A Massachusetts native who grew up eating pickles his family made using his grandfather’s 100-year-old recipe, Travis Grillo decided to merge his personal and professional life in 2008 after a job opportunity at Nike fell through.
Following his grandfather’s instructions, Grillo began making pickles and then hit the road in Massachusetts and Connecticut to sell them out of the trunk of his ’84 Cutlass Supreme. Business was strong enough in the first year that Grillo decided he needed a larger mobile storefront and upgraded from the Cutlass to a homemade wooden pickle cart that ended up in downtown Boston shilling pairs of spears for a buck.
Eddie Andre, who graduated high school in ‘09, was playing in rock bands at the time and had a flexible schedule. One night while checking out Worcester-based hardcore punk band Bane, Andre noticed the band’s singer Aaron Bedard was wearing a Grillo’s shirt and got curious. Introduced to Grillo at the show via a mutual friend, Andre wound up as the first employee of Grillo’s Pickles at the age of 18 and soon took charge of a pickle cart at the Park Street subway station next to Boston Common.
Now, more than a decade later, the bond between Grillo’s Pickles and the punk/hardcore scene is still strong. According to Andre, who is now the head of brand experience at Grillo’s, the connection was an easy one.
“It’s just always been one of those things. Early on, a lot of our friends would go to shows and wear the shirts or were in bands and would wear the shirts,” Andre tells InsideHook. “That’s just who we were as individuals. We had friends in that space who liked the pickles and would talk about them. People weren’t really sure if we were a band or a merch company or a real pickle company.”
Still very much a pickle company that has loads of merchandise — including metal T-shirts — and even a cookbook, Grillo’s, which currently counts a number of musicians as employees including a member of the band Infinity Ring, has become the preferred pickle of groups outside of the punk scene, most notably hip-hop collective Odd Future who referenced the company in the 2012 track “Rella.”
“We went to their show and gave them pickles and shirts on their tour bus. Grillo’s has always been a lifestyle brand so we try to cater to our own personal interests within the brand in a subtle way,” Andre says. “You involve the people you came up with to keep it fun. It’s had this appeal to subcultures, whether within punk rock or hip hop or skateboarding or fashion. I think it’s because of who we are as individuals and the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with being a part of those cultures. Some people would wear our merch onstage and other times they would just eat the pickles in the back room. We lived in it, so it all just came kind of naturally.”
“There was no brand strategy other than that we wanted to do what we thought was fun because that’s what made building the company and brand fun. We didn’t have anyone to answer to and we could do whatever we wanted,” Andre says. “We wanted people to feel like they were meeting the brand when they would meet us in person and it was the same vibe. It turns out a lot of people we met had similar interests. It made it a lot easier to connect.”
For Grillo’s, connecting has always meant reaching customers on a personal level as opposed to a preachy one, according to Andre. “We don’t have artisanal packaging. We have a pickle guy in a beach chair with sunglasses and flip-flops,” he says. “His name is Sam Sam the pickle man. Travis’s grandfather was named Sam. That’s our quality. That’s our brand. People hear the story and they try the product and the product lives up to the story. That type of word of mouth is contagious.”
Not to mention delicious.
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