“Nobody would be alive without pickles and beer,” says Beau Martin, co-owner of Green River Picklers. Alcoholic beverages saved people from water-borne illnesses, and pickled and fermented foods got people through the winter long before water filters and grocery stores provided year-round produce, he explains. Bringing brine and beer together in the form of pickle-and-beer tastings is one of the first things Martin and co-owner Brandi Morrow want to do after their planned expansion to a new space in Weaverville.
The families of both Martin and Morrow have been pickling foods for generations, and the two were eager to carry on the tradition. “I’ve been making pickles since I was 14 with my family,” says Martin, who hails from Tuxedo, a small community in Henderson County. The names of their products, such as Dave’s Spicy Green Tomatoes or The Narrows (a sweet-and-spicy pickle concoction named for a particularly wicked section of the Green River favored by kayakers from all around the world), all have personal meaning or Western North Carolina provenance. “All of our product names have something to do with family names or something we love about the area,” says Morrow, who grew up in Candler.
Green River Picklers began in summer 2012 when Morrow and Martin sold their products at tailgate markets around Asheville. Today, they sell seven year-round products in groceries like the French Broad Food Co-Op, specialty products at the seven to eight tailgate markets they attend each week, and a mix of products at restaurants like Desoto Lounge and Homegrown, which features Beau’s Pickle Plate. At the tailgate markets, Morrow and Martin bring out seasonal selections, such as pickled asparagus, ramps and garlic scapes.
The 10 employees — or “picklers,” as Martin and Morrow call them —are almost all from WNC. “We’re a tribe of natives,” says Morrow. “It just seemed that those people gravitated toward our business. They’re supercommitted to the area.”
Green River Picklers has been renting out the Grow Down Home commercial kitchen in Black Mountain, where its crew works two or three days a week. But an increase in demand has led to the need for a larger space, so the owners have decided to move to a bigger place in Weaverville.
A 5,000-square-foot industrial building will serve as an office, kitchen and tasting room. Just in time for the fall leaf season in September or October, Martin and Morrow hope to offer “Brews ‘N’ Brines” in the tasting room — intentional pairings of specialty pickles and local beer. “The beers will be made specifically for our products,” says Martin. “We’re beer people. It made sense.”
Though the new space is a 20-minute drive from downtown Asheville, Martin and Morrow aren’t worried about having trouble attracting people to the tasting room. “Once we get people out there, they’re going to want to come back,” says Morrow. The new space can hold roughly 50 occupants and offers plenty of outdoor seating — just right for live music. The Weaverville location will also feature small plates that include the company’s pickles as ingredients, according to Martin.
The picklers have plans to start their own garden, where they will grow cayenne peppers, fresh dill, rosemary and other herbs and spices for pickle-making. The company also aims to produce as little waste as possible, says Morrow, whose old family land in Marshall is now part of a landfill. “We don’t like to send stuff over there,” says Martin. The picklers try to cut back on biodegradable waste too. After using spring onions in one batch of pickles, they take the leftovers, dry them and use them to season another batch.
Green River’s supply farms are not always certified organic, though, “because that’s hard to afford,” says Morrow. The pickers try to buy from local farms that share their ethics.
“There’s the local versus the ‘localer,’” says Morrow. “We want to try and support other local businesses that support local businesses. We don’t have a Sam’s Club membership, for example, nor will we ever.”
When farmers don’t sell all of their produce at market, they take it to the Green River Picklers, usually in exchange for a few jars of pickles, and the picklers are up all night in the commercial kitchen, pickling and labeling veggies that would have otherwise gone to waste.
“We have maybe three receipts from Wal-Mart, and they’re all from after midnight because we ran out of ink, and it was the only place that was open,” says Martin.
The business tries to purchase ingredients within a 400-mile radius, but finding vinegar and sugar that close can be a challenge, says Martin. In the future, the owners hope to start making their own vinegar. “We’re always working toward making things ‘localer,’” says Morrow.
Green River Picklers will soon be selling to EarthFare and Ingles. Even as the business grows, however, Martin and Morrow hope to maintain their mission, with an emphasis on supporting local businesses and the local economy. “That’s why we support the local community, to show larger corporations you can be successful this way,” Morrow says.