Spears Over Chips
by Emily Kovach
Big decisions are part of launching anycompany. When Brine Street Picklery was forming, its five co-founders had a particularly pressing dilemma on hand: spear or chip?
“It’s the age-old pickle question,” founder PJ Hopkins laughs. “I was outvoted for spears four to one.”
The seeds for Brine Street were first planted in 2011 when Hopkins and his girlfriend (now business partner) Valentina Nourse were enjoying bloody marys while in New Orleans for Jazz Fest. Hopkins tried the pickled dilly bean garnishing his drink and loved its zippy crunch.
Back in Philly, he started making his own “zing beans,” and shared them with friends who encouraged him to start a pickle company. Though he works in the insurance industry, Hopkins had some culinary experience—he briefly cooked at an Iron Hill Brewery—and has always loved food. A beer-fueled brainstorming session with a friend yielded the clever name Brine Street Picklery (Hopkins lives on Pine Street), and soon after, a few friends with helpful skill sets offered to come aboard to help launch and run the business. Brine Street’s five co-founders are Hopkins, Nourse, Bill Donahue, Kristen McManus and Eli Sachs; each have other jobs and work on Brine Street on the side.
They formally began in May 2015 at events like the Franklin Flea and Night Market, and at the farmers markets at Pretzel Park in Manayunk, the Common Ground Marketplace on North Broad Street, and in Clark Park.
“I come from a sales background, and I think with a food product there’s no way to sell it unless people can see it and eat it,” Hopkins says. Brine Street also began wholesaling to like-minded accounts like Talula’s Daily and the butcher shop at Kensington Quarters.
The response from both shoppers and the surrounding food community was heartening, and to Hopkins, a bit surprising. “We’d ask for help, not only from friends but also other food businesses, and people were just super friendly and willing to help. Coming from the corporate world where I work, it was initially alarming,” he says. “But then I noticed that people genuinely cared.”
Brine Street offers a limited selection of core product offerings: Straight Up Spears, Dem Spicy Spears, Hoagie relish and the original Zing Beans. They also release seasonal specials, like Moroccan Spiced Carrots, and source locally when possible, through Fair Food and Common Market for produce and The Head Nut for spices.
The Greensgrow Community Kitchen acts as their production facility, though the team has plans to scale up, which may include moving to a larger dedicated space.
Hopkins is more passionate about pickles than ever, and he urges people not to throw the brine away just because the pickles are gone.
“You can use itto marinate chicken breasts before throwing them on the grill,” hesays. “It also makes a great pickleback shot.”