Washington DC is known for many things. Partisan politics. Sensible shoes. Indie food? Not so much. But if Sarah and Sheila, founders of Gordy’s Pickle Jar, have anything to say about it, that won’t be true for long. After meeting at a friends’ brunch a five years ago, the two were drawn to each other immediately. “We both just love food” says Sheila, who has worked in the service industry for a long time, and still moonlights as a bartender at DC’s popular Marvin. “We both have an entrepreneurial spirit. I have a knack for playing with flavor, and she has a really strong business background. We knew kind of right off the bat we’d do something like this.” Both were huge pickle fans and aware of the lack of great pickles coming out of DC, so they decided pretty quickly that the pickle business was for them. “It’s the rebirth of an old craft, a way to work with local farmers, to make a product that reflects the bounty of the mid-Atlantic.”
In the summer of 2011, after 4 years of daydreaming, they zeroed in on the idea of simply making the classics (ie. Bread & Butter, Pickle Relish, Pickled Jalapenos) but making them better, and they put their palates to work. “We wanted to use natural sweeteners, focusing a lot on balance and creating really dynamic brines. For the Bread & Butter Chips, it was important to add a savory element, which we achieved by using plenty of garlic and ginger.”
Launch time came with a friends’ wedding at the end of that summer. They customized their hand-stamped labels with the newlyweds name and wedding date and the jars were handed out as wedding favors. (Jordan almonds, your days are numbered). The pickles were a hit, so Sarah and Sheila were inspired to send their just-perfected Bread & Butters to the International Pickle Festival and wound up taking second place.
In December, Whole Foods DC noticed some of their social media efforts and the girls were invited to meet with a buyer. Eight weeks later, Gordy’s Pickles were on the shelves. By June of 2012, Sarah quit her day job and devoted herself to pickling full time. Sheila hopes to do the same soon. “Making pickles is fun! We love our customers and forming relationship with farmers. It’s a hectic endeavor, but we thrive off of the adrenaline. You have to be resilient, responsive, and willing to do whatever it takes, at any hour. But when you make it work, there is nothing more rewarding.”
This year, they hope to ramp up production a bit, but they never want to change the fact that they make the pickles themselves, in tiny 72-jar batches. “Our pickles have a really good crunch, and that’s huge for us. We’re extremely detail-oriented. While we want to grow, it’s really ultimately about the love, the joy of pickling and preserving. We were attracted to the idea of preserving the seasonal. We can take a cucumber grown just 100 miles from where we live, and by pickling it, we’re able to enjoy it year round.”
Gordy’s is undeniably one of the District’s indie food shining stars. “It’s definitely under-represented, but that’s beginning to change. I see more and more people establishing roots here - DC has that reputation as a transient place, but I think that’s changing too. We have great produce - Lancaster County has one of the highest rated soils as far as nutrient density goes on the entire east coast. We admire and look to other cities for inspiration but we’re excited to have it here in our own community and we’re all trying to help each other out. We definitely hope that our success helps other artisans.”