How Travis Grillo turned the burger’s best pal — the pickle — into a cult sensation.
Photo by Sam Kaplan
In 2007, Travis Grillo had his “Newton and the apple tree” moment — only it wasn’t with an apple. He’d just been turned down for a job with a footwear company and was sitting in his backyard, crunching on one of his dad’s homemade pickles. “I thought in my head, I should sell these,” Grillo recalls. So two years later, he opened a pickle cart at the Park Street T station. “Everybody was like, ‘You’re crazy, you’re not going to make a dollar, nobody’s going to buy pickles,’” he says. “And I was like, ‘You know what? They will, because I’m going to wear a pickle suit.’”
By 2010 Grillo’s Pickles had gone from a humble cart with a human mascot to a company producing about 5,000 jars of pickles per week for the likes of local Whole Foods and Stop & Shop locations, and even Fenway Park. And in March of this year, Grillo launched the Boston area’s first-ever pickle shop, selling everything from standard cucumbers to carrots, beets, and grapes in his small but packed Inman Square space.
Grillo owes at least some of his success to having picked a product at the nexus of several current food trends: the rising preference for local products, the celebration of all things small scale, and even the renewed interest in canning.
With the support of locavore pickle fiends, Grillo is planning on expanding beyond New England: He anticipates that Grillo’s Pickles will be on the shelves of Whole Foods as far south as Florida by the end of the year.
Of course, the man who got his start wearing a pickle suit isn’t letting all the brine go to his head. “We’re not going to get fancy on you. We’re not going to change,” Grillo says. So while you may soon find his products all across the country, you can bet he’ll still be holding court at his original cart — in a pickle jersey, no less.