Behind the Brine: Travis Grillo – Grillo’s Pickles
Brand: Grillo’s Pickles
Owner: Travis Grillo
YGET: What’s up Travis? Thanks for getting in touch with us, you’ve got a dope product that you’re pushing and it’s our goal to help push it even further while providing our readers a little bit of insight into your brand. To get started, how did Grillo’s Pickles come about?
TG: In 2007, I was out of college which was a huge accomplishment for me because NO one in the family had gone to college. I was expecting a job when I got out in the footwear world; Nike, Converse, Puma, New Balance… Who ever wanted to hire me. [I fielded] interview after interview. Nike was the company that flew me out to Portland for one last interview after about 4 of them. Long story short, they hired a internal worker and not me!!
So that summer I was bummed sitting in my back yard and eating one of my fathers home made pickles when that cartoon light bulb went off! I was like “F*ck the normal way of doing things, I’m going to start my own pickle company!” College was a waste of time in my mind at this point. This was before anyone in the marketplace was making fresh-made pickles, so I had to prove myself. With help from my cousin Eric Grillo we hand built the World Famous Grillo’s Pickles Cart! We got a Vendor’s pass for downtown Boston and started selling pickles one spear at a time, rocking fresh Jordans daily.
YGET: Is there a funny / unusual / peculiar story that happened early on with this?
TG: Well I have to say for the initial year [I was] starting this company, I didn’t watch any TV at all! I totally shut off the normal way of doing things and just did what I did: sold pickles. I also rode a bike back and forth to the pickle cart daily, which is out of character for me since I like cars.
YGET: That’s crazy. It seems to take an uncommon dedication and focus for people to achieve their goals in today’s climate. What is your inspiration?
TG: Well in life it’s my family first always, hands down. In business, it would be Pete Lescoe of Food Should Taste Good. But I like the easy things in life; the beach and Bob Marley all day for me. I [also] have a street sense as well so I’m well rounded.
YGET: Ha! Lighters up! Have you seen a surge in sales / notoriety with the resurgence of high quality, organic products in the general consumer market?
TG: To be 100% honest, I was not into the lifestyle of eating fresh and natural. I was solely selling a family recipe that just happened to be all natural. I have much more RIP OFFS and copy cats tho! I won’t name names but they know who they are and shame on them! I’m flattered, I guess 100 million dollar companies are copying me now! See I’m the original and no one can take that from ME.
(We did some digging and some of those culprits are pictured below)
YGET: They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but most of these folks are just biting success for cash. It’s really difficult to be able to let something like that slide, especially considering the quality and flavor of your products. Where can the public find your product? We need some more of that crinack mee-jit-lee!
TG: All Whole Foods Markets on the east coast, Wegmans, some Stop-N-Shops, tons of specialty stores and also restaurants. [We have] distribution with Katsiroubas Bros., US Foods and Albert’s Organics. We hope for national distribution soon! We need California to pick us up! Stop through my pickle shop in downtown Boston: 1075 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA.
YGET: How did the placement in Whole Foods come about?
TG: I’m going to say that Whole Foods is the best company to work with! They are like family. They found me vending on the streets, no joke! Like, Nike slept on me. Whole Foods took a chance and now look: I’m in over 100 stores selling a $6.99 pickle of which we sell 10,000 jars every few weeks.
YGET: How have things changed for Grillo’s since you originally rolled the pickle stand out for the first time? What’s your biggest / most memorable moment with that cart?
TG: So much has changed! Now I run a real business. [laughter] I miss the days of 10 of my friends all hanging at the cart downtown with NO care in the world! You have to understand, the pickle cart was a very cool spot to be for the first years! It was the only place to buy them so it was [always] busy.
YGET: Were there any times you felt the growth you’ve seen wasn’t going to become possible? How did you stay focused amid the craziness or being a small business owner?
TG: I mean, every year we face this problem! Growth was learned from trial and error. I took advice from anyone willing to help. I stayed focused by just thinking, “Whats the worse that can happen? I’ll be broke again?” [laughter] I’ve been broke for years; no problem handling that. You see, if you know how it feels to be broke, then you’re not scared of failing. The growth is a challenge and that’s how I looked at it: just another chapter.
YGET: Some people have a mantra, superstitions, even pictures of where they envision themselves to keep the fire lit. How do you stay inspired?
TG: I stay inspired by being able to help others grow. I love helping start up companies. I’m full of motivation and I love spreading that to others. But I do picture myself living on a island [soon].
YGET: Let us know when you make that purchase, we’ll bring the alcohol! So what’s the deal with the pickle? He’s too cool to just be a logo, there’s got to be a story there!
TG: I agree, he is cooling out full time. The pickle man in the lounge chair represents my Mother’s love of the beach, but also just the all around vibes of just chillen laying back. No worries.
YGET: If only life could be so simple. Speaking of marketing and branding, what type of marketing / advertising have you used to grow your business? What role, if any, has social media played?
TG: BE YOURSELF MARKETING! It’s that simple. As you know, social marketing is huge for all business and for the pickles it’s been 100% best way to get the word out.
YGET: What’s your favorite thing to eat with a Grillo’s pickle?
TG: Grilled cheese. Also, beer and pickles.
YGET: Everything is better with beer! What’s the top item you’ve pickled?
TG: Pickled mint grapes!
YGET: The container you sent in our care package was insane. We’ll definitely cosign that. If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? Would you have those grapes on the menu?
TG: Damn man! [laughter] Well, I would say VIETNAMESE FOOD!
YGET: Anything special you’d like to say to our readers or make them aware of?
TG: Just do what you think is right in life. You really can be anything you want to be. I’m a parent now, so I’m learning a lot about life. Listen to your parents, but also listen to your gut. Take chances and risk will equal rewards. Also, the slow and steady will always win the race; classic, but very true.
YGET: Thanks a ton for talking with Pete and I. It’s always dope to get underneath the public relations and marketing scripts and just chop it up with a humble and successful businessman. Salute to you sir!