Jamie Fitzgerald (left) and Chaz Robinson (right) spearhead Sweet. Sour. Salty. & Co. Photo by Breonca Trofort
On a chilly day in late January, five guys are working around a table in what used to be the Mrs. Fearnow's Brunswick Stew facility in Mechanicsville, packing slices of bread-and-butter pickles into jars in a neat spiral pattern, along with Vidalia onions, garlic, bay leaves, chiles and spices. A brine of vinegar, apple cider, water and sugar simmers nearby.
The team behind this venture, called "Sweet. Sour. Salty. & Co.," is headed by Chaz Robinson, who until recently doubled as the head chef at Bonvenu in Carytown; Jamie Fitzgerald, his business partner and chief executive officer; company attorney/partner Dan Anderson; and two other friends who volunteered to help.
The idea for the pickle company originated two winters ago at Bonvenu. Robinson and his sous chef had a little downtime, and they started making pickles. After receiving raves from customers, Robinson began selling jars of them at the Farmers Market at St. Stephen's. In early 2012, he left Bonvenu to launch his business, but he returned in July after finding it difficult to live on pickle profits alone. Before Bonvenu closed in early March, he worked at the plant before starting his chef job, sometimes arriving as early as 6 a.m. "I pretty much gave up eating, sleeping and taking showers," he jokes.
In addition to the sweet-and-spicy bread and butters, the team produces dill pickles — using an old Southern recipe with red wine vinegar and fresh dill, Robinson says — and pickled garlic, a surprise hit that he calls "our secret weapon."
Pickling softens the garlic and results in a mellow flavor that's good straight from the jar, or with cheese and crackers or pasta. Robinson and Fitzgerald hope to expand production and distribution in the next few months. For now, the pickles are available locally at the Little House Green Grocery store on Bellevue Avenue and at O'Virginia in Carytown. They hope to increase their presence at farmers markets and retail stores this year, and to begin selling pickles through their website, sweetsoursalty.net . They're also talking about adding green beans and okra to their repertoire. But first, Robinson says, "We want to get these three perfect."
NOTE: This article has been updated since publication in the magazine.