Many a huge business success has started from one tiny great idea. One such idea was had the day Justin Park and Tyler DuBois decided to make a batch of pickles together. For some time, each had been individually making homemade pickles as a fun hobby. They exchanged recipes and tastes, and eventually collaborated. That first batch, the original version of their Jalapeño Honey Dills, foretold of greatness. The pickles were so unique, crunchy, and flavorful, they just had to share their creations.
After two years of talk, plans, and recipe experimentation, they launched the brand “The Real Dill” in summer of 2012. To this day, they still follow the same recipes they created in their home kitchen, using all natural ingredients and home canning techniques. All of the pickling spices used are proudly sourced from local Denver business Savory Spice Shop.
Their flavors range from high heat Habanero Horseradish and Jalapeno Honey to the more tame Caraway Garlic Dills. The Bloody Mary Mix is made in part with excess pickling liquid and a smooth tomato base, yielding an herby, complex drink that just needs a dash of liquor to make your day. New recipes and flavor combinations are tested all the time, so be on the lookout for new favorites.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview Co-Founder & Owner Justin Parks.
So Justin, what is the ‘story’ of The Real Dill, how did it all start?
It was really just a hobby gone wild. We were making pickles for fun and really didn’t have plans to start a business. But we got really excited about what we were making and I think we expected the excitement to wear off at some point and it never did. So after a year or more went by and we were still devoting our free time to this pursuit we knew that it was something we were really passionate about. We finally decided to take the leap and it has been a wild ride ever since.
That sounds like such an adventure! How do you source your products? The cucumbers, the spices, the jars, etc.
Sourcing is probably one of the biggest challenges and something that we are constantly striving to improve upon. Our primary focus is to find the absolute best quality product that we can get. After all, the end product is only as good as what we start with. Sourcing good quality produce can be a lot trickier than you’d expect and although we go through what we think is a lot, we don’t have a ton of buying power. Our cucumbers come from various sources throughout the year, including Colorado, Mexico, California, Georgia, and Florida. We source all of our spices from Savory Spice Shop in Denver.
What is your favorite pickle flavor?
My favorite flavor changes all the time. Every product we make is so different from the others that it can depend on your mood at the time or what you’re eating it with. That said, I think the Spicy Caribbeans are my favorite. They have tons of flavor and are just so unique and unlike anything else out there.
Where do the ideas for recipes come from?
The ideas and recipes come from general inspiration. Sometimes it may be inspirations that hits us while traveling, or while eating a great meal, or cooking at home. We have a long, long list of recipe ideas that we are interested in trying out and we haven’t gotten to most of them just yet. But when something really excites us, we make it a priority because ultimately that is why we are doing what we’re doing. To have fun.
Sounds like you really have your priorities straight. Do you offer factory tours to the public, take part in community events, etc?
We do not currently offer any tours because we’re operating in a shared space. But we are in the process of moving into a new facility that will belong to us and we are very excited to bring people in and show them what we do, how we do it, and even teach them how to do it at home. (AWESOME, home pickling lessons! Sign me up.) We do tons of events, including farmer’s markets, festivals, in-store demos, and other miscellaneous gatherings. We do over 200 events per year, closer to 250, actually. We love to engage with people and share our passion for what we do. Getting out into the community to engage with people face to face is very important to us.
If you don’t have time to hit up a farmer’s market, you can find their products online by searching your zipcode
to find the nearest vendors, or ordering online at Mouth.com
So how much does word-of-mouth help your business vs. paid advertising?
I don’t believe we have ever paid for advertising, so I don’t have any experience with it. There’s obviously no better advertising than word of mouth, and its something that we benefit from a great deal. Events are a great opportunity to connect with people and share an experience with them. That is far more powerful than a billboard or a magazine ad can ever be. It also takes a lot more effort.
What is your favorite part of working with The Real Dill?
I think business and entrepreneurism is rarely thought about as a creative pursuit. But I think that it requires endless creativity and that’s what makes it fun. There are new challenges every single day and there is no book with all of the answers. So, you have to find creative and inventive solutions to the problems that come up. It’s a huge challenge and that’s what I enjoy most about what I do.
Is the “pickle industry” competitive compared to other food genres?
In our experience it definitely has not been. Before we got started we reached out to some established pickle companies in other areas and locally, and for the most part they were happy to help. And there’s not a shred of competitiveness in the local Colorado artisan food and drink scene. It’s pretty amazing how genuine and supportive everyone is. I think that, for the most part, people are creative enough to distinguish themselves from the competition and people realize that the rising tide raises all ships. We have formed some pretty amazing friendships and partnerships with people that might be assumed to be competitors.
That’s so great to hear. Colorado in general does seem to be blessed with a huge variety of amazing artisinal foodies. What type(s) of your products sell best and why?
Our Bloody Mary Mix is actually our best selling item, which was not something we expected. We were pretty naive when it came to the market for Bloody Mary Mix. But from the very first day we launched that product it has been our best seller, and we sell out of it pretty regularly.
Apparently Coloradans like their boozy breakfast drinks with a hit of flavorful pickle juice! Seems like you cultivate many new as well as returning customers. What do you hope your overall customer experience is like?
We hope that our pickles are so good that you feel like you have to tell everyone you know about them. Not only would that mean that they were good, but also that they made you happy.
Making people happy is a worthy goal. What do you see as the future for the Real Dill?
We definitely look ahead, but generally speaking we’re most focused on the step immediately in front of us. We’re very intentional about slow, organic growth, at a pace that is comfortable for us. Our goal is not to be a nationally distributed product, but hopefully we can find a sweet spot that allows us to pay the bills and to have some flexibility. Most importantly, this is a pursuit of passion so it only works if we are having fun. And we couldn’t be happier to be doing what we’re doing and we’re fortunate to be able to do this for a living.
There you have it folks, a Cinderella story of a fun hobby turned into a pursuit of passion and full-blown business for two creative Colorado entrepreneurs. The next time you are at a Farmer’s Market, be sure to find the Real Dill’s booth and sample some of their handmade artisan pickles, and famous Bloody Mary Mix. Your taste buds are sure to thank you.