You've Heard of the Muffin Man? Meet NYC's Pickle Man!"If you want to make it happen here, you can, and if it doesn't happen in the way you want it, something else might pop up."
People arrive in New York all the time hoping to make it big. Bob McClure was one of those dreamers. A regional theater actor in his native Michigan, McClure came to the city in 2004, landing TV commercials and even some film work. So when his thespian buddies suggested one summer that he try selling the pickles he makes from his great-grandmother's recipe, he wrinkled his nose.
"At the time I was like, 'It's not ideal — I'm an actor,'" he says. "'I'm not going to start a business or anything. I don't know the first thing about it.'"
Not too long afterward, while working a temp job between gigs, he saw an article in The New York Times about pickles. It stopped him in his tracks. "It was about another pickle maker — who is a friend and a colleague — who couldn't make a spicy pickle," he recalls. "I copied that and forwarded it to my brother and my dad, and I was like, 'Hey, we've been doing this for 40 years!'"
McClure's Pickles are now carried in specialty stores around the city and nationwide at such retailers as Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods. While much of the painstaking hand-cutting, packing and canning happens back in Michigan, the brain center of the operation is McClure's Brooklyn apartment.
Most mornings he'll bike 10 minutes from there to a 500-square-foot kitchen he shares with other local entrepreneurs to test recipes, or to can pickles and relishes himself. Every so often he'll whip up something special, like the beer mustard or curried sauerkraut he makes in small batches and distributes on a limited basis. By noon he's back at his apartment, answering e-mails and taking orders. In the afternoon he might be making deliveries in and around the city in his custom-detailed van.
The brine itself has proved popular at local watering holes, prompting McClure to expand production to include a Bloody Mary mix and plain pickle juice that can be used as a mixer or marinade. "I was storing our product at a bar underneath my old apartment," McClure says. "I would give them a case of pickles every month for storage fees and they would use the pickle juice in martinis and Bloody Marys."
The juice also sparked a craze for "pickle back" shots — a shot of whiskey, usually Jameson, chased with a shot of pickle juice. The trend drew interest from national liquor distributors, which are planning to market the plain juice in bar promotions.
McClure is very much a New York success story — even if it didn't happen in the way he intended. "That's what's great about the city," he says. "I don't know how often you can find a city that's so flexible in that way, because there are so many opportunities here. If you want to make it happen here, you can, and if it doesn't happen in the way you want it, something else might pop up."
Check out Bob's New York.