Global financial markets are in freefall, 401(k) plans are dissolving and the Big Three American automakers are facing bankruptcy. Yet one Santa Monica resident thinks he has what it takes, not only to survive the recession, but to thrive. And, oddly enough, his solution has everything to do with pickles.
Ryan W. Mushin, 26, a Physical Education teacher at Will Rogers Elementary and coach for the Team Santa Monica swim club, is embarking on the ambitious plan of bringing Grillo’s Pickles to the West Coast.
The pickle business light bulb switched on in Mushin’s head during a visit from his former college roommate, who made Mushin a batch of his family’s pickles. One bite was all it took. “Hey, this could work,” Mushin thought, and before the day was over the two young entrepreneurs forged a plan to each sell the product on their respective coasts.
That was in November. A month later, Mushin has succeeded in convincing a handful of local grocery stores to carry his pickles, including Santa Monica Farms Jr., Goudas and Vines, Venice’s Market Gourmet, and others in the surrounding areas.
The Mirror caught up to Mushin at Bob’s Market on Ocean Park Boulevard and 17th Street, where he stood behind a table underneath store signs advertising holiday specials. He had his pickles on display, with samples available to curious shoppers. Dressed in his Grillo’s t-shirt, he chatted with customers about the uniqueness of his product.
“They’re all natural Italian Dills, no preservatives, made in spring water with herbs, spices and grape leaves,” he explained to an interested woman chewing on a sample. “It’s a younger pickle, so the crunch is superb.”
If the pickle salesman in Mushin is based in Santa Monica, his product is anything but. The recipe for Grillo’s Pickles comes to California from Sicily, where Mushin’s college roommate’s grandfather once grew the cucumbers himself in his backyard garden. Now, thanks to Mushin, Santa Monica can experience this Sicilian delicacy for six bucks a quart.
Launching a pickle empire, however, is hardly a glamorous task. Mushin spends a good portion of his weekends making the rounds to those stores carrying his pickles. He arranges tastings, chats with managers, and restocks deli shelves with fresh containers. Additionally, he must find time to pitch his pickles to new stores. During the week Mushin is busy teaching jump shots and the front crawl, but he still finds time to attend to his business during his one-hour breaks between jobs.
It’s not easy, but judging by his smile and easy-going manner behind the samples’ table, Mushin is enjoying the challenge. “It’s great, I get to socialize and see everyone from the neighborhood.” Today at Bob’s he’s already run into a number of his students and their parents. “Look!” he says, pointing across the store, “there’s one of my wild children running through the aisles.” Soon afterwards he interrupts himself to say hi to Sam, a shaggy-haired, former student who greets him with a sheepish grin.
Mushin is no veteran of the business world. He studied education in college and readily admits that he’s piecing together his small-business know-how with each new day. “I’m learning what I can, learning as I go.” And if the satisfied looks of customers tasting Grillo’s Pickles are any measure of his success, then it’s clear that Mushin is learning fast.
Grillo’s Pickles are currently available at:
Bob’s Market 1650 Ocean Park Boulevard; Goudas & Vines 2000 Main Street; Santa Monica Farms Jr. 2015 Main Street; and Market Gourmet 1800 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice.