Unbound Pickling: Making It Through the Brine

Jesse and Katie Hancock, owners of Unbound Pickling, know that there’s much more to pickling than cucumbers and brine. For them, this age-old method of food preservation presents a prime opportunity to experiment with unique flavors and bring something different to Portland’s crowded artisan market, all while turning their mutual love of food into a reliable career.
Jesse and Katie did not plunge into business unprepared. Knowing that they wanted to pursue a business in food, the couple began to wonder what would be both interesting for them and carry the real potential for success. They looked to the centers of American food culture – New York, San Francisco, and Portland – for ideas and found that the East Coast had something the West lacked: gourmet pickling.

The Hancocks set to learning how to bring pickling to an untouched market.  Though they knew a great deal about cooking, pickling required a whole different understanding of chemistry and flavor combinations. Even more challenging, they had to learn how to start a company, work as a business partners, and raise two children while doing it.
Jesse, with his eye for detail, spent a year researching how to start a business.  Meanwhile, he and Katie experimented with pickling.  Their product, they decided, would not adhere to traditional ideas about pickles. They would use pure juices rather than excessive sugar and salt. They would source local, fresh ingredients. And they would play with flavors, expanding on the classic pickled cucumber. Thus the name, Unbound Pickling – a company unafraid to be creative and unique.

The flavors didn’t work out immediately. They had to try again and again, using a little more of this and a little more of that, with Jesse researching flavor combinations all along.  His focus on perfection paid off, and soon the pair was ready with pomegranate and chai spice beets, Cajun spice green beans, and more.  So they packed up their home in Washington and headed south to Portland, eager to put their dream in action.

Despite all of their planning, Jesse and Katie still ran into a few hiccups in the Rose City.  At first, they found it hard to communicate with farmers about their needs and crop availability, but they knew they didn’t want to buy their supplies from the grocery store. After a few seasons in the farmers markets, they now are familiar with the seasons and with the farmers.  They know they will buy their okra from Groundworks and their cucumbers from Fazzios.  In the markets, they formed relationships and began whittling their niche.
But for doors to really open, they needed something bigger.  They began selling at Food Front Co-op, but wanted to bring their pickles to a larger audience. So they took a risk, using all of their budget to attend the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.  Then the industry knew they were serious.  Whole Foods signed them on to sell in Northwest stores, and Crate and Barrel sold their pickles nationwide for a year.  Then other stores around the country started stocking their goods.  Suddenly, Unbound Pickling had made it.
Katie and Jesse say they still want to move slowly, to expand gradually as they improve their product.  After all, they do absolutely everything on their own, from jar design to publicity to the actual pickling.  Jesse works at a separate corporate job and they have their children to take care of.  But, overall, they love food, they love each other, and they love their company.  With this passion, they can only continue to succeed.

Katie Woods
Fall 2011 Portland Food Warrior

This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Fall Internship Program. These interns were in Asheville, Austin, Nashville, Portland and San Francisco, collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! (Winter/Spring 2012 Interns will be blogging from Atlanta, Austin, the Bay Area, and throughout Hawaii soon!)

This entry was posted in Food Warrior Interns, In the Pantry (food artisans) and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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