Pickled Pink Foods

Local duo finds success in simple, Southern recipes

Jim Lawlor and business partner Charlie Stephenson (right) at a show.
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By CANDY WAYLOCK
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Then there’s the taste … thick cut, crunchy and full of flavor. We constantly get comments from folks about how it ‘reminds them of what their grandmother used to make.’”

In the specialty food business dominated by women, two men in pink aprons hawking gourmet pickles is certain to grab attention. And a lot of orders, as it turns out.

Milton residents Charlie Stephenson and Jim Lawlor have taken a 100-year-old family recipe for pickles and turned it into Pickled Pink Foods, a wildly successful company based in Roswell whose products are found in more than 1,500 retail locations across the country and internationally.

“Our jars scream different and upscale from the standard grocery brands,” said Lawlor. “Then there’s the taste … thick cut, crunchy and full of flavor. We constantly get comments from folks about how it ‘reminds them of what their grandmother used to make.’”

The pickles were a holiday mainstay in the Stephenson household for years, but it wasn’t until late 2012 that the two friends saw a business opportunity at the bottom of the pickle jar. With backgrounds in the restaurant business, Stephenson and Lawler reached out to connections to see if they had a viable commercial product.

Sure enough, a run through the test kitchen at Southern Living and positive reviews from the owner of a branding school in Atlanta confirmed their hunch.

“With those two ‘thumbs up’ we were off and running with Pickled Pink Foods, which was named by Charlie’s wife,” said Lawlor.

Making the product was the easy part with tried-and-true recipes in hand, so the early part of 2013 was spent in design, photos and other business aspects of taking the items to the public.

Lawlor and Stephenson decided to roll out Pickled Pink Foods soon after, and optimistically signed up for the July 2013 Home and International Gift Market in Atlanta.

They barely made the show, Lawlor said with a laugh, noting the first batch of product labels were delivered on the first day of the show, so the duo was labeling jars as the show got underway.

“The show has a ‘gourmet food’ floor with about 200 vendors, and we weren’t sure if we’d sell one client, one jar or nothing,” recalls Lawlor. “But by the show’s end, we had picked up 93 clients in 19 states, and we were like ‘Wow! We’re off and running!’”

Within a year, Pickled Pink Foods went from the drawing board to store shelves across the country with a product line that includes the signature sweet gourmet pickles, along with spiced watermelon pickles, sweet heat jalapenos, and gourmet jalapeno pickles. The small selection is intentional, noted Lawler, because it is focused on family recipes that dictate what was “simple” in the South.

“And that’s the genre we are sticking with,” he adds.

Lawlor and Stephenson remain the only employees at their Roswell headquarters, but they do use a co-packer who can mass produce the recipes to their exacting standards and fill the hundreds of cases that ship out weekly.

“But we will still do all our shipping, packaging and marketing out of our office here in Roswell,” said Lawlor, who credits the growth and success of the company to word-of-mouth.

Down the road, Lawlor said more vegetables will be added, along with two or three flavored cucumber pickles (he’s experimenting with a wasabi-ginger infused pickle as we speak, he confides).

Pickled Pink Foods is found in a variety of retail locations, from the very small retail outlets like Cheeses and Mary in downtown Crabapple, to Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati that covers more than six acres. It can also be found locally at Roswell Provisions, Wilbur and Rudy’s, Parsons and the Fresh Market.

But Pickled Pink Foods is not just a business. It has a corporate mission to give back to the community through Hunter’s Hotline (www.huntershotline.org), a nonprofit foundation that provides a direct line for teens to use when they find themselves in trouble with drugs, alcohol, bullying or other troubles.

The foundation was set up by the Stephenson family in honor of their son, Hunter, who passed away in 2004.

“All of our jars say ‘Pickled for a Purpose’ on the front and there is a blurb about Hunter’s Hotline on the back,” said Lawlor. “We support Hunter’s Hotline by donating a portion of our profits to this nonprofit.” ■

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