On a day in 2009, when the housing market was bad going on worse and many families were struggling just to get by, Angie Tillman made her first post on Facebook: “I’m pickling beans today.” The rest was history.
Tillman, a 41 year-old mother of three, now co-owns a local and well-loved pickling business, Phickles Pickles, with her husband Phin.
Today, Phickles pickles have grown into a staple at the Atlanta Farmers’ Market, a menu item at many local restaurants and a new location on Baxter Street, currently under renovation.
Specializing in pickled vegetables ranging from asparagus and jalapenos to carrots and snap beans, Phickles offers a wide array of homemade products for a variety of palates.
However, Tillman’s pickle business had humble beginnings. At the time of her original Facebook post advertising her first commercial pickle batch, Tillman’s family was afraid of losing their house and scraping up change to pay for gas.
“I figured I’d just ask forgiveness instead of permission, and I’m going to form a company," Tillman said. "I’m just going to do this and try to make some cash."
Tillman turned her for-sale house’s front porch into an impromptu pickle shop, complete with a cigar box for customers to deposit payment into as they picked up their jarred vegetables.
Starting out as a fun and upbeat way to make a little extra money, the Tillmans' pickle porch blossomed into a full-blown business when Bell’s Food Store began ordering shipments and Phickles Pickles was mentioned in Garden and Gun magazine.
Today with the help and support of her husband and three children, Phickles Pickles has taken on several locally owned and operated accounts and clients all over the South, and they source all of their naturally grown vegetables from America.
“We were in a very bad time when we started Phickles. That’s kind of why we sell to locals only,” Tillman said.
Following the publicity afforded by Garden and Gun in 2010, the Tillmans moved their operation out of their home kitchen and into a location on Atlanta Highway, which they still use to produce the high volume of pickled vegetables for their weekly trips and deliveries around the Southeast.
It became apparent in a short time, however, that Tillman’s self-titled pickle parlor was not fit as a commercial operation in Athens.
The search for a commercial location began and stretched out for a year before Tillman found the current location at 720 Baxter Street in the place of a former Quiznos store.
The Tillmans have pulled themselves up since that first Facebook post, but Tillman is still aware of the instability of starting up a business.
“We’re not really in a bind, we’re just in a scary place where you’ve just got to go on your faith and your gut,” said Tillman said.
Despite this, the Tillmans continue to form a brand that delivers not only on taste, but also on personality and fun.
“It is a pickle business, but a lot of it for me is connecting with other people, more than just the business. It’s not just about the pickles,” Tillman said.
Currently under renovation before its official opening, Phickles Phun Foods has big things in its future.
Already possessing a kitchen and a roomy front area, the Tillmans are working toward turning the shop into a pickling site, a shop and a cozy community area for cooking and mixology demonstrations.
Phickles is also introducing two new cheese spreads, Hot Mess and Southern Charm, to complement its pickled vegetables.
Tillman has curated a collection of local mom-and-pop products from her visits to farmers’ markets, ranging from Kentucky teriyaki sauce to fresh Brooklyn honey to fill the front area of the store, the “artisan market.”
“Whether I can sell a whole lot or not, I hope it promotes those people, to say that if it got my approval, then it’s good enough that it should be in stores everywhere,” A. Tillman said.
Tillman has big hopes for Phickles Pickles, musing on dreams of small franchises and cookbook signings taking place in her shop.
Today, Phickles has stopped taking on wholesale accounts, being comfortable where its is with their daily workload.
However, underneath all of the big hopes and dreams, hopes for her children and the values of family and fun remain strong in Tillman’s life.
“They need to learn that you earn things but we don’t want them to learn that life is about money,” Tillman said. “It’s more about enjoying the gifts around you … and hopefully inspiring other people.”
With humble beginnings sprouting from a family pickle recipe sold off of the pickle porch, Phickles Pickles has grown into a brand relied on throughout restaurants and local stores, a flavor profile appreciated by people from food science superstar Alton Brown to everyday people.
“The most rewarding thing for me is the people who have inspired me and who have somehow been inspired by my story,” said Tillman.