Since first opening its doors in May 2012, The Real Dill has established itself both locally and nationally as one of the most serious contenders in the world of artisan pickles. Owners Tyler DuBois and Justin Park have grown the business from pipe dream to farmer’s market favorite to the renowned organization it is today, carefully building the company on their terms and in line with their deliberately-cultivated ethics. A line of consistent and seasonal pickles, bloody mary mix and accouterments all come out of a sleek and compact south Denver production facility appropriately titled The Dillery. DuBois and Park have been doing business there for five years, having previously conducted the production in commissary kitchens across the city.
DuBois is a Denver native. He got his culinary start bussing tables at the Cheesecake Factory on the 16th Street Mall, going on to serve as a barback at Wynkoop Brewing, then moving up to bar manager at The Front Porch and eventually went on to help open the illustrious Colt and Gray. Directly prior to getting The Real Dill off the ground he worked as a butcher at Marczyk — who would go on to function as the exclusive account when the original product debuted. Park — a Maryland native — moved here in 2009, at first believing Denver would be a temporary stopover where he and his wife — originally from Colorado — could enjoy some time with her family. “I thought I’d be six years into my next job by now,” laughed Park, who continues to be in awe of the business’ ongoing success. Prior to starting The Real Dill, Park had no formal food training — instead, having earned an undergrad in business marketing. The two are ideal partners, both agreeing that their different approaches and lack of overlapping skill sets allow them to advance the business with a varied approach.
Every week the Dillery goes through 3,000 – 4,000 pounds of fresh produce. The three pickle mainstays are the Caraway Garlic Dills, the Habanero Horseradish Dills and the Jalapeno Honey Dills. The elegant jars are individually composed — spices, herbs, peppers and cucumbers are artfully arranged, then a brine is added. Almost everything is done meticulously by hand. The label machine is one of two automated processes in the facility — the other being used to fill bloody mary mix — which now accounts for 70% of what goes out the door. “We approach packaged foods with a chef’s mentality,” said DuBois, also citing that the production style has taken a lot of cues from the craft beer industry. “We intentionally sacrifice efficiency for quality,” added Park.
As much as the products succeed on their own merit, Real Dill’s penchant for collaboration and community involvement is what has truly allowed them to thrive as a Denver institution. Each year they throw a pickle party, with all proceeds going to a charitable partner. The event is hosted at The Dillery and features live music, food trucks, games and a local brewery, cidery and distillery. A salted cucumber cider with Stem Ciders began as a one-off made exclusively for one the parties and has since become a popular recurring summer release. An exclusive bloody mary mix is made for all Snooze locations. Spangalang Brewery has a cucumber gose titled The Birth of Cool — available during the summer at the brewery’s taproom.
The Real Dill’s business is built around the triple bottom line philosophy which views the environment and the community having equal value to profits. All the vegetable scraps are picked up by Re:Vision — a local non-profit that utilizes the materials for compost in urban farming initiatives. As a result, they are zero food-waste company that diverts over 30,000 pounds of food scraps annually — which has gotten them some serious national attention.
The company has teamed up with the Growhaus as a long term charitable partner, citing the similar philosophies of good practices and community engagement as the reason for the ongoing alliance. Smaller-scale contributions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, Park claiming that the business already receives 200-250 requests a year.
It’s been a long road since DuBois and Park suffered their original “pickle epiphany.” As much as the two clearly love pickles, the drive to create products that inspire excellence and the ability to espouse their values across industries appears to be more of a driving force.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.