I’ve been fascinated by this new, local pickle company—Backyard Brine Pickle Co.—that I see at many of our East End farmers markets. I’ve been trying to work out an interview time with the bearded, friendly face behind their table for months. I found out that his name is Randy and that we’re both extremely busy. So when we finally set a solid time for a phone interview I checked out the Backyard Brine website and found this under “About Us:”
“Backyard Brine is a Long Island-based artisan pickle company run by husband and wife team Randy and Cori Kopke. All our pickles are hand-packed in small batches using fresh, all natural and local ingredients, some right from our own backyard garden. No artificial preservatives, chemicals or any of that weird yellow number 5 stuff…Our original recipes and seasonal specialties stand out from the rest, including some favorites ‘Dill Death,’ ‘Everything’ and ‘Pumpernickel RyRy.’ Careful, our pickles are addictive!”
That seemed to say it all, but when I finally did speak to the Kopkes on speaker phone they had a big reveal: the two East Northport natives had just closed on a manufacturing site on Cox Lane in Cutchogue and they plan to open a pickle-tasting room there next month! Their neighbors on Cox Lane include North Fork Potato Chips and A Taste of the North Fork. So expect a lot of foodie synergy. Randy already offers pairing suggestions for his pickles with local wines, and with craft beers. Watch for “Spears and Beers” events. Did I mention that North Fork Chocolate Company in Aquebogue covers some of Backyard Brine’s pickles with dark chocolate and sprinkles them with local sea salt for a special taste treat? Oh my.
The coming Backyard Brine outlet was inspired by local wineries’ tasting rooms. Randy asserts “our goal has been a ‘vegetable vineyard’ from year one.” He muses that perhaps one day people will grow cucumbers for his pickle business in their own backyards and sell them to him, like many California homeowners sell grapes to their local vineyards. In the meantime, the Kopkes will continue to get the bulk of their cukes from North Fork farmers and they will be planting a big garden at their North Fork home to grow peppers, onions, “a lot of dill” and other herbs. They moved to Cutchogue permanently in June.
The pickle tasting room will feature a “pickle bar” fashioned from old shipping pallets and a B.Y.O.B. policy. When manufacturing begins onsite in the New Year, the couple will also be offering tours of the cannery, and Cori plans to teach home canning classes. Tasty.
How did this business, founded in December of 2013, start up and expand so quickly? It was a marriage made in Montauk.
The Kopkes had been making their own pickles from their own cucumbers for years, often giving them as gifts to friends. Early on Cori discovered that the pickle mixes sold in grocery stores are “terrible” and that “there had to be a better way.” She went her own route to develop homemade flavors for both fermented and vinegar pickles. In May of 2013 Cori’s brother got married in Montauk. For the wedding celebration, the Kopkes concocted some unique pickles, including their “We Go Together Like Bread and Butter.” The pickles were such a hit that they took their friends’ advice to go into business, launching Backyard Brine just last winter.
The Kopkes met with Stony Brook Small Business Development and “took it step by step.” To date they’ve manufactured their pickles in the Stony Brook University Incubator at Calverton facility. They really need to get their new, expanded manufactory online quickly because, in addition to the 60-plus stores they currently sell to—including several in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Vermont—they are about to close a deal with a distributor to supply all of New England.
The Kopkes have been so busy they haven’t been to the beach in two years! But they’re happy. As Randy says, “we make our business social.” When the Kopkes do have a spare moment they enjoy spending time at Shuck Yourself in Greenport, at Moustache Brewing in Riverhead and at local winery tasting rooms. As Cori points out, “farmers markets are our favorite. People there are really interested and they share their family recipes.”