Local Vendor Spotlight: Brine Street Picklery

Jacqueline Boulden, for the Shuttle
Zing Beans in a bloody Mary, the application that launched a business; from left, the Brine Street crew: Bill Donahue, PJ Hopkins, Valentina Nourse, Kristen McManus, Eli Sachs.

Breaking into the booming specialty food area isn’t easy, and it takes much more than having something good to eat.

“First, we came up with a great name,” said Kristen McManus, one of the co-founders of Brine Street Picklery. “And we knew with the red color on our labels inspired by our Thai chilis, combined with the hand-done type of our name, our product would really stand out.”

The product is pickles, as in pickled green beans, for starters. PJ Hopkins was at a jazz club in New Orleans several years ago. His bloody Mary had a pickled green bean in it, and that bean packed a lot of heat. Hopkins liked it so much he asked the bartender for the ingredients. When he got back home, he started making his own, calling them “Zing Beans.”

“I began making them and giving them to friends at holiday parties,” he said. “Then a group of my friends and I decided we should see if we could sell them. We did a few events like farmers markets, to find out if people would buy these if they didn’t know us.” 

And buy they did! At the first event, the jars of pickles almost sold out. So these five friends used their different skills — in sales, marketing and website design — to get serious about creating a business. They also had to make more beans and pickles, so they moved their operations to the Greensgrow Community Kitchen, a commercially licensed commissary in Kensington. 

Hopkins says he has received great support from other local specialty vendors and farmers in the Philadelphia area — people willing to answer his questions and help him succeed. He believes it’s very important to let people know how local Brine Street Picklery is.

“We try to use local as much as we can,” Hopkins said. “In the summer, 90 percent of our produce comes from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.” Brine Street gets its vinegar from the South Philly produce market, and even the jars are local — well, close. Hopkins buys them in Lancaster County.

Brine Street Picklery’s line also includes Dem Spicy Spears, Hellish Hoagie Relish, Straight up Spears (for those whose palates are not so chili-friendly), and a pickle of the month, like beets or carrots or Kennett Square mushrooms.

If you suspect all this attention to local could increase the price of the product, you would be correct. Hopkins acknowledges their pickles cost more than conventional pickles. 

“People are more inclined to pay a couple extra bucks for something that’s made locally, rather than just another item on the grocery store shelf,” he said.

The next challenge for this specialty food-maker is twofold, according to McManus: “We are looking at online sales and how to do that, and we’re exploring ways to use social media to reach more potential buyers.”

During the upcoming holiday season, the Picklery team will be back at places where they first began selling their product and know they have loyal customers, such as the Franklin Flea at Reading Terminal Market.

Brine Street Picklery products can be found at about 30 retailers in the region, including, of course, Weavers Way. Look for the bright red labels in the condiments section at both Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.

Jacqueline Boulden (jb@bouldenmultimedia.com) is a freelance writer and Weavers Way member. For more info about Brine Street Picklery, visit their website at www.brinestreetpicklery.com.