For Aliska Walker, her pickling passion started in the classroom. On the first day of school in 2018, she made Kool-Aid pickles with her students at Barack Obama Elementary School in St. Louis to calm their nerves. They enjoyed them so much that she decided to turn the class project into a small business, Aliska’s Amazing Pickles.
Now, Walker has a stall at the Soulard Farmers Market and a brick-and-mortar location in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood, where she includes a fork with each jar so that you can pop it open and eat the contents on the spot. Her extraordinary flavors of pickles – which run the gamut from tropical punch to Fireball whiskey and watermelon to peppermint – reflect Walker’s desire to constantly surprise and delight her customers, and she says everyone from her students to her husband’s friends jump at the opportunity to taste test new varieties. “I base new flavors on my palate and what I think tastes good together,” she says, “and if a flavor doesn’t sell, I simply change the recipe.”
How have you grown your business so much, so quickly? My ultimate goal was to go to the Soulard Farmers Market to share the love and get people familiar with my products. Now I have customers that call me and say, “You weren’t there!” or “You were late!” They really look forward to seeing me on Saturdays – a lot of them say it’s because of my energy. At [the market], I’ve developed so many relationships with people from different backgrounds, and I’ve met people who live in St. Louis Hills, where my shop opened over the summer. It’s exciting to see something in my head become a reality.
What challenges have you faced along the way? As a Black woman, it’s been really hard for me to get loans. I still need equipment for my store, and no one will help me. I applied for a loan, and the bank denied me because I was five points away from meeting their credit requirements. I asked them if they could override it because I had a grand opening coming up, and they said there was nothing they could do. I started crying on the phone. It’s been a lot of sweat and tears; taking this on is like having another baby.
How do you recommend eating the pickles – straight out of the jar? Or do some flavors pair surprisingly well with certain dishes? The pickles can go on the side of anything: sandwiches, fish, chicken. I eat them with chips or vegan nuggets – I just stopped eating meat. I also suggest that people take the juice from the jars – which has a lot of herbs and spices – and use it to make tuna salad, chicken salad, potato salad and deviled eggs. One woman who buys my pickles uses the juice to brine her chicken.
How did you come up with the logo for Aliska’s Amazing Pickles? I knew I wanted a pickle woman, and I wanted her to look like me. I told graphic designer King Duke [whom I randomly met at Office Max] how I wanted the Pickle Lady to look. She has sisterlocks, glasses, green accessories and heels, and she shows that she’s strong, with her hands on her hips. Each of my flavors represents the persona of a woman – that’s why they have unique names like Ms. Brilliant Black Garlic, Ms. Resilient Red Hot and Ms. Generous Green Apple. Women wear many hats, not just one; as a teacher, entrepreneur, sister and mother, I wear many hats. I wanted to use the names of my products as a way to positively reflect women.
What are your plans for the future? The ultimate goal is to be a full-fledged restaurant, where we would infuse pickles into different types of food. I already have the menu in my head – I’m going to use my flavors to make milkshakes! I’m also planning to pickle more things, which will be called the “Misters.” I already have a recipe for pickled eggs, and I want to pickle okra and make chow-chow, which people keep asking me about.
Aliska’s Amazing Pickles, 6427 Hampton Ave., St. Louis, Missouri, aliskasamazingpickles.com