Arts & Culture

R.I.’s first artisanal pickling company finds home in Warren

Fox Point Pickling Company makes use of food incubator founded by former U. professor

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 24, 2014

Zared Goldfarb, founder of the Fox Point Pickling Company, pickles a variety of vegetables and experiments with different combinations of spices like mustard seed, habanero and coriander.

“I want to be Rhode Island’s Pickle,” said Zared Goldfarb, his confident ambition providing a stark contrast to his unassuming appearance.

The owner and “head pickleteer” of Fox Point Pickling Company, Ziggy — as his parents dubbed him at infancy — dressed his tall frame simply, in tattered jeans, a hoodie, glasses and a baseball cap decorated with dinosaurs. He spoke quickly yet fervently, understated and full of zealous excitement and passion for his pickles.

Fox Point Pickling Company is a business with unique origins. Goldfarb, who lives on the south side of Providence with his wife, grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, and moved to Phoenix to study humanities and film at Arizona State University. A few years ago, after moving to Providence, he purchased a pickling kit as a gag gift for his wife, a neurologist and ardent pickle lover. But she was consumed by her medical residency, and Goldfarb did not yet know many people in the area, so he started “messing around” with the kit himself, he said, and pickling rapidly became his offbeat hobby.

Initially, he stuck to recipes, but he soon found himself experimenting. He joined a Community Supported Agriculture group and began pickling whatever seasonal produce arrived in his weekly box of vegetables. “It was a lot of hits and misses,” Goldfarb said. After some research and looking around, he realized that though some local pickling businesses existed in neighboring states, there was no such business in Rhode Island working on an “artisanal scale.”

The idea dawned on him after he was laid off from his marketing job. “I thought, ‘Ah! This might be a viable business,’” he said.

Patience, trial and error led to Goldfarb’s discovery of the perfect recipe and, invigorated by his wife’s support and encouragement to “make it happen,” he decided to pursue his pickling passion in earnest. He named the company Fox Point Pickling after the neighborhood where he lived when he first moved to Providence.

“After so many years of sitting at a desk and doing someone else’s work, it’s really exciting to do something on my own,” he said.

Goldfarb’s work now tenuously balances meticulous science with creative spirit. Before the pickles can head to the market, they must sit in jars of brine for a month at a precise acidity level, and in order to preserve vegetables and make things shelf-stable, Goldfarb uses a mixture of water, salt and vinegar. The water and salt are key, he said, as they extract moisture from the vegetables, preserving them for long periods of time.

The “fun part,” according to Goldfarb, comes in adding all of the spices to create flavor. “It’s all about the right measures and the certain mix,” Goldfarb said. His staple spices include dill, coriander seed and mustard seed for his regular dill pickles, with an addition of habanero to add a “kick on the back end” for his spicy dill pickles. He said he tends to go “heavy on the spices,” and he uses cider vinegar instead of white wine vinegar for an added hint of sweetness. And he never shies away from experimentation: Goldfarb recently tested a jar of Moroccan-inspired pickled green beans using cumin seed, coriander and lemon flavors. He has pickled just about everything: cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, corn, green tomatoes, garlic scapes and even pumpkins.

“It actually came out really great,” he said of the preserved pumpkin, an idea he got after seeing a recipe for pickled butternut squash. “Like a delicious vinegary, sweet syrup.”

With so many flavors surrounding him, Goldfarb frequently finds himself nibbling on his own creations: “I constantly want them,” he said. “As soon as one jar’s done, we pop open another.”

As he does with spices, Goldfarb carefully considers his vegetables. He tries to obtain as many of his cucumbers from local sources as possible, he said, and when cucumbers are out of season in Rhode Island, he sticks to domestic growers, with his most recent batch hailing from Georgia.

“The ideal scenario would be to do well enough this winter to buy more cucumbers locally during summertime and build up a local stash,” he said, adding that he intends to “work (his) ass off” next summer in order to preserve enough cucumbers to last through most of the winter.

But before Goldfarb could turn his gag gift-inspired hobby into viable income, he undertook months of behind-the-scenes work. Obtaining the necessary funds proved his biggest obstacle, but using his background in public relations and marketing, Goldfarb was able to fundraise smoothly, he said. Within days, he met his $9,956 Kickstarter goal  —and then exceeded it by over $5,000.

Goldfarb put the money toward gaining the necessary Department of Health licenses and approval for his recipes. In order to have his processes and recipes approved, Goldfarb had to send them to a food science program at Cornell, where scientists evaluated his creations and made any changes necessary to ensure his recipes were safe for consumption.

Aside from raw materials — jars, cucumbers, spices and vinegar — Goldfarb had to find a commercial kitchen space that would suffice for his pickling needs. After months of searching, he discovered Hope and Main in Warren, the first food incubator in the state. Founded by former Professor of Community Health Lisa Raiola ’84, Hope and Main is a nonprofit that allows local food entrepreneurs to utilize its shared-use commercial kitchen spaces to develop their growing businesses. By providing technical resources, kitchen space and mentoring, she said Hope and Main looks to foster the growth of these start-up businesses over the span of a couple of years so they can eventually purchase their own spaces.

Raiola’s vision for the program was partly inspired by her experiences teaching community health at Brown, where she lectured on issues such as medical ethics, food security and food and distributive justice. She was also inspired by her battle with late-stage cancer, which eventually forced her to leave Brown. She attributes her survival to “radically, radically changing (her) diet” to one that relies largely on local foods.

“I said, if I ever got better, I’m going to do something with local food and nutrition,” she recalled. While she said she originally hoped to create a company that would deliver local foods to medical patients unable to shop for themselves, when she happened upon the space that would become Hope and Main, she switched her focus to founding a “food incubator” space. With a $3 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Community Facilities Loan Program, which assists community projects in small towns across the country, all Railoa had to do was convince the town of Warren to allow her to purchase the building. The town requires an affirmative referendum of at least 125 votes to allow individuals to purchase public land, so she embarked on a door-to-door campaign to garner support and obtain the requisite votes.

“Food politics is so powerful, and it’s so uniting, a common denominator for people, because they understand that it means economic development and supporting small businesses,” she said. “Hope and Main isn’t about the kitchens — it’s about the people in them, people like Ziggy (Goldfarb), who came to us early on.”

Now, nearly five years later, Hope and Main has finally become a reality and an integral support for entrepreneurs like Goldfarb.

“This guy has this fantastic, sensational product and this great big idea of the Rhode Island food economy,” Railoa said. “He’s like the poster child for that.”

Betsy Santarlasci, interim executive director at Hope and Main, said she sees the space as a “center of gravity” that equips budding food startups — from smoothie makers to bakers — with the logistical information needed for the business world.

“You can rent kitchens anywhere, but the difference is that Hope and Main provides mentoring — a whole board of people who know how to do different things,” Goldfarb said. “There are engineers and food scientists who can teach you how to do things faster.”

He credits one of these engineers with drastically increasing the efficiency of his pickling process. Previously, Goldfarb would cut each cucumber spear by hand, a process that would take hours. But the engineer introduced him to a hand-powered French fry-cutting machine that allows him to reduce his cutting time to minutes. Goldfarb went from making a single bushel of cucumbers one week to 10 bushels — or over 400 pounds — the next week.

Goldfarb said he hopes to sell his pickles in larger grocery stores like Whole Foods and Eastside Marketplace as well as in gourmet food shops, gift shops and farmer’s markets within the next year. Up until now, his primary exposure has been sampling his wares while also delivering vegetables for Farm Fresh R.I. and working at a bakery, jobs that have allowed him to make connections in the food industry across Rhode Island.

Goldfarb’s Fox Point Pickling Company will be available at the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market at the Hope Artiste Village beginning Nov. 1.

“Within five years I would like to have my own space, so that I can make pickles full time and be all around New England, if not further,” he said.

In the next two weeks, Fox Point Pickles will begin to be served at the Cutting Board, a new sandwich shop in the Providence Place Mall, and Goldfarb is currently working with other restaurants and sandwich shops in the city. He is also in the process of establishing connections with local bartenders, who he hopes will not only use the pickles, but also the brine for mixes in drinks such as bloody marys, martinis and pickle-back shots.

“I want to create not just a company, but also a brand — a brand that Rhode Islanders can be proud of,” he said.