Illustration by Lea Kron
The corny pun nerve was itching as I began the intro to this article. I was in a real pickle as to what type of humor would activate maximum eye-rolling without risking retinal dislocation. So I let the ideas ferment a bit as I considered Edward Ilyasov’s overnight success. He morphed from a Columbia graduate with a degree in financial engineering to the owner of Uncle Edik’s Pickles. I soon realized that all my concerns didn’t amount to much of a big dill.
What are your culinary beginnings?
I was my mom’s little helper around the kitchen as a kid. My parents split when I was 18, and when I was living with my dad, I became the designated cook of the house. This helped build my culinary skills.
What’s your earliest pickle memory?
Two of my aunts (both named Nelly) stepped in and invited us over for delicious meals almost every Shabbat. One day after work, I visited one of these aunts. Aunt Nelly served me a plate of plov (a rice and lamb dish) with a pickle on the side. The pickle was unusually delicious and crunchy, so I asked her where she had bought it. Turned out she had made it!
She gave me the recipe, but the measurements were very vague. When I tried to make it myself, the result was a not-very-tasty, salty cucumber, not a pickle. After several attempts of my own, I finally created a delicious pickle, which was crunchy, delicious, and uniquely my own.
How did you become “the” pickle guy?
My pickles were so surprisingly crunchy that I decided to post a video of me crunching into one on social media. Many of my friends, family, and neighbors didn’t believe the sound was real and asked to come try them. After I gave some out, people wanted more and began placing orders.
Soon I had a waiting list and decided to start charging people. The more pickles I produced, the longer the waiting list became. Soon there was a six-month waitlist consisting of over 600 people and over 3,000 jars ordered!
When did it turn into your full-time business?
I love to travel! While hiking down a canyon in Peru, I met an Italian man living in England who owned several ice cream shops. He shared that when he had first visited England, he was surprised to find that they had no good gelato there. Since he knew how to make good gelato, he opened one store, and that led to the others.
After speaking with that man, it hit me how similar our stories were. I decided to make it my mission to focus on providing people with exceptional pickles.
When I returned home, my family went to visit a young cousin of mine, Chaya Nufar, who was terminally ill with brain cancer in Toronto. I brought some jars of pickles with me. Chaya’s doctors had told her she wouldn’t make it and was therefore permitted to eat anything she wanted to. She described how much joy my pickles brought her, then gave me her blessing. I realized how something as simple as pickles could bring happiness to someone who had lost all hope.
I treasured Chaya’s blessing even more when she passed away just a week later. With the success we’ve seen, I have no doubt of the power of her blessing.
What happened next?
Some people tried to do anything not to have to wait on the waiting list (especially men with expectant wives), so I decided to introduce weekly auctions for the pickles, typically with three winners. The highest bids averaged $50 for a single jar. Then I realized some people didn’t have that kind of money and would rather enter into raffles.
I started raffling jars, $1 per entry, unlimited entries, and spinning a randomized virtual wheel to select a winner. On average, I was making $90 to $100 per jar of pickles that way, raffling off three jars at a time. I would do it live on social media on Thursday nights. I kept the raffles entertaining by playing Soviet-style tunes on my guitar while spinning the wheel. Hundreds of people would tune in to watch me raffle off a few jars of pickles.
That’s hilarious! What Hashgachah have you seen along the way?
I grew up in a traditional but nonreligious household, so when I got into the world of pickling, I was extra cautious about how I produced my pickles, making sure to use brand-new utensils that I kept pareve and stored separately. I had a separate and unused kitchen in my basement, which made it easy not to cross-
contaminate with anything upstairs. Then I discovered that these precautions weren’t enough for many customers who wanted kashrus certification. I also learned that my pickle recipe contained a sensitive ingredient, namely its fresh dill.
Once I began construction on my store, my biggest priority was getting kashrus certification by the time I opened. In order to do that, I would have to either remove the dill from my recipe and replace it with a certified dry dill, or pay for a mashgiach who was an expert in cleaning it.
Finding part-time mashgichim who are expertly trained in dill checking and are willing to travel and work for a couple of hours per week proved extremely difficult and costly. But early on I told myself I would never compromise on my recipe. After months of searching, I was lucky to find a couple of well-trained mashgichim who are approved by the OK, and with some Divine help, I developed a technique to keep the washed and checked dill fresh for weeks at a time, helping me save thousands on mashgiach fees. You can say my greatest Hashgachah was how I procured my hashgachah.
Edward in 60 seconds
Fave pickle: The spicy pickles and soon-to-be-released habanero pickled tomatoes.
Most unusual request: I was asked to make a party-size jar of pickles. I created an 800-ounce jar. It had to be carried by two people.
A jar by any other name: The recipe was born the same year I became an uncle, hence the business’s name: “Uncle Edik’s Pickles.”
Family matters: My younger brother, Allan, who just started college, helps me part-time. My older brother, a consultant by profession, helps with brainstorming and exchanges ideas with me several times a week.
Largest order: An order for 48 jars by a famous multimillionaire. $450 spent on pickles by a single person... unreal.
If opened, the pickles last for up to a week or longer, as long as they’re still mostly submerged in brine. If unopened, they’ll last until expiration date stamped on jar.
(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 790)
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