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Food & Drink

A South Minneapolis Mom/Bartender Created ‘The Perfect Pickle’

A local riff on Grillo's is stirring excitement among area pickle-heads.

1:19 PM CST on January 9, 2024

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Look at those badboys.

Carin Storlien is a lifelong pickle aficionado and, since early her twenties, an amateur pickle maker. Through the years she'd tinker with recipes, from quick pickles to canned pickles. The explosion of Grillo's—the cult-loved fresh pickles that began from a humble Boston food cart—inspired Storlien to attempt something similar, but with the added kick of Thai chilis she'd buy at local farmers market.

"They're clean, simple, enjoyable spice, fresh crunch," says the south Minneapolis native. "I thought, 'I think this is it… the perfect pickle!'"

To lift spirits at Edina's Pittsburgh Blue Steakhouse during Covid, the lifelong bartender began testing her new creation on coworkers. The extra crunchy, sneakily spicy, flavor-loaded spears were an immediate hit. (One Racket editor describes 'em as "literally the perfect bloody Mary pickle.")  

"People just kept asking for more and more and more," Storlein remembers. "People loved them, and I jokingly said, 'This is getting to be an expensive hobby.' All the pieces kind of magically fell in place."

Since her husband works early construction hours and her nine-year-old son attends school, Storlien devoted her afternoons to plotting her pickle business, CJ's, which officially launched in 2022.

Over the past couple years she tinkered with ingredients, studied recipes, and attended biz workshops hosted by Falcon Heights nonprofit The Good Acre. She connected with a food scientist to perfect pH levels for shelf stabilization; she secured free use of the commercial kitchen beneath 7 Corners' Corner Bar, the same space that once incubated St. Paul salsa success story Salsa Lisa.

CJ's became the star of the Nokomis Makers Market, which led to shelf placement inside a fridge at nearby McDonald's Liquor & Wine (5010 S. 34th Ave.). A cashier informed Racket on Monday that McDonald's can hardly keep the damn things in stock. (Plastic jars are available for $12 each right as you walk in, provided they've not sold out.) Over the holidays, Storlien unloaded 60 containers in just a couple hours at a makers market inside Venn Brewing.

She can sense she's arrived at something special. A website is in the works, as is a commercial license to compliment her wholesale one. Multiple breweries have reached out, hoping to seize on an underrealized taproom snack—the snappy, salty, relatively healthy pickle. For now, McDonald's is the only place to regularly score CJ's.

"It's growing, I can feel it," Storlien says. "The goal is for this to be my only job someday—I really believe in this product."

"Hopefully it's a pickle empire someday!" she adds, with a self-effacing Midwestern chuckle.

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