Lots of us dream about quitting our jobs and starting a food business. These people actually did it—with the loves of their lives as business partners.
Kendra Coggin and Baron Conway met while working at a marketing agency in Los Angeles: She took issue with a typeface he was using, and next thing you know, the two were dating and bonding over, of all things, pickles. "Pickling was a big part of both our lives growing up, says Baron. He grew up in England and favors mustard and malt-vinegar flavors; Kendra, a Mississippi native, prefers the sweet and hot versions from the South. They spent a lot of free time perfecting their brines, and after brunch guests frequently praised their pickles, they took a big leap and started the Pernicious Pickling Co. in 2013. "It was 50 percent planning, 50 percent pure gambling," Baron jokes of their decision to sink their savings into a new business after just one year of dating.
At the time, virtually no one was producing pickles in Southern California. The couple soon realized why: Getting a license to sell canned goods is extremely difficult. Undaunted, they took a certification class and rented space in a commercial kitchen. When they couldn't get a bank loan, they dipped into savings ($25,000, so far). Eventually, after renting booths at food shows, they started getting orders from gourmet shops—just the nudge Kendra needed to quit her job in 2014. (Baron still freelances to boost cash flow.) "It's the difference between being a business and a hobby," Baron says of Kendra's decision to leave her job. Today, their pickles are in nearly 100 stores, including Whole Foods, and they produce 10 varieities with bold flavor profiles, like pickled curry cauliflower and habanero dills. They expect to be cash-positive by the end of this year, but they're quick to admit it wasn't easy. "There are no shortcuts," he says. "It's hard work at every level."
Article by Erica Cohen
Photo by Anne Watson Photography
"Think like a coach and map out even the smallest details (it'll make the biggest impression). Carefully crafted, uniquely flavored versions can make all the difference on grilled burgers and dogs....Finally, any grilled, pulled or cured meat will play nicely with Pernicious Pickling Co.'s Sweet 'N Sour Pickled Red Onions ($9.99). The line also features ginger-pickled carrots and spicy, dilly pickled beets."
Selling Pickles, Seeing Smiles – and a Silver sofi
by Lorrie Baumann
Kendra Coggin and Baron Conway were looking to do more with their lives than answer to their corporate bosses in 2013, so they started making pickles. Just two years later, and just six months after the pair attended their first Fancy Food Show, their Pernicious Pickling Company's Ginger & Spice Pickled Carrots are among the finalists for a sofi Award. “It's what we wanted, but we never expected it would happen,” Conway says. “We were very, very surprised.”
In 2012, Coggin was a graphic designer, sitting at a computer all day and creating digital marketing materials for exciting entrepreneurs. Conway was working in advertising and marketing too, but his area of expertise is in business development and strategy. Both of them were infected by the ideas and energy of their clients, and they started thinking about going into business for themselves. They wanted something that would be creative, that would allow them to control their own destiny and that they could feel passionate about. “We wanted something where you don't mind working 60 or 80 hours a week to create something that impacts people in an interesting way,” Conway says. “It's about the food they love and the joy they get.”
They're both food lovers, and, for both of them, pickles were part of their family history. “My family has always had a very strong relationship with pickles, particularly savory, while Kendra was more familiar with the sweet hot flavors of the South,” Conway says. “At some point, we looked around and saw that there were no artisanal pickle companies in southern California.”
The two started making pickles and serving them to their friends, who were enthusiastic, so they decided to do some research into what it would take to start a pickling company. A year of work went into the business plan and the licensing that was necessary before they could sell their product. “California has very strict rules about shelf-stable pickling. You have to have a cannery license, commercial kitchen, regular inspections from the California Food & Drug Bureau and keep meticulous production records. All of these things are required to sell, whether it’s in a Whole Foods Market, a mom ‘n pop grocery, or at a farmers market,” Coggin says. “Even the recipes have to be submitted to the state for approval, along with samples for pH testing. It took us close to a year to get everything together. Then once you’ve received your cannery license and begin production, you have almost monthly inspections from the FDB to test your product and confirm records. This experience is certainly a far cry from the home canning we did growing up.”
All those complications could help explain why there are not many people making and selling shelf-stable pickles in Southern California, even though there's a lot of excitement in the market about pickling, she muses. The two of them launched their business in October, 2013 with 10 products. Yes, 10.
“Out of the gate, we had these 10 products, and we decided, the hell with it, we'll just launch with all 10 of them,” Conway says. “We saw an opportunity, a gap in the market, and we decided to jump in and see if we could take advantage of it.”
