The McClures: Pickling It Forward

Just because something is artisanal doesn't mean it has to be precious. McClure's is a real Detroit success story, born from family love and a desire to improve a city.
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Just because something is artisanal doesn't mean it has to be precious. Take McClure's Pickles, described by The New York Times as "pickup truck, not designer SUV pickles, and they are extremely good at what they do." Packed full of peppers and garlic and dill, McClure's make many conventional pickles, even fresh ones, taste distressingly bland. If any pickles can make a claim to authenticity, these can.

The McClure Brothers, Bob and Joe, operate a 3,000-square-foot pickle factory in Detroit, but their pickles come from a middle-class family kitchen. Their mother Jennifer (who once won a first-place prize at the Michigan State Fair for her corn relish) developed the recipe with her father when she was five using a recipe from his mother, and her sons haven't deviated much from the fourth-generation formula that they spent their entire boyhoods making. "We continue the tradition with a bit more room," they write on their website.

In 2006, the brothers started experimenting with their great-grandmother's recipe and found that it still held up. Joe, who was and is still living in Detroit, took the product to markets, and Bob, who has since moved back to Detroit, took them to bars in Brooklyn. Quickly, they knew they had a winner.

These aren't just guys making hipster pickles in their apartment. Joe has a doctorate of physiology from Wayne State University and Bob is an actor and comedy writer. Their father was in the premium grocery business for decades, so they know how to run -- with his help -- a large-scale retail operation. In 2012, they moved into a large Detroit warehouse, a move which was trumpeted by the local business press.

"It had everything we needed including floor drains," McClure said to Crain's Detroit Business. "We don't need a place for people to come visit, this is a factory."

Still, there's some home touch to the product itself. It doesn't feel impersonal. The brothers used to go with their dad to Michigan farmers' markets and return home with cucumbers and garlic and dill sprigs. To this day, they still use seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Everything is sliced and jarred in-house. Labels are printed using vegetable-based ink, by a machine operated by wind power.

Most importantly, the McClure Brothers are able to contribute in a concrete way to the revival of downtown Detroit, where their factory is located. As Bob told Detroit blog The Hub, "What I love about Detroit is the potential for change. When I was living in Brooklyn, there was a part of the waterfront nearby that was all manufacturing. It was a graffiti zone, broken lights, hipsters and drug dealers, and then the zoning changed. And what I liked about it is that it provided the groundwork for development and some great things. I think Detroit has that as well: Midtown, Corktown, Eastern Market are all on the rise."

McClure's is a real Detroit success story, born from family love and a desire to improve a city. Also, we hear their Bloody Mary mix is pretty special.

This video from Dark Rye was produced by Hope Wilson and edited by Andy Pickard.