We had the good fortune of connecting with Bradley Bennett and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bradley, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Creating a business from scratch is a constant process of managing risk. You have to have a stomach for it, or else it can consume you. For me, the initial risk was simply starting a business which I had no background in. I had a good amount of business experience from another industry that helped me in many aspects of starting a business, but the food CPG industry was new to me. While I took some major risks to advance my own career in the software industry before this, it was nothing like the risks I would undertake to own my own business. I built this business from scratch without any outside investment. So, from the beginning I put my life savings, retirement and even my house at risk by spending and borrowing against that money to start the business. As we grew the business, every step involved taking on more risk to get to the next level. The thought of what failure could mean personally, or the worry of being able to pay the bills or make rent, or most of all the fear of not being able to make payroll are the things that keep any business owner up at night. Risk manifests itself in many other ways than just financial. So often my colleagues in business have urged me to make sure we were ready to take on new business challenges before doing them so that we wouldn’t hurt our brand or reputation by failing to meet the business challenge or provide the appropriate level of customer service. While that is very prudent business advice, if I had followed that advice in this business, I would have slowed down my own progress, considerably – possibly detrimentally. You never know which business opportunities are going to come through and which will not, or if they do how long they will take to happen. I have taken an approach of casting a wide net and figuring out how to respond to the business as it comes rather than to worry about how to make it happen before you even know if you will even get it. As a result we have risked taking on more business than we can handle, but the reality has been just the pressure to make it happen quickly when it does.
What should our readers know about your business?
At PPW, we have built our brand around the idea of making expertly crafted snackable items that use high quality regional ingredients with absolutely no artificial colors, preservatives or stabilizers of any kind. We are the originators of the new West Coast style pickle and have fun creating products that will please both pickle fanatics and pickle skeptics alike. While we keep things light-hearted with our cheeky product names, we are serious about the quality of the ingredients that go into our products and way in which we make our products that preserves the crunch that can only come from using fresh from the field produce and not overprocessing it. Even though this originally started as a hobby to make holiday gifts for friends and family, the principals that went into the product making with those first batches have remained the same from the beginning. We are especially proud of what we have accomplished with the creation of our savory drink mixer line. Every one of the products in this set is not just another “me too” mixer. Our first and most award-winning product is our Bloody Mary Elixir. From the beginning we knew we didn’t want to sell other flavored tomato-juice and instead set out to bottle the secret sauce that anyone could use to make a foolproof delicious Bloody Mary. In doing so, we discovered that most commercially available Worcestershire sauces out there are full of artificial ingredients and that if we wanted to hold tight to our principals of being 100% clean label that we would have to figure out how to make our own. It is one of our greatest points of pride about our Bloody Mary Elixir that we have the only mix that features a house-crafted Worcestershire sauce. Our Michelada Shrub is a first of its kind mixer for making a delicious Michelada at home. We now have several breweries that use our Michelada Shrub to help their bartenders make a consistently great Michelada, which by the way features a little of a vegan version of our Worcestershire sauce. Bringing up the rear of this line is our Pickle Brine which was the first all-natural gourmet pickle juice to hit the market and now is one of our top selling products on Amazon. This Pickle Brine is most commonly used as a chaser with the trending “Pickleback” shot, which is simply a shot of Irish Whiskey chased by pickle juice. Try it before you knock it. To be candid, Pacific Pickle Works would have been much more difficult to get off the ground if we didn’t have friends and the community lending us a helping hand. In the beginning stages we couldn’t afford a place of our own or a factory so we teamed up with a local school and traded time in the kitchen for making bulk pickles for the school. If only we could still pay our rent in pickles! We were doing much smaller batches at that time and my parents would come to the school every Sunday and help clean and label jars. I paid them in pickles too! We eventually launched a Kickstarter campaign which raised awareness about our business while raising funds to help us build out our own facility. It’s amazing