The 10 products include the Pickled Carrots that got the silver sofi Award, Fashionably Dill Pickled Red Beets, Sweet Hurry Curry Pickled Cauliflower, Sweet 'n Sour Pickled Red Onions, Lean 'N Mean Pickled Beans, Sweet Mustard Bread & Butter Pickles, three kinds of dill pickles and Pucker Up Hotties Sour Garlic Pickles. Of the 10 varieties, the Fashionably Dill Pickled Red Beets and Lean 'N Mean Pickled Beans are actually the company's best sellers, so it was a little surprising that it was the Ginger & Spice Pickled Carrots that caught the attention of the sofi Award judges. “The carrots are kind of this underdog, so it really surprised us,” Coggin says. “Inspired by the rich cultural diversity here in Southern California, we wanted to take the classic spicy mix of carrots, onions, and jalapeños you receive at Mexican restaurants, and add an Asian flair by making them with rice vinegar, to have a more mellow vinegary flavor, crushed red pepper, ginger, Thai chile. When you bite into the carrot, you get the sweetness of the carrot and the ginger, followed soon afterwards by a tinge of heat.”
“With all of our pickles, we try very hard to create a balanced, layered flavor profile,” Conway adds. “So it complements and extends the food it’s paired with.”
If the Pickled Carrots bring home the sofi Award, that will move the couple a little further ahead on their three-year business plan, and they're already figuring out how they can scale up their operation and expand their product line. “We decided that the philosophy has to be go big or go home,” Conway says. “We're becoming a little more ambitious about our goals and what we want to do.”
While they wait to see what happens at the Summer Fancy Food Show, they're both taking joy in what their business is bringing to others as well as themselves. “People love pickles. There is this force that draws people to us when they see we have pickles,” Coggin says. “It crosses all ages and genders. Little kids come up and want the spiciest pickles, or they want to try the pickled beet because it's bright pink.”
“Pickle people are happy people,” Conway adds. “When folks eat pickles, they have a smile on their face… They want to share memories about pickling with their grandmother or a favorite pickle dish experienced abroad – we’ve received more than one old family recipe in the mail. It’s really quite emotional at times and it's been an unexpected joy to see. We started Pernicious wanting to create pickles that people would love to eat, yet we didn’t quite expect the happiness, nostalgia, and community pickles would bring to us.”
Wow-wie, that's one sexy hot jar of pickles...literally! Check out Coast Magazine and their great little write-up about us.
"The Pernicious Pickling Co. started out at the Downtown Santa Ana Farmers Market, but its popularity has skyrocketed the OC company into brick-and-mortar stores across the county. Kendra Coggin and Baron Conway capture the seasons with jars chock full of locally grown cauliflower, beets and green beans. Food & Wine Magazine included the pickling pair in its annual Thanksgiving issue featuring recipes from America’s best food artisans. While sour garlic pickles, a bolder version of the classic kosher dill, are the couple’s favorite, the hotter versions are their best sellers. The extra spicy Habanero Hottie pickles and Spicy Lean and Mean Green Beans sizzle on the plate. “Our mission when creating these two was to bring the heat without compromising on flavor, so we use three types of chile with an extra dose of garlic, dill and black pepper,” says Coggin. While we enjoy eating them straight out of the jar, Coggin has some other recommendations. “We love serving them battered and deep-fried with a cool buttermilk dip, tossed onto burgers, or pour the brine into Bloody Marys for these warm California weekends – just don’t forget the garnish!”
If you had told us when we launched 1 year ago that today we would be gawking at our own little write-up in Food & Wine, I'd have thought you were hitting the straight vinegar again. Thank you to everyone who has supported us! #pickledance
Bespoke Post is a New York-based subscription club for the classy man – think axes and shoe shining kits, Bourbon brittle and grooming gear. We're delighted to have our Spicy Beans featured in their November collection called "Slate", comprised of a Brooklyn Slate serving board, Daneson toothpicks, and delicacies from the likes of Mustard and Co., Creminelli, Bourbon Trace, Old Town Oil. Read more and place your order here.
In conjunction with this collection, Bespoke has organized a little Pickle Shop in our honor where several of our other pickles are available.
We were beyond thrilled when asked to participate in the James Beard Foundation's Taste America LA events. On Friday night, our pickles were featured in a silent auction bid with goodies from heavy hitters Chef Edward Lee and Le Creuset. On Saturday at Sur La Table, we sampled our pickles while featured Chef Aarón Sánchez gave a cooking class and book signing.
Incredibly honored to be part of The Fare Trade's October box featuring Food & Wine Best New Chef: Northwest, Chef Jenn Louis. We're especially in love with her recipe for Cabbage & Fennel Slaw with our Pickled Ginger Carrots! Check out Jenn's basket + her exclusive recipes at TheFareTrade.com/blog and read our interview for their "Meet the Local" column here.
The Prince & Pantry is a full-service catering company that boasts quite the client list – let's just say it's not uncommon for his patrons to arrive by private jet. This particular event was for the Grand Opening Party at 503Found. We were delighted to supply an array of pickled vegetables for the crostini bar.
Holy smokes, we're in the May issue of Orange Coast Mag!!!