“We call ourselves a ‘flea–tail' pickle company,” says Josh Nadel, owner of Doc Pickle.
He's not wrong. The company is known to Philadelphians as a humble stall in the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. Manned by a character affectionately known as “The Pickle Man,” Doc Pickle draws in loyal fans with the Pickle Man’s charm and keeps them coming back with their flavorful concoctions.
“We started doing the market about five years ago,” Nadel says of Doc Pickle’s cult Philly following, “and it’s become one of our best markets. People see us day in and day out. They love seeing us there.”
The secret behind the company’s famous pickles? Fresh packing. No pickle is canned or jarred—they’re immediately packed in barrels and then sold in quart containers to the general public. In addition to fresh packing, Doc Pickle utilizes natural fermentation, pickling cucumbers without vinegar so that they can “lacto–ferment,” creating probiotics and a more nutrient–packed pickle in the process. The company also ensures that their pickles are made with the highest quality produce, each cucumber being hand selectedf.
But Nadel remains humble about his multi-state spanning business, bashfully saying, “I just try to focus on myself, really.” It's clear that Doc Pickle is committed to pumping out a damn good pickle. But for Nadel, pickling is more than just business—it's also deeply personal.
A third–generation pickling company, the business was started by Nadel’s grandfather and his brother in their basement. Inspired by their Eastern European and Jewish heritage, Nadel’s grandfather “saw a need for pickles,” and began driving a truck to sell their goods in the Catskill Mountains’ Bungalow Colonies. After much success, he expanded the business into a small wholesale manufacturing plant, later passing on his business to his son—Nadel’s father. 20 years ago, Nadel took over along with his brothers, leaving behind his business in the restaurant equipment supply industry.
Contrary to the impression that family–run businesses tear families apart, Nadel’s relationship with his brothers only became stronger throughout their years at Doc Pickle. While Nadel’s parents were initially reluctant to pass on the business due to troubles with the prior generation’s working relationship, he and his brothers have been brought together—all thanks to pickles.
As Nadel continues to elaborate on the dynamics of a multigenerational business, he suddenly pauses and briefly hangs up.
“That was just [my brothers] on the other line calling me. I thought it was a serious call, but it was really about nonsense,” he says. “[The business] allows us to be close—sometimes too close. But fortunately, it’s good because we can help each other out. If I need something and I’m in a bind, I know they’re there.”
Pickles were a large part of Nadel’s life, even when he was a kid. “My whole family is pickles,” he says. “It’s not like we ate pickles every day, but if we wanted some extra money on the weekends, [my dad] would be like, ‘We’re gonna sign up for a street fair in the city, and you guys can sell pickles.’”
This pro–pickle sentiment rings true even in the family’s youngest generation, with Nadel’s two daughters, ages five and seven, “eating sour pickles since they were six months old.” They also try their best to help out at the farmers markets. “My wife will bring them to the farmers market. They’ll jump behind the barrels and they’ll try their best to help wrap stuff up. They’ll help sell to the customers,” Nadel says, “but right now, they mostly just eat the pickles.”
Does Nadel plan on passing the business down to his daughters? He doesn’t know. “I don’t know how briny they want to get right now—they’re interested in makeup and dolls. My daughter is a great salesperson,” he says fondly. “I love the pickle business, but I feel like my daughters are destined for greater things.”
Throughout Nadel and his brothers’ tenure as owners of Doc Pickle, they’ve focused on bringing the business back to its roots while growing the company’s operations at the same time. As Doc Pickle thrives, they’ve expanded beyond cucumber pickles—they also pickle mushrooms, garlic, and other vegetables while also collaborating with businesses to serve up other delicacies like pickled pepper jam.
Surprisingly, Nadel’s favorite item on the company’s long list of goods isn’t a cucumber pickle at all: It’s “Mmmelish.” One of Doc Pickle’s most popular items, Mmmelish is a delightful combination of sauerkraut brined in horseradish pickle brine, spicy brown mustard, sweet relish, and shaved horseradish pickles meant to be served on burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, or just eaten with a spoon.
Not only is Doc Pickle expanding their pickle horizons—they’re also growing nationally, offering up a pickle delivery service called “Dr. Pickle’s Brine Club,” where fans of the company can have their “pickle prescription 'dillivered'" on a recurring basis every month. For those who live in North Jersey, where Doc Pickle is based, Nadel hand–delivers pickles once or twice a week—a testament to his love for the business.
In spite of the brothers’ business innovation, they aim to pay homage to their roots as well. Just like how their grandfather used to sell their pickles at farmers markets, Doc Pickle has stalls at over 30 markets per week, where they're met with customers’ bright eyes and a shared love for briny goodness.
“When people come to the stand, they’re transformed back to the days when they were children,” Nadel says. “It’s like dipping their hands in magic brine. The smell of garlic hits them so thick that they have to brush it away from their faces.”
Nadel’s words are no exaggeration. As I make my way to Doc Pickle’s stand in Rittenhouse, I’m immediately greeted with a distinctly pungent, briny aroma that makes my mouth water. I’m greeted with a pickle pun (“They’re dill–icious!”) and grab a container of their half sours. Soaked in a lightly salted garlic brine with no vinegar, they’re just as light as they are tasty—not too sour and packed full of flavor.
After hearing Nadel's sales pitch, I eye the Mmmelish and decide to pick up a jar. The punch of the mustard combined with the acidity of the sauerkraut, the heat of the pickles, and the sweetness of the relish make the combination almost addictive, especially when smeared on a grilled cheese. The condiment is sour, sweet, and spicy all at once, and I can see how easy it is to eat the entire jar in one sitting. The relish–mustard–sauerkraut combination clearly lives up to Nadel’s high praises.
But the quality of Doc Pickle’s products doesn’t just come from fresh ingredients or a fancy pickling process. It comes from years of thought and generations of Nadel’s family working together to perfect each recipe. Pickling clearly isn’t just a family hobby for the Nadels—it’s a labor of love that’s been refined over time so that each customer can revel in the pickle experience.