#NotYourSidePickle: How 3 brothers built an artisanal pickle empire
Joe and Will, along with their brother John, are the owners of the Pittsburgh Pickle Company and The Beerhive. The Pittsburgh Pickle Company raised $50,000 from 33 community investors to buy large pieces of pickling equipment.
With unique flavors like Fire & Smoke, Better Bread & Butter, and Pittsburgh Style,
the pickles from the Pittsburgh Pickle Company aren’t just your typical side pickle—they hold their own ground as the star of the meal. The artisanal pickles at the Pittsburgh Pickle Company are made with cucumbers fresh off the farm and jarred immediately, a rare practice in the pickle industry.
Pittsburgh Pickle Company was founded by three brothers, Will Patterson, John Patterson, and Joe Robl. But this is not the brothers’ first rodeo starting a business together. They first joined forces to open The BeerHive, a popular restaurant & bar in the Strip District neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Experimenters at heart, the brothers spent two years perfecting a pickle recipe to serve as burger sides and make deep-fried pickles. When customer demand for the pickles skyrocketed, it dawned on the brothers that pickle-making could become a successful standalone business.
In 2014, the Pittsburgh Pickle Company was born, with their production facility based out of Verona, PA. Currently, their products can be found at the 80+ Giant Eagles in Western Pennsylvania, as well as a variety of local restaurants, food trucks, and boutiques, including Murray Ave Grill, Oakmont Barbeque Company, and Carson Street Deli.
Not Just a Side Pickle
The brothers decided to run a crowdfinancing campaign with Honeycomb Credit to raise money for some big pieces of pickling equipment. When the brothers just started off, they were processing vegetables and bottling all of their products by hand.
“It’s a lot of hard labor. The idea was to buy enough equipment to alleviate some of those strains, to allow us to start growing,” explains Will.
The brothers also hoped to leverage community support and gather feedback about their growth project.
“When you’re running a company, sometimes it’s tough to see what other people might perceive the value to be,” Will shares. “We weren’t really sure what to expect, but we had set a $10,000 minimum, and we hit that in the first day. We knew at that point that we were probably going to have a good shot of really getting to the max.”
At the end of their campaign, the Pittsburgh Pickle Company reached their maximum funding goal, raising a grand total of $50,000 from their friends, neighbors, and community.
Since the campaign, the brothers have purchased an $8000 commercial slicer to process vegetables more efficiently and a $5000 two-headed piston filler to bottle their award-winning “Briney Mary” bloody mary mix—at a rate of 100 bottles per 15 minutes. These two pieces of equipment have not only significantly expedited their production process, but also opened up their capacity to pursue opportunities making products and co-packing for other local businesses.
The funds have also come in handy towards renovating the streetface and interior of their production facility in Verona: upgrading the building exterior, adding a shiny new metal roof, and rebuilding a collapsed wall.
Running their Honeycomb campaign has also helped Pittsburgh Pickle Company build customer recognition and stronger relationships with their network of support.
“The best part really was the ‘your fans and family can invest in you’ as opposed to dealing with a bank. It reconnected us with a bunch of friends and family we haven't seen or heard from in quite a while,” says Joe. “We’ve also become friends with some of the investors that we had not met before this, so it’s been pretty cool.”
Some of these new relationships have even led to new business partnerships.
“One of our investors actually runs a small grocery store downtown in Market Square. He’s starting to carry our products, and we might start making products for him. So it’s snowballing into something quite nice.”
Along with strengthening relationships, the experience of running a Honeycomb campaign has also brought together two alumni businesses for an exciting product collaboration.
After running their own Honeycomb campaign, 5 Generation Bakers, the family-owned company behind the famous Jenny Lee Swirl Bread, reached out to the Pittsburgh Pickle Company about doing a potential collaboration. 5 Generation Bakers had seen an article about cinnamon pickles, and coincidentally, the brothers already had some cinnamon pickle recipes on hand. A few tastings later, the Cinn-a-pickle was ready to be launched!
“As far as I know, it’s the only cinnamon pickle out there,” states Will. “It holds true to what we do. We use fresh-farm produce every time. It was an opportunity for us to come out with a new product that was really cool and unique, and we hope it garners some on a bigger scale.”
How to Dill with the Risks
So how do the brothers know when it’s time to grow?
“It's always time to grow,” says Joe. “That's honestly the easiest answer. Once you get comfortable, then you become complacent and people speed by you. We're always thinking of new ideas and trying to work harder and make new products.”
At the same time, the brothers are very careful about the business decisions that they make.
“We’re very risk averse. Sometimes, it’s a detriment. But when you don’t have millions of dollars behind you to support your endeavor, you’re very hesitant to take on debt. It’s why we’ve been so small for so long. Because we’re not necessarily willing to go and buy a $100,000 piece of equipment without thinking that the sales are going to be there to support it. It’s literally a constant, daily discussion of how much risk are we willing to take.”
The process of running their Honeycomb campaign helped the brothers get both the funding and community validation they wanted to take on the risks of growth.
“I don’t know if we would’ve bought the equipment or the upgrades that we did without the Honeycomb loan,” Will admits. “The funding really allowed us to pull the trigger. I don’t know that we would’ve ever done co-packing without the loan, and now, co-packing could represent a very significant portion of our revenue stream.”
The Next Big Crunch
So what’s next for the Pittsburgh Pickle Company? The team has some exciting plans in the works. One of these is selling their pickles on Amazon so that more customers can experience and enjoy them at an affordable price.
“It’s very cost-prohibitive to ship pickles, they’re very heavy. To keep shipping costs in the realm of normalcy, we have to send six jars at a time, but consumers don’t necessarily want to buy six jars of pickles at once. By getting them onto Amazon, people will be able to buy individual jars,” says Will.
Interested in discovering more local eats around Pittsburgh? Check out our blog post on My Goodness, a locally-minded neighborhood market in Regent Square founded by the owner of Square Café!