When family members first suggested the name, Britt Eustis, a former CEO and one of the early pioneers of the natural foods industry, had his doubts.
“I said, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he recalled.
But the name has a certain appeal and it didn’t take much brining for it to grow on him. Now, just one year later, it’s on the lips of food columnists at large metropolitan newspapers across Seattle.
Pickles this, pickles that; pickles, pickles, pickles.
The emergence of a Northwest pickler is undeniably a cool story but Eustis has made the tale a Whidbey Island one by setting up shop in Clinton. Well, the production side, anyway.
The company’s public face is a storefront in Seattle’s renowned Pike Place Market, but the real magic happens in a commercial kitchen in Clinton Square, a few blocks up from the ferry dock.
There Eustis and assistant Debra Noonan brew up about 2,000 pounds of fermented foods a month. Currently, the two-pickler team turns out a total of nine different products: five flavors of pickles, sauerkraut, two varieties of kimchi and sweet and savory black garlic.
All are brined with recipes divined by Eustis.
“We call him the magician,” said Kristin Hyde, the company’s pickle-eating promoter.
Eustis, also known fondly by company staff as “fermenter-in-chief and all around pickle meister,” founded the business in September of 2011 following a long career in the natural and sustainable food industry.
Most of his experience over the past 40 years was on the administrative side, working with farmers to produce and distribute wholesome foods rather than being a commercial producer himself.
His leap into the other side of the business was fortuitous. In late 2010, his position as president and CEO of Ceres Organic Harvest in St. Paul, Minn., came to an abrupt end with the closure of his division.
Another casualty of the troubled economy, he said.
“So, I was sort of gainfully unemployed and came out here (the Seattle area) to help my sister with her art studio,” Eustis said.
While his past experience had been on the administrative side, Eustis has long held a personal love for fermentation and the various approaches taken by different cultures.
He spent years experimenting with different recipes and home fermentation before opening a dedicated business.
That experience and love, coupled with what he says is a rising interest in today’s generation for fermented and sustainable foods, bore plans for a new business and it wasn’t long before the smell of brining pickles and sauerkraut was wafting out of his sister’s basement.
Things moved quickly after that.
He soon outgrew the basement kitchen, then another facility in West Seattle before eventually settling in Clinton. There are several reasons for moving to Whidbey Island, but one of the largest he says is due to the water.
Whether it’s due to the natural filtering of drawing water from an aquifer or the lack of added chemicals such as chorine or fluoride, Eustis said Clinton’s water supply just makes his pickles sweeter.
Whatever the case, business leaders are happy he’s there. Not only does a pickle producer bring a special flavor of diversity to area businesses, it adds stable jobs not dependent on tourism, said Bob Craven, president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a tremendous addition to the Clinton business community,” Craven said.
It’s an added perk that Eustis’ pickles are particularly tasty. A jar he brought home to his family was quickly emptied and earned high praise.
“They thought they were terrific, some of the best pickles they’d ever had,” Craven said.
Turning out a good product, Eustis believes, is one of the reasons for his latest victory, the securement of a retail outlet at Pike Street Market. One of Seattle’s centers for culture, space at the popular market is extremely limited, making competition pretty fierce.
“It’s kinda the heart of Seattle,” he said.
The fact that the market hasn’t had a fermentor in about 80 years broadened his appeal to decision makers, but Eustis doesn’t believe that’s why he got in. Taste was the deciding factor, he said.
“That’s what it comes down to; you have to produce a really good product,” he said. “You can’t disappoint.”
To the delight of Craven, Eustis confirmed that he hopes eventually to do retail sales in Clinton in front of the kitchen. He’s not sure just when that will happen, but his long-range plans are for a stable and sustainable Clinton business.
Britt’s Pickles products can be purchased at a number of Whidbey Island commercial locations, including The Star Store and The Goose Community Grocer in Bayview and Prairie Center Red Apple in Coupeville.