Some of the best ideas are born as hobbies. That’s the case for Mark Mammone and Joe Bardakos, owners of Bridge City Brinery, a Pittsburgh-based pickling company.
When Covid-19 hit last year, Mammone and Bardakos found themselves in a bit of a, well, pickle. The two friends were employed as full-time chefs at Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville, PA but the pandemic was stifling the restaurant scene. Dining services were limited to take-out and delivery only and the pair were desperate for a distraction. “The entire world shut down due to Covid. This idea to make pickles was really born out of frustration,” said Bardakos.
That’s when Mammone, who had been fermenting cucumbers for several years, decided it would be a great time to turn his hobby into a business. “It was something we could do right away and have control over,” said Mammone.
On September 1, 2020, Bridge City Brinery was born. Within weeks, the endeavor snowballed into a full-fledged business. Now the chefs’ pickles are being sold coast to coast.
>As for what makes them special, the two say Bridge City Brinery spears are not your run-of-the-mill pickles. Instead of soaking the cucumbers in vinegar, they’re fermented in a homemade brine for roughly 7 to 10 days, creating a well-rounded flavor profile. “Five years ago, when I was living in LA, I started making my own kimchi. I became so invested that I started making pickles using the same fermentation process,” explained Mammone.
Fermentation requires a level of patience, but when executed correctly the flavor can be addicting. The picklers closely monitor the cucumbers, mixing around the brine and burping them daily to release gasses. Mammone said he was inspired by his grandmother, an immigrant from Croatia. “She used to make sauerkraut with the cabbage she grew in her garden,” he said. “There is something so interesting to me about taking a product and turning it into a new product that tastes so different.”
Mammone and Bardakos continue to work full-time for Piccolo Forno, but their off hours are dedicated to Bridge City Brinery. They commend the owner of Piccolo who has been incredibly supportive of their business, allowing them to use his kitchen to jar their pickles and experiment with new flavors. Often, the two are at it until 5 o’clock in the morning.
Bridge City Brinery pickles are currently sold at 14 different store locations around the Pittsburgh area. The two attribute their success to the city’s supportive, tight-knit community. While social media can be a powerful tool for brand awareness, word of mouth from friends and family was the engine that really helped their business take off. “We started off with 84 jars thinking we’ll sell some to friends and family, and two days later, we had sold 300,” said Mammone.
In another nod to their love for Pittsburgh, the company’s label features gold line illustrations of bridges, a nod to the city’s nickname. (For those not in the know, it’s often called the “City of Bridges” for its 446 spans.)
More is on the horizon for the acidic duo. They recently bought a food truck, which they hope to have up and running early this year. Bridge City Brinery plans to add new flavors, and, if Bardakos has his way, expect a bread and butter pickle to add to their repertoire soon.
NEXT ON THE DISH