Local business owner takes pride in pickles
Jun 25, 2019 08:00AM
By J. Chambless
Crisp & Co., a Hockessin pickle company, was founded by Hockessin native Tom Peter. (Photo by Ken Mammarella)
By Ken Mammarella
Crisp & Co., the Hockessin pickle company, began when pickle fan Tom Peter needed a nice birthday gift. He decided to make pickles. They were terrible.
So was the next batch. And another. But lots of research – the Tatnall alumnus has undergraduate degrees in biology and economics from Grinnell College and a master’s in biomedical engineering from Cornell University – and inspiration from a pickle-maker he was dating made him persevere.
“I wasn’t thinking of this as a business. I was doing this for myself,” he recalled of those experiments, starting in 2011. “But eventually they turned out good.”
Today, Crisp & Co. annually produces 50,000 jars in six varieties, half cucumbers, half other vegetables. Peter wants to expand to more states (about 30 now) and more stores (200). And maybe more varieties.
So after stints as a banking account manager and business analyst, Peter’s place is in pickles.
His first pickle memory is shopping at Acme with his mother and being treated with pickles from the barrel. Today, he treats himself with barrel pickles at Doc’s Meat Market in Hockessin.
Peter felt encouraged by two early events. His Sweet Ginger Pickles won second place in the bread & butter category in the Rosendale International Pickle Festival in New York. And a woman, whose father was a manager at Wegmans, used his Grand Dill Pickles as party favors.
His first retailer, in 2013, was Harvest Market in Hockessin. Today the pickles are sold locally at Harvest Market, the Country Butcher in Kennett Square, Coverdale Farm in Greenville, Janssen’s in Greenville, Longwood Gardens in Kennett, Newark Natural Foods, Talula’s Table in Kennett, Wegmans in Glen Mills, Whole Foods in Glen Mills, Winterthur Museum and some farmers markets.
Thanks to the Victory Pint pickles (with Victory Prima Pils, from the Downingtown brewer) and the Pinot Noir Pickled Beets (with wine from various sources, the latest involving negotiations to buy 275-gallon totes direct from a California winery), they’re sold in some liquor stores, too.
Online orders are for six- and 12-packs on www.crisppickles.com/shop. Wherever they’re sold, the 16- or 24-ounce jars cost about $10.
The Victory Prima Pils and the Pinot Noir Pickled Beets won awards in later pickle festivals. Peter’s Savory Pickled Mushrooms, with creminis custom-grown in Kennett, won a first place at the festival, too – and they’re the favorite of his father, John, a helper and financial supporter of Crisp & Co.
Production, after moving among rented facilities in the Philadelphia area, is back in his parents’ basement, off Old Wilmington Road. The aromatic operation, which employs one full-timer, takes up about 1,000 square feet.
One area is a spice library, with racks of flavorings. “I wanted to look at each ingredient to see what matters and what didn’t,” Peter said. That includes something as common as the salt, in all its varieties.
The ingredients are preferably fresh, local and heirloom. The one exception is calcium chloride, used for an overnight soaking to make pickles firmer and speed up fermentation. All varieties are ready to eat a few days after packing, and they last 15 to 24 months unopened.
For people who haven’t ventured beyond the classic dill, a few ingredients could be unfamiliar in pickles, such as ginger, cloves, orange peel and chili peppers. Credit his mother, Susan. “[We] share an interest in cooking and in interest in complex flavors,” she said.
Tom Peter, a Hockessin native, now lives in Philadelphia, close to his wife Melissa’s business. She runs preschools in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, Texas, with a third opening this winter in Ardmore.
She is, uh, not a fan.
“Melissa doesn’t really eat pickles. She has an aversion,” Peter said, comparing it to his own aversion to eating cooked seafood. And her pregnancy hasn’t included pickle cravings.
Customers have told him they’ve put his pickles in ice cream, but Peter doesn’t go for such whimsy. He believes in classic usage, such as on sandwiches, cheese plates and side dishes, where their flavor profiles – balancing salt, acid, fat and heat – nicely contrast the rest of the meal. Of course, they’re fine on their own. He can almost polish off a jar of Spicy Dilly Beans in a day of snacking.