In Travis Grillo’s new pop-up pickle store, there are pickled cucumbers, of course, in various combinations of sweet and sour and spicy and herbed. Stacked along with these are less common standbys — pickled garlic, onions, root vegetables. And then, something new. Something a bit unusual. In one container, dark orbs float in murky water. They look like olives, but they’re not.
“Pickled grapes with mint leaves,” the 30-year-old owner of Boston-based Grillo’s Pickles says. “They’re sweet and they’re sour.”
You can eat them with cheese, or alongside wine or beer. Grillo was influenced by an old French recipe, which calls for eating them with champagne — but they are an unusual and addictive snack all by themselves.
Adventurous eaters can’t get these grapes at any of the Whole Foods stores that sell Grillo’s Pickles, or at the Grillo’s Pickles food cart in the Boston Common. They’re one of several products unique to the small Inman Square pop-up — a 3-month experiment that Grillo admits is a testing ground for a full-time store. However long the venture lasts, it’s the first pickle store in Boston, Grillo said.
Grillo, who has a laid-back, Californian way of speaking despite his Connecticut upbringing, speaks about his business with the air of someone who has beat the system. Pickles, to him, are a symbol.
“I just want people to realize if you have a goal, just do it. Because no one believed in me, and then I started the pickle company,” he said. “If you’re sick of your 9-to-5 or if you’re fed up with school, get up and do something.” Otherwise, he said, “you’ll just wake up doing the same [stuff].”
“The pickles,” he later added, “have continuously proven that to myself and people around me.”
The story begins in 2008.
“When I started the pickles, people thought I was freakin’ nuts,” he said. “I was selling real estate, I had a college degree, I was going to work for Nike. I had really high expectations that I was going to have a job that made good money.”
But, he said, he knew he had a killer pickle recipe — a hand-me-down from his father and grandfather. And so, in the year of the biggest financial meltdown of Grillo’s lifetime, he went into business for himself, selling spears out of the back of his 1985 Cutlass Supreme. The result, he said, surprised everyone.
By 2009, Grillo was selling his pickles outside the Park Street station near the Boston Common. In the next year, Whole Foods began carrying his products in stores from Maine to New Jersey, including locations in Manhattan. The pickles began garnering a cult following.
“We try to give the customer the flavor of the vegetable, not a bunch of crap to disguise the vegetable,” Grillo said. This means no preservatives or additives, like so many pickle manufacturers do to extend the product’s shelf life. Even sugar is used sparingly.
Grillo, he said, has a hard time trying to pick one favorite pickle, but he recommends the mustard, the asparagus, and the half-sour varieties. All of these are available at the pop-up pickle store at 1075 Cambridge St., which is open through the end of March.
Here’s a bonus, for those of you wondering about the title — a sketch from a recent episode of IFC’s Portlandia: