For pickle purveyor Travis Grillo, business is booming
Success follows him to pop-up shop
CAMBRIDGE - It’s hard not to be impressed with Travis Grillo and his pickles. Three years ago, he was wearing a pickle suit and hawking homemade pickle spears from a wooden cart in Boston Common. Today, his pickles are sold in about 200 stores on the East Coast, including Whole Foods Markets, Stop & Shop, and specialty stores. Last weekend, Grillo opened his first store in Cambridge. He’s 30.
“Cambridge you almost sold my store out!!!’’ Grillo tweeted @GrillosPickles. A two-week supply lasted three days.
Grillo’s Pickles in Inman Square is actually a three-month pop-up in a 150-square-foot shop rented from abutting neighbor Clover Food Lab. The shop will disappear at the end of March, but Grillo relishes the chance to sell pickled produce not yet available in stores. “This is more like a pickle boutique,’’ says Grillo, showing a visitor around. He cradles his 6-month-old Samuel while pointing out a rack bearing logo T-shirts and hoodies. An ice-filled wooden table holds pickles made with baby carrots, red grapes, green tomatoes, and pearl onions. A stainless steel refrigerator features his signature dill and spicy pickles, and brined asparagus, jalapenos, beets, and Italian peppers.
Bite into a Grillo’s pickle spear and the first thing you notice is the solid crunch, then the vinegar tang with no salty aftertaste. Eric Grillo, the company’s operations manager, a former chef and Travis’s cousin, says the secret behind the crunch is the lack of preservatives. “That crunch is not possible with a shelf-stable pickle,’’ he says. “Our pickles have a two-month shelf life. That’s not long but it’s worth it to have that kind of quality product.’’
Grillo embarked on a pickle career four years ago, after quitting real estate and forgoing dreams of designing sneakers. His grandfather Samuel Grillo passed down the recipe: cucumbers brined in vinegar with garlic and fresh dill.
Travis and Eric Grillo made the pickles in Travis’s Allston apartment, and then shuttled on bike and van to Boston Common, selling two dill spears for $1, a quart for $6. The pickles were stored in the basement of an Allston liquor store or wherever Grillo found free cold space. “I love hustling, I love working hard,’’ he says. “I don’t like being lazy.’’
It’s that work ethic that attracted Whole Foods, which sells dill and spicy pickle quarts for $6.99 in the produce section. “Travis is the quintessential young entrepreneur,’’ says Bill McGowan, the North Atlantic prepared foods coordinator for Whole Foods, in an e-mail. “He has a sharp business mind. He is driven and passionate and our team members really enjoy working with him.’’
Grillo says Whole Foods approached him while he was selling at Boston Common, and has since mentored his business. He also credits Ted and Nick Katsiroubas, of Boston-based Katsiroubas Bros. wholesale fruit and produce company, with “taking me off the streets into a real produce market and prep room.’’
Grillo’s Pickles are now made and stored in two locations in Boston and Springfield. The company has 15 employees. Cucumbers are purchased fresh from around the country. All products are pickled within about a week of being picked. “We’re 600 percent from where we started,’’ Grillo says. “We’re doing 10,000 jars every month.’’ His goal is to see Grillo’s Pickles sold nationally, but he’s keen to continue selling at farmers’ markets.
“People thought I was crazy to start a pickle business in a bad economy, but I continue to grow,’’ says the entrepreneur. “I’d love to see where I’ll be three years from now.’’
Grillo’s Pickles 1075 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. Pickles also available on Saturdays at the Wayland Winter Farmers’ Market, Russell’s Garden Center, 397 Boston Post Road, Wayland; Sundays at SoWa Winter Market, 500 Harrison Ave., Boston. In the summer, the pickle cart returns to Boston Common, near the Park Street T station.