Brooklyn Brine – The Pickle Maker



The sweet, pungent smell of hot apple vinegar bites our nostrils. An army of steaming hot pickling jars stand at attention on two long aluminum counters. Surgical gloves protect the staff's busy hands as they expertly fill the multitude of jars with sliced gherkins. At the back of the whitewashed brick warehouse, three impressive stainless steel pressure cookers oversee the procedures: the nerve center of the establishment in which Shamus Jones, founder of Brooklyn Brine, makes his own green gold: pickled gherkins. These pickles, however, do not in the least resemble the ordinary gustatory sensation the brain generally associates with the condiment.

The 32-year-old pickle virtuoso from Brooklyn has composed an entirely new palette of products. Compositions such as "Whisky Sour Pickles" along with his newest creation based on an aromatic pale ale with the fitting name "Hop-Pickles." As such it is no wonder that Brooklyn Brine and its founder Shamus Jones are now famed far beyond the borders of New York even though the trained cook never planned to carve a place for himself in local lore as a professional pickler. That's simply the way it happened.

I ran into my restaurant friend on the sidewalk and was like: Hey, just got laid off. Can I use your kitchen tonight? I’m starting this pickle company.

The American dream: From unemployed cook to successful pickle entrepreneur

One hot summer day in July 2009, Shamus Jones was skateboarding along through Brooklyn in a thoughtful frame of mind. Just an hour earlier he'd been laid off by his boss – because of the recession, he’d been told. In the past, Jones had often thought about what his next career move should be. But now he needed a plan and fast. Just a few minutes later, it materialized before him in the flesh and form of a friend who owns a restaurant. "I was telling him what had just happened," Jones relates today, "and suddenly it hit me and I said, 'Hey, can I use your kitchen tonight? I’m starting this pickle company.' " Looking back now, this sidewalk encounter was Brooklyn Brine's official hour of birth. That very night, Jones started on his career as a pickle maker. Straight away, the unemployed cook took over his friend's restaurant kitchen every night. From 10 p.m. on, when the restaurant crew went home, Jones preserved gherkins till the early morning hours. "Luckily I was able to get my initial on-the-job experience rent-free," Jones shares with us. Just two weeks after that first night, he had already landed his first client. Word-of-mouth propaganda rapidly spread Jones's idea from one New York deli to the next and, after a pathbreaking pickle festival in Manhattan, he signed a contract with the largest health food chain in the U.S.: Whole Foods. This occurred a mere three months after starting up and gave the dedicated entrepreneur the opportunity to open his own production site. Today, Brooklyn Brine boasts a substantial production site in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus and continues to expand.

I’m not a marketing guy and I’m not a salesman, either. I don’t want to be that way. I’m just inspired with food.

Preserving the essence: How Brooklyn Brine manages to grow, yet retain it's pioneering spirit

Besides pickles, the Brooklyn Brine selection ranges from carrots to beets over to sauerkraut. With his staff of five, Jones produces more than 1600 jars of preserves daily. For its pickle production alone, Brooklyn Brine processes over 3 tons of the green produce every week. While Jones is pleased with the rapid growth of his still young enterprise, he also understands the limitations of the business model. "I’m not a marketing guy and I’m not a salesman, either. I don’t want to be that way. I’m just inspired with food," is how the amateur guitarist with his brightly tattooed arms summarizes his philosophy. His dream scenario would be for Brooklyn Brine to continue to grow at a natural rate without losing its appeal as the local producer around the corner. "We want to keep the human touch, no matter what. After all, our product follows a very simple yet basic recipe for success: Quality." A maxim that Jones can only meet as long as they manufacture their products by hand. An elaborate and time-consuming process that cannot compete pricewise with the industrially manufactured products of the competition. Impressively, Brooklyn Brine does a roaring trade all the same and meanwhile exports its wares all over the globe. The export market reaches from Canada to Australia over to Hong Kong and Japan. The success of this organic product obviously roots in the high quality standards it meets.

What differentiates us from other pickle makers is our real focus on first-to-the-market ideas.

Sour gherkins belong to yesterday: Pragmatic product design is the recipe for success

Yet Jones considers two other components to be even more essential to their success: imagination and a hands-on approach. "What differentiates us from other pickle makers is our real focus on first-to-the-market ideas," the pickle creator explains. At Brooklyn Brine, the products are certainly not created in a flavor lab. Jones prefers the hands-on approach and composes his next bestseller along with the current production. Just recently he co-developed a product with "Dogfish," one of the most successful independent breweries in the U.S., using beer flavors. An idea that occurred to him during supper – accompanied by beer and pickles, of course. "There’s no manual for what we do. Our products originate from trial and error." A philosophy that leads to Jones's products having almost instant market maturity. So that, while the competition is still researching in their laboratories, this quick entrepreneur is already on the market with the first jars of yet another original composition.

If I hadn’t become a pickle maker I’d probably be a miserable alcoholic chef on the verge of suicide.

A strict vegetarian, Shamus Jones attributes his hands-on approach to his upbringing. The only child of a single mom in New York, Jones learned early on that empty talk didn't get you anywhere. To achieve something you had to keep moving and keep your eyes open for the next opportunity. Standing still in this environment leads to a dead end, or at the very least to bankruptcy. "If I hadn’t become a pickle maker I’d probably be a miserable alcoholic chef on the verge of suicide," Jones jokes. Sometimes bumping into a friend who owns a restaurant is the best thing that can happen.

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