Over the last several months, we’ve written about a handful of Arkansas businesses that are finding success both inside, and outside of The Natural State.
Through our Only in Arkansas series, we’ve taken snapshots of several growing companies at various stages of their development, from the recent, rapid expansion of Slim Chickens, to the success Oh Baby Foods has found in being nationally distributed through Whole Foods Market.
But to this point, we haven’t really examined a business in the true startup phase of development.
And though Fayetteville-based Gunderpickles is operating on a much smaller scale now than some of the businesses we’ve profiled, the one-man show founded by Garrett Gunderson has no less potential than the rest.
If you’ve ever tasted one of Garrett’s pickled cucumbers or green beans, you know exactly what we mean.
A family tradition
Gunderpickles didn’t get its start as a company until 2012, but the recipe behind the product has been passed down through the Gunderson family for generations.
The 100-year-old recipe, created by Gunderson’s great grandmother wasn’t written down, per se, but was orally translated through the family and perfected through literally decades of repetition.
“Growing up, we always made pickles at home,” Gunderson said. “It was just kind of the thing to do in the summertime.”
One of his neighbors, who knew of Gunderson’s penchant for pickle making, asked Garrett to make a few jars as holiday gifts for his family a few years ago. Those jars, once the family tasted them, led to more requests, and it wasn’t long before Gunderson realized he was onto something.
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” he said.
Selling pickles at work
After the response he got from friends and family, Gunderson started making pickles by the case, and keeping them behind the bar at Mickey Finn’s where he works as a bartender.
His best-selling products are fresh-sliced cucumber pickles, though he’s also made more traditional pickle spears, pickled green beans, asparagus, sauerkraut, and other items.
He began selling the jars for $10 each, and the more people tasted them, the more his bar customers were asking for them.
“It got to the point that I was taking cases up there twice a week,” he said. “But I started feeling bad having people stop by at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night just to get pickles. I realized that isn’t convenient for everyone.”
With the success he had selling pickles by the jar at the bar, Gunderson began exploring new ways to get his products to the public.
He set up booths at Springfest and at the Block Street Block Party last year, where he sold all the products he’d brought to each event.
Gunderson is currently seeking a local retail partner to carry a few of his products, while also exploring the possibility of opening his own store somewhere in town.
The current main outlet for Gunderpickles is the wholesale market. Gunderson recently began selling his pickles to a handful of local restaurants, including Apple Blossom Brewing Co., Jose’s, Crystal Bridges, and others.
“The goal is to get my pickles out to as many folks as I can, without having to produce as many in small jars,” he said. “Getting them into as many local restaurants and bars as possible seems like the best way to do that.”
Gunderson said his goal is to have products in 10 to 15 establishments by the end of the year.
Gunderpickles still isn’t a full-time job for Gunderson, but as demand for his products continues to grow, the company is taking up more and more of his days as he supplements the boot-strapped business while bartending during the evenings.
He currently makes pickles during the day in a commercial kitchen space he rents inside Jose’s Mexican Restaurant on Dickson Street, and while working multiple jobs can be exhausting at times, Gunderson said he still has some energy left to increase his capacity.
“I’m down here several times a week making pickles, but I could always do more,” he said.
And while Gunderson said he could envision someday hiring employees and manufacturing his pickles on a larger scale, for now, he’s happy with the way the company is growing.
“I’m not really interested in becoming some kind of massive Walmartian-type deal,” he said. “All I really care about is getting good products of good quality to local people.
“Or non-local people,” he said. “I just want more people to try my pickles.”