda’s (since ’75) and Philly Bill’s Dills (since 2010).