Peter Piper's Pickle Palace finds its place
By Lisa Scheid, Reading Eagle
Sour, salty, spicy, sweet - you could say Phil and Tara Dolgans lives are reflected in the flavors of their pickle business, Peter Piper's Pickle Palace.
The Dolgans have settled into their stand in Renninger's Market in Maxatawny Township with an openness and friendliness that comes from experience as entrepreneurs and living through personal setbacks. Busy Fridays and Saturdays find them joking with the line of customers and other stand owners. They insist newcomers taste samples. Regulars also are encouraged to try new items.
Philip said about 80 percent of the tasters end up buying something. They have 22 different kinds of pickles and olives. "We have a big customer service background," said Tara, "We know the power of talk and the power of praise." The Dolgans, of Zieglerville, Montgomery County, have owned a chain of discount movie theaters and have sold boats at shows. Tara works as a private duty nurse during the week. As enthusiastic as they are about their pickles, olives and hot sauces, they are the first to admit there is still a lot to learn about their market.
"We have no ego drive," said Philip. "We only have a success drive. We care about what works." The idea for the pickle business was planted after Philip recovered from being hit by a drunken driver in November 2010. His physical therapy involved regular walks through a farmer's market, not Renninger's, where he met a man who sold pickles. He had hoped the man would mentor him and sell him the business. That didn't happen, but he remained interested.
The Dolgans opened their stand at Renninger's in October, and they're already six months ahead of their business plan, Phil said. Their stands name is reminiscent of the nursery rhyme but not based on it, Tara said. Sometimes they are joined by Philip's father, Tara's mother or their son, Dylan.
Dylan was on track for culinary school before his vision started deteriorating and he was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. Dylan, who is now on nightly dialysis at home, is awaiting a kidney and pancreas transplant. When he feels well enough, he helps at the stand. He has stuffed the pizza olives.
The Dolgans said they were touched by the support of other vendors. Renninger's accelerated plans to make the bathroom accessible so Dylan could use it. Nancy's Mediterranean Food sends salt-free soups when Dylan is working. The Dolgans received cards and letters from fellow vendors at Christmas. "Just when you start losing faith, humanity comes back and embraces you," Tara said.
The cucumbers and brine are bought wholesale, and recipes are developed by the Dolgans through customer feedback.
Top sellers are garlic pickles and pizza olives. Many of the olives and peppers are hand stuffed. They've done some special orders, too, including anchovy-stuffed olives for a man who can only taste the very saltiest of items and containers of pickle brine for people trying to cut down on sweets.
Tara tells the story about a little boy staring longingly at the pickle barrel and how she couldn't resist giving him a sample. The child's mother said they couldn't afford to pay, but Tara said not to worry. "We really want to pay it forward," Philip said. "We've been on both sides of that coin."