Pickle business is sweet and sour success for local family

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comMarch 20, 2013 

Nalley’s Pickles may be gone from Tacoma, but a new pickle brand is quickly greening up the city.

Lynnae’s Gourmet Pickles formed just one month after Nalley’s closed up shop in July 2011. The start-up just expanded its all-natural sweet and sour pickles to a national audience.

The family-run business was started by Bellarmine High School graduates Lynnae Schneller and Aly Cullinane. The pickles come from a secret family recipe handed down from Schneller’s great-grandmother.

The two women are not only business partners but sisters-in-law. Schneller’s brother, David, is Cullinane’s husband. He, too, occasionally puts in time with the company – dressing up as “The Big Pickle” at events. A cousin also helps out and Schneller’s stepfather Harry Phillips is CFO.

Schneller started the business just after the birth of her second child. Pregnancy-induced pickle cravings had nothing to do with it.

“Everyone asks me that but I always have a pickle craving,” Schneller said.

Schneller and Cullinane, using the secret family recipe from great-grandmother “Toots” Smith, sold 1,000 jars in the first month of business.

“That’s when we knew we had something,” Schneller said.

At first they used the kitchen in the Fircrest Community Center and then a trailer turned into a commercial kitchen.

Unable to find facilities that could accommodate their growing production they moved their pickling operation to McMinnville, Ore., in the summer of 2012.

“That was the closest we could find,” Schneller said. “We don’t have a million dollars to build a factory ourselves. Maybe some day,” Schneller said.

Now, they produce 10,000 jars in a month during a two-day operation. The women go to McMinnville to supervise the monthly process.

The pickles rest four to six weeks for full flavor after hand packing and bottling. “The brine is very touchy,” Cullinane said.

The ingredients and exact processes are kept secret. Employees are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

The women did disclose that the cucumbers come from Oregon and the garlic from Gilroy, Calif.

The company produces three year-round varieties. “Mrs. Pickles” is a sweet-and-sour dill. “Hot Mama” is spiced with jalapeno and less sweet. “Doyle’s Dill” is a traditional dill. The first two come in spears and chips, the third only in spears.

They also produce a seasonal relish just in time for barbecue season. It’s good for livening up tuna fish and potato salad, the women said. Their 16-ounce jars sell for between $7 and $9.

Their next products will be a spicy dill and pickled jalapenos. They hope to introduce them within the year.

Lynnae’s has been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and Bloomberg News, among other media. The women and their pickles made an appearance in the “gifting lounge” at last September’s Emmy Awards where they made Pickletinis (see accompanying recipe). “Most of them came back for seconds,” Cullinane said of the TV stars. They also made an appearance at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.

Schneller said it’s been a steep learning curve for the small company. The specialty-food business is more competitive than they knew. Shelf space is limited and distributors and grocers are seldom willing to take chances on products that might not move. “We’re pretty lucky for just being a year-and-a-half old,” she said.

At first sold locally then regionally, the company just inked a deal with specialty food distributor KeHE to sell the pickles in the Midwest and East Coast. They’ll be everywhere from Alabama’s Piggly Wiggy to New York’s Gourmet Garage and even into the Cayman Islands.

What’s the key to the company’s success? First, there’s a national trend toward handmade artisanal products. Even in a tough economy, consumers seem willing to splurge on specialty items – perhaps in lieu of unaffordable bigger ticket items.

And then there are the pickles themselves. Neither full-on sweet like a gherkin or savory (with the exception of the traditional dill) Lynnae’s Pickles occupy a middle ground that seems to appeal to pickle fans.

“People are usually surprised when they taste them. It’s a unique flavor,” Schneller said.

Beyond expanding on grocery shelves, the company might also move into living rooms. The family enterprise was filmed recently for a reality TV show. It has yet to be picked up by a network.

Despite the growing success, Lynnae’s hasn’t lost touch with its Tacoma roots. They will continue to be sold at farmers markets, local stores (see list), demos and events. Hot Mama Dirty Martini

Ingredients:

5 ounces Vodka

1 ounce Vermouth

1 ounce Lynnae’s Gourmet Pickle juice

Hot Mama Pickle for garnish

Directions:

Shake liquids in cocktail shaker with ice, pour into glass. Add pickle for garnish.

Where to find them

Stadium Thriftway, 618 N. First St., Tacoma

Dave’s Meat & Produce, 1312 N. I St., Tacoma

Pacific Northwest Shop, 2702 N Proctor St., Tacoma

Tacoma Boys, 5602 Sixth Ave. Tacoma

Tacoma Boys, 901 39th Ave. SW, Puyallup

Greener Bean Coffee Co., 1039 Regents Blvd., Fircrest

Tahoma Market, 6006 Pacific Highway E., Fife

H & L Produce, 7320 Lakewood Drive, Lakewood

Harbor Greens, 5225 Olympic Drive NW, Gig Harbor

Harbor Greens, 2620 Bridgeport Way W., University Place

Spooner Farms, 9710 state Route 162, Puyallup,

Vashon Thriftway, 9740 Southwest Bank Road, Vashon

Ralph’s Thriftway, 1908 Fourth Ave., East Olympia

Veggies, 1849 N. National Ave., Chehalis

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com

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