Bubbies Pickles began in 1982 as a sideline hobby for former owner Leigh Truex after relatives and friends of her homemade pickles encouraged her to produce the pickles commercially. Truex's pickle operation was a roaring aesthetic success but financially, it was another story. Enter John and Kathy Gray, refugees from banking careers in San Francisco, whose penchant for pickles was equaled by a longing to try their hand at entrepreneurship. When a client of theirs mentioned over lunch that a pickle business by the name of Bubbies happened to be for sale, the first thing the Grays did was walk down the street to a specialty foods outlet in San Francisco to buy a jar. They were impressed. A money-losing but charming pickle operation with potential upside seemed like their perfect ticket to a new life. We probably did many things wrong the first few years, but we always managed to survive", says John, who runs the company with Kathy from their headquarters in Stockton, California.
Bubbies Pickles are made in the Old World style, from an authentic family recipe. The ingredients are simple: pure kosher dill pickles prepared with special herbs and sea salt. A key differentiator has always been the product's placement in the refrigerated section of markets, rather than on the regular shelves. The extra crunch and zest pickle lovers find in Bubbies requires cold temperatures from the packing house to the consumer's refrigerator.
Product quality and taste appeal explain a large part of the success that Bubbies has enjoyed in the marketplace. But the unique persona embodied in the Bubbie character has also played a role. When the Grays purchased the company in 1989, Bubbies was only a pickle. However, since Bubbie is a Yiddish term of endearment for grandmother, the Grays decided to put the idea to use by making a character of her, a prototypically wise and witty matron who they would celebrate on the brand's label and marketing materials. The label image is actually Kathy's own Bubbie. According to Kathy, “We spent months looking all over for the perfect Bubbie, then one day we looked up on the mantel and there she was. Everyone we showed the photo to said, 'That's it! That's her!' Once we put her image on the label, sales went up 40 percent in three months. We've never looked back … or looked better."
Although kosher dill pickles continues as the Bubbies flagship product, the line has expanded over the years to include bread and butter chips, pickled green tomatoes, kosher dill relish, sauerkraut, two kinds of horseradish, Sweethot Mustard and two kinds of pickled Herring. All are made with the same deliberate Old World methods, using only natural ingredients and emphasizing a zesty taste. The bread and butter chips are the sole exception to the product line's required placement in refrigerated sections.