to look back at that small little business that started out in 4 stores in Santa Barbara and is now in more than 2,500 stores around the US. But one thing that has not changed is that I still get a kick out of the look on people’s faces when they ask you what you do for a living and I tell them that I own a pickle company. The next step for Pacific Pickle Works is to expand into doing more business in the foodservice sector supplying restaurants throughout So Cal with our bulk-packed pickles. We started to expand this part of our business just before Covid hit. Fortunately the majority of our business was in retail and we were able to pivot back to what we were best at. But now we are excited to get these restaurant products launched again and are here to help any business serving craft burgers and sandwiches to elevate their pickle game.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Sometimes I forget that we are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place with so much to offer. There is never a shortage of things to do, places to see or things to eat. If I had friends visiting for the week, here are some of the things we would have on our agenda: Saturday Day 1: Go to the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market with a coffee in hand from Dune coffee and pick up a delicious breakfast burrito from El Rincon for some casual but authentic eats. Before heading home, we would probably visit The Mill and have an afternoon beer at Third Window or a glass of wine at Potek Winery. We could head home for the afternoon and make dinner at home from the fruits and veggies we purchased from the farmer’s market. Sunday Day 2: Wine tasting in the Santa Ynez valley no doubt! Pence Vineyards is one of my favorite wineries; it has beautiful scenery and delicious wine but call ahead for a reservation because they don’t take walk-ins. We would then hit lunch at Industrial Eats in Buellton and finish the wine tasting tour at Folded Hills where you can visit the farmstead to pick up some veggies and other local food items and feed the goats, pigs and other farm animals. Monday Day 3: Start the day by doing some stand up paddle boarding in the harbor followed by lunch at local’s favorite Brophy Brothers. My favorite thing to do is belly up to the bar (before COVID happened), have a Bloody Mary or a Margarita and munch on some of the best fish & chips or fried scallops around. Of course the clam chowder here cannot be beat. It’s casual with a stunning view of the Santa Barbara foothills. Be sure to grab some locally caught fresh fish from the Santa Barbara Fish Market to cook for dinner. Tuesday Day 4: Take the dogs out for an off-leash walk on Hendry’s beach and for drinks and a snack at Boathouse. It’s one of the few places in town where you can get a bite and drink right on the beach. For dinner we would visit Milk & Honey or Alcazar for delicious Spanish tapas and some of the best craft cocktails in town. Wednesday Day 5: This would be a day walking around the “Funk Zone” which is an area of town originally known for a funky industrial and artist community, but has become a hotspot for wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants. From amazing ceviche tostadas at Corazón, to wine in the industrial vibe of Municipal Winemakers, to the vast beer selections on tap at Lama Dog taproom to craft cocktails of Test Pilot to a nice dinner at either Spanish paella at Loquita or elevated California cuisine at The Lark. Thursday Day 6: I have a favorite little wine bar called Villa Wine Bar that is often sort of my second office in the evenings to finish up a few emails and have a nice glass of wine or one of the constantly rotating selections of beers on tap. We would likely follow that up with dinner with the always unique selections of Black Sheep, or walk up the newly converted pedestrian-only State Street to hands down some of the best sushi you will find in So Cal at Arigato. Friday Day 7: Afternoon drinks and food at Playa Azul and grab coffee at Handlebar afterwards. Would likely be an early evening because guests would be leaving the next day and we would hang out and have a chill night at home. At that point, my guests would likely ask to extend their vacation a bit longer. 😉
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Karl Willig was the CEO and my boss most of my 12 years at the first software company I worked for. Though we don’t always see eye to eye, he always takes the time to listen, is thoughtful about his responses, and often leaves me considering more than I came into the conversation with. His a man of great intelligence and life experience. While he could be an intimidating person to approach, he had a way of making everyone feel welcome to come chat with him. He knew the name of everyone working for him, and I believe probably remembered 95% of the people that ever worked for him in his entire career. Not only did he know their names, he usually knew at least a few personal details about each one. Karl put a priority on hiring smart and good people and it was in my opinion the single most important thing that made that company great. While I can’t be all the things he was to that company, my company has benefited at least from a few of the examples that he set back then.
PPW_Pickles_Photography by Full Frame Foodie – Photography Full Frame Foodie