From humble beginnings in Dadeville, Wickles Pickles has become a nationally known brand with sales of 5 million jars last year. On Monday, Jack’s, another Alabama company, announced that it’s adding a Wickles Pickles-inspired sandwich to its menu.
The Wickles Pickles Bacon Burger will be available at the fast-food chain starting on Wednesday.
“It’s pickles – it’s got our great beef on it, french-fried onions, barbecue mayo – and then these hot but sweet pickles,” said Todd Bartmess, CEO of Jack’s Family Restaurants. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
As Wickles Pickles prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, its most recognizable product remains its Original Pickles, with the label on the jar showing a pickle dancing with a pepper. Other options now include Wicked Hula Pickles, Wicked Pickle Chips, Dirty Dill Cocktail Cornichons, Dirty Dill Chips, Dirty Dill Baby Dills, Dirty Dill Spears, Wicked Garlic, Wicked Okra, Dirty Dill Okra, Wicked Garden Mix, Original Relish, Wicked Jalapeno Relish and Spicy Red Sandwich Spread.
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But it all started with one family recipe, handed down to founders and brothers Will and Trey Sims from their cousin, Dana Ferniany.
The recipe for the sweet and spicy original pickle had been a family mainstay for 90 years. Ferniany, who lovingly referred to it as “wicked pickles,” sold it to the brothers in 1998.
They brought on longtime family friend Andy Anderson, and started making Wickles Pickles out of Trey’s home kitchen, which he called a “sticky mess,” before moving into a vacant space downtown.
“We got a little commercial kitchen on the square here in Dadeville,” Trey Sims said, “it was a restaurant that had shut down, and started making the pickles ourselves there.
“We could make 27 cases a day, and so we’d make pickles for three or four days and then go out on the road and sell them, come back the next week, and do it all over again and start establishing accounts. And so, we started growing the business.”
As demand grew, the company knew they had to expand. In the early 2000s, they moved to a facility in North Carolina, and the increased production allowed them to move into the much larger retail market.
“We were able to then go start selling to retailers, Piggly Wiggly, Associated Grocers, Bruno’s at the time,” Sims said. “And that’s when we got into the actual retail grocery market.”
Sims believes part of the appeal to these markets is how unique its products are.
“You know you can go into a sales presentation at a major retailer and look them in the eye and honestly tell them that you don’t have anything like this,” Sims said. “And that’s a good place to be when you’re trying to get out into the store.”
Focusing on Wickles Pickles’ uniqueness proved to be a winning strategy for the Sims, and their products are now available in stores across the country.
Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray have both featured Wickles in their recipes. In 2016, Wickles Spicy Red Sandwich Spread was used by Chicken Salad Chick in its “Rockin’ Rita” chicken salad.
As demand continued to pick up, the Sims knew they would have to expand operations again. In 2018, they came home to Alabama and built a brand-new facility. The move allowed them more flexibility and the ability to come up with new and interesting products, all while sourcing locally from crops here in Alabama.
“That was a big step,” Sims said. “We partnered with Chuck Caraway down in Brundidge, Alabama, and built a brand-new manufacturing facility. That’s where the majority of the products have been made since.”
Brundidge is about 75 miles south of Auburn.
Bartmess, the CEO of Jack’s, which is headquartered in Birmingham, said it was natural to join forces with Wickles Pickles.
“We’re thrilled to partner with another Southern brand,” Bartmess said. “We combined one of the brands that’s all about the South, with the pickle brand that makes the best pickles in the South.”
Fittingly enough, the partnership began at a high school football game.
Wade Bennett, the logistics manager for Wickles, was attending the state championships of the Alabama High School Athletic Association to do a radio spot for the pickle company, which was a sponsor of the event.
There he saw Christy Malone, a brand manager at Jack’s, recognizing her by the bright red blazer she was wearing.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to talk to her,’” Bennett said. “They got great Southern restaurants. We got a great Southern pickle. Something needs to happen. This is when you’ve got to recognize opportunity and take a chance.”
Bartmess confirms Bennett’s story.
“We started to chat and realized we have these great brands in the South and we probably should partner on something, so we came up with this great product,” Bartmess said.
Jack’s head chef, Sean Landrum, had already been developing a Wickles Pickles burger in his test kitchen. Bennett said he and Malone agreed to give things a shot, and he sent Jack’s some product samples. A few months later, the Wickles Pickles Bacon Burger was born.
“It’s just been one of the most wild and exciting projects I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on,” Bennett said. “The Jack’s folks are some of the best people we’ve ever worked with.”
“We’re excited about where we’ve come from,” he said, “and we’re excited about where we’re going and looking forward to growing the brand.”