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Secret family recipe cooks up success for Mrs. Pickles Gourmet

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Ever watch “Antiques Roadshow” and wish you had some super valuable family heirloom tucked away? You might consider looking through your recipe box rather than your attic. For Aly Cullinane, her family treasure turned into an entrepreneur’s dream.

More than 100 years ago, Cullinane’s Great-Grandmother Toots came to Tacoma from Branson, Mo. and brought with her a long-held secret family pickle recipe.

“Since then each generation of women in the family have gotten together and pickled – just family members and just the women – and it gets passed down to any other women who marry into the family,” Cullinane said. “The recipe is so tightly held that I had to wait seven years, until I married her Great-Grandson DJ, before I was entrusted with the coveted process.”

One day, Cullinane’s sister-in-law asked her if she were interested in partnering up to start selling pickles using the tried-and-true family formula.

“I thought, ‘why not?’” Cullinane said, a first-year schoolteacher at the time. “First-year teachers don’t make a ton of money so I thought I might as well have a little side gig going on.”

The partners started making and selling pickles at farmers markets and local events and within a few months had the product on local store shelves.

“From there it snowballed into a fulltime gig. After my first year of teaching I terminated my contract and started doing pickles fulltime. That’s when I realized I could help others and inspire others while doing something I absolutely love, which is eating, selling and making pickles.”

Thus, the Mrs. Pickles brand was established, named in spirit and fond family memories of the name that Great-Grandma Toots’ family lovingly refers to her as – Mrs. Pickles.

Her sister-in-law has since left the business and Cullinane now heads up the business herself. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit ever since I was a young kid,” she said, remembering the sidewalk Kool-Aid stands and little stores she would set up in her room when she was a youngster.

“I never thought pickles, though, but I had always thought of something in grocery. The family made them for Christmas every year and they’d be gone within a couple of weeks – people would snag jars here and there and they’d be gone by Christmas so we had to keep making more and more that’s when we decided that it was something we could turn into a real business.”

Featuring two types of crisp, delicious pickles – Original Sweet and Sour Dill and the Hot Mama with a kick of jalapeño – Mrs. Pickles offers both flavors in 16-ounce spears and chips free of preservatives, dyes and other chemicals. The recipe remains tightly held and always will, Cullinane said, and it helps that the recipe isn’t written down but rather maintains a comfortable home in Cullinane’s head. Only one person outside of the family knows the concoction. “I have one person at my manufacturing facility who signed a non-disclosure agreement – that one person knows.”

Over five years in business the recipe has received a good amount of national attention, too – for example, in “O” (the Oprah magazine) and an episode of the popular television show “Shark Tank.” Mrs. Pickles can be found in many local stores, including Tacoma Fresh, Tacoma Boys, Kroger, Fred Meyer, QFC, most local Thriftway locations and Red Apple. Also, look for Cullinane in her signature green apron with white polka dots handing out samples and selling her yummy products at these upcoming events: the Federal Way farmers market on June 11, the Northwest Garlic Festival in Long Beach, Wash. June 18-19, and Kent Cornucopia Days, July 8-10.

Learn more at www.mrs-pickles.com where you can also place your order online and receive a 10 percent discount using the code “MemorialDayBBQ.”

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