Like a local craft beer company. But for pickles. That’s how Cheryl Gaudreau, co-owner of Stretch’s Pickles, describes the small business.
With her 30-plus years in banking, her husband Todd’s experience as a roofing foreman, her son Erick’s expertise as an electrician, and their family-friend Jon’s position as a country store general manager, one might not imagine this group of four would own a specialty pickle company together — but here they are.
In fact, Ms. Gaudreau says she can’t really believe it either. “I never thought in my life that I would own my own business — especially a pickle company,” she said laughing during an April interview.
According to the Fitchburg native and current Ashburnham resident, Stretch’s Pickles was established in 2011 and bought in 2015 by Brian Vincent of Vincent’s Country Store in Westminster. “They were small. He bought it just to have a good time, something to do as a little hobby type of thing,” Ms. Gaudreau said of Vincent, whose family she knows well in the small, North Central Massachusetts town. Her son Erick Gaudreau, who worked part time at the country store, would help with the pickle business.
One day, Erick suggested to his mom that they buy the pickle company from Brian. “Are you crazy?” she recalls asking. “I don’t know anything about pickles. Dad doesn’t know anything about pickles. What are we going to do with a pickle company?” But her son was convinced they could do more with the business and really take Stretch’s “to the next level.”
After a few months of negotiating, the Gaudreau family, together with friend and Vincent’s Country Store General Manager Jon Aho, bought Stretch’s Pickles in April of 2019.
With Mr. Aho serving as the lead, given his understanding of the pickling process, the team of four kept the small business going for a while. Then COVID-19 hit. And Stretch’s owners found themselves in a bit of a pickle.
“We couldn’t do anything for like, over a year,” Ms. Gaudreau said. Production was halted as they searched for a new place to make their pickles at, striking out left and right due to heightened coronavirus restrictions and location closures.
Then entered the idea of the Worcester Regional Food Hub (WRFH).
The minute they laid eyes on the Food Hub’s commercial kitchen with long tables, spacious countertops, and an eight-burner stove, they were sold. Working with Director Shon Rainford, Stretch’s Pickles quickly joined as a member of the WRFH and was able to resume pickle production in their new space February of this year.
“It’s been a saving grace,” Ms. Gaudreau said of the Food Hub. “We were welcomed with open arms and there’s so much opportunity for us to be in a commercial kitchen of that size. We were able to double our production from what we were doing before.” As WRFH members, they’re also able to get their supplies conveniently shipped directly to the Food Hub warehouse, including all their cucumbers and glass jars, as well as other locally-sourced products.
But for the co-owners of Stretch’s, the biggest benefit to being a part of the Food Hub is having 24/7 access. All four owners still have full-time jobs, so the ability to produce the pickles late nights, weekends, and anytime in between is also a significant convenience. Ms. Gaudreau says from where they all live in Ashburnham, Westminster, and Winchendon, Worcester is a bit of a drive, clocking in at about an hour, “but it’s worth the hour.”
The Stretch’s brand currently has eight signature flavors: Boston Deli Dill, Garlic Dill, Zesty Dill, Bread and Buttah, Sweet Mustard Bread and Butter, Wasabi Bread and Butter, Zesty Bread and Butter, and Zesty Larry Imperial IPA Dills — a collaboration with Wachusett Brewery in Westminster that uses their Larry IPA beer in the brine.
Part of what makes Stretch’s unique and different from other pickle brands is that Stretch’s Pickles are not fermented. Rather, the cucumbers are packed in jars fresh with spices and brine and then water bathed, which allows for the product to be shelf stable.
Additionally, Stretch’s makes other pickled products that aren’t cucumber-based, including a Bloody Mary mix and Buzzed Bourbon Pineapples.
Even after a year without production, Ms. Gaudreau says their customers never wavered in support. Now that they’ve settled into a rhythm at the Food Hub, she says demand is high and business has been non-stop. “People have just been calling. It’s just been phenomenal. […] We’ve been able to really pin down our process to really start making some good profit.”
Currently, Stretch’s Pickles are sold in a number of locations across the state including Roots Natural Foods Market in Leominster, Patriots Package Store in Templeton, William’s Package Store in Winchendon, Central Mass Gardens in Lunenburg, Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center in Lancaster, Mill No. 3 Farmstand in Fitchburg, and of course, Vincent’s Country Store in Westminster — where Ms. Gaudreau says they have trouble keeping their products in stock.
Stretch’s Pickles are also available for sale via the Food Hub and their weekly food pickup program, which is helping get their products out into Worcester more — a city Ms. Gaudreau says has been unbelievably welcoming.
Though just the small team of four, they hope to have employees at some point, and Ms. Gaudreau can eventually see herself retiring to run the pickle business full time. She says they’ll have to see what the future holds.
For now, they’re excited to have finally found a home in the Food Hub, and can’t wait to meet more people in Worcester and share the products they’re so proud of. “We make our craft pickles with love because every single jar is special,” she said. “We make sure that it’s perfect because we can, because we’re local.”
Dominique Goyette-Connerty is director of communications at the Worcester Chamber. She can be reached by email here.
This story was originally published in the May 2021 edition of Chamber Exchange: The Newspaper, a quarterly publication of the Chamber. All newspaper editions are archived here.