Best thing since sliced bread? Pickle sandwiches in Haddon Township
You could say Katherine Cohen’s folks were in a bit of a pickle.
More than once, actually.
First, their family pizzeria in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, struggled after local steel mills shut down. Then, a decision to sell and relocate to Linwood, where they bought a general store, paid off for a long time.
But in the 1990s, the oldest store in Atlantic County could no longer hold its own against an influx of Wawas and supermarkets, Cohen says.
“They were really struggling with it.’’
Elsie's is a new business in Haddon Township that offers sandwiches made with pickles and cucumbers instead of bread. Wochit
Cohen and her husband, Chad Jordan, both of whom have advertising and marketing backgrounds, hit on an idea: Why not resurrect an old family pickle recipe and put a new twist on it to appeal to locals and Shore daytrippers alike?
Their idea, Elsie's Down the Shore, was hatched sort of by accident.
“My mom (Theresa Cohen) is a diabetic, and I made her a pickle sandwich instead of using bread,’’ Cohen remembers. “In the original store, we weren’t zoned for seating but we had a dining room set up in there. And she was out there eating one day and somebody said, ‘Hey, I want one of those!’ ‘’
The customer took a bunch of pickle sandwiches back to her office, where her coworkers gobbled them up. Photos wound up on social media and, after getting thousands of shares, inspired people to take road trips to Linwood general store from New York and Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“There were lines out the door,’’ says Cohen. “We took our family pickle recipe and basically rebranded it. We started making sandwiches in pickles, roll-ups on cucumbers and roll-ups on pickles, and people lost their minds!’’
Elsie Stuber was the original owner of the general store, Cohen explains, and the couple decided the new sandwich business should share her name.
“My mom somehow befriended the family of the original proprietor. Elsie ran the store in the early 1900s. She was running the store, pumping the gas, back at a time when women didn’t do those things,’’ Cohen says. “When we rebranded, we wanted to pay homage to her,’’ Cohen explains. “I thought it was super cool that she was rocking and rolling at a time that it wasn’t excepted for women.’’
As Cohen’s parents got older, it came time to sell the Linwood store. (It's now a coffee and ice cream shop). But the pickle business, they knew, was worth not just preserving but growing.
Cohen and Jordan, who live in Oaklyn with their daughter Lenin Simon, 7, decided to go all in. In late February, they opened the doors of Elsie’s on White Horse Pike in Haddon Township, in the space most recently occupied by Sift Bakeshop. (You can still find all your favorite confections from Sift at www.siftbakeshop.com)
Elsie’s is proud to call itself Home of the Pickle Sandwich and it is strictly a “grab-and-go’’ business, not a restaurant. The couple also offers catering and plans to watch more people “lose their minds’’ over pickles where the bread usually is at local farmers markets and other events.
The shop has a cheery interior with plenty of pickle humor. Team members wear hats that read “Peace, Love, Pickles,’’ a motto that is also echoed in art on the walls and on the company website.
While you are waiting for your order, you can try a pickle brine shot from a dispenser at the end of the counter, or help yourself to the selection or pickle-flavored potato chips and other snacks. (If you like the brine, you can bring a container to take some home for free).
The sandwiches resemble hoagies, while bite-sized cucumber and pickle roll-ups look a lot like sushi.
Sandwiches ($8.50-$9.50) come in five varieties – Italian (ham, capicola, salami and provolone); Homage to Katz (turkey breast, corned beef, Swiss, homemade thousand island dressing and cole slaw); The Harold (corned beef, Swiss and spicy mustard); The Taylor (hummus of the week, roasted red pepper and sliced cucumbers), and The Falafal (falafel, lettuce, tomato and red onion).
Roll-ups ($9 for six) made with either pickle or cucumbers come in seven incarnations such as the Firecracker Roll (roast beef topped with spicy red pepper spread) or the Philadelphia Roll (roast beef and American cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and red onion).
The pickles themselves are still made with the family’s proprietary recipe, but now are produced at a plant in Newark to keep up with the demand. “We made 2,500 sandwiches our first two weeks in business,’’ says Cohen. “We couldn’t make that many pickles here.’’
Locals got an early taste of the pickle magic when Elsie’s sprung up in pop-up events at the Square Meal, an Oaklyn café that focuses on healthy foods.
“When we did the pop-up events, Jackie and Dan (Walther, owners of Square Meal), were gracious enough to host us,’’ Cohen says. “The entire community really embraced Elsie’s and the whole concept. The support is really humbling, it really is.’’
Jackie Walther says she was really gratified to collaborate with Elsie’s owners.
“When Katherine asked us to collaborate, we were excited of course,’’ she says. “We wanting to help her out, for one, but for two, anytime we collaborate with other businesses it’s always a win-win for everybody. She brought in all her followers from when Elsie’s was down the shore, and they experienced our store and our food and they got to check out the town and some of them went over to the brewery (Tonewood).
“All the pop-ups have been great and new businesses like Elsie’s are great because it’s giving people more options, and more of a convenient choice for healthy food,’’ Walther says. “It seems like the more people have access to this type food and nutrition, they happier people are. They are eating well, they are supporting small businesses, they are helping the downtown economy grow. Every little action makes a big impact. And they are really great people to work with, very caring and giving and dedicated.’’
The collaborations continue now that Elsie’s is in its own space. While I was visiting on a recent morning, Christine Patton, owner of the nearby Juice Girl shop, stopped in to pick up some pickle brine to use in her store. (“It’s for extra hydration,’’ she says. “It’s a great hangover cure!’’) She said her own customers welcome Elsie's because many of them are on Keto or other diets that have them cutting carbs and avoiding bread.
Common Grounds coffee shop in Oaklyn has used the pickles in quiche, and Arctic Freeze Thai-rolled ice cream in Collingswood has perfected a pickle-flavored ice cream it also plans to offer in pints.
While the pickle business has been trending, neither Katherine Cohen nor Chad Jordan has plans to quit their day jobs. Cohen continues to sell real estate, while Jordan works for an ad agency in Philadelphia.
Elsie’s is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, although phone lines open at 10 a.m. “so you can reserve your pickle.’’
“We are closed on Sundays, because I am a firm believer that Sunday is family day,’’ Cohen says, but pickle sandwiches aren’t like bread sandwiches, they will not get soggy if you order ahead for the next day. Catering is also offered, and soon a delivery service will be available for those who can’t make the shop hours.
Jordan says he’s in awe of his wife’s energy and that the business of pickles suits her outgoing personality, although he enjoys his turns on Saturdays “working the line’’ or manning the register.
“I love that Lenin gets to see us work hard. A lot of times with your job, you don’t have something that you really love … (Katherine) loves that environment and she just thrives in it and it’s fantastic for Lenin to see … and (to build) something that we can pass along at some point.’’
He’s also gratified by the response of the community, be that his coworkers who have cheered on the pickle venture and plan trips across the river to Elsie’s, or the neighborhood customers stopping by.
Jordan is especially pleased to offer alternatives to those who have Celiac disease or must avoid bread because of allergies or other nutritional needs. “It serves the needs of a lot of people out there. It’s important and I think it’s great.’’
Even though advertising is his specialty, he says they’ve been so focused on getting the doors open that marketing hasn’t yet become a priority.
“It’s funny because we are really busy, not just with the store but with everything else going on. Katherine is on the PTA and … we have the normal lives of people who have a 7-year-old … play dates and birthday parties … ‘’
While life can get busy, Cohen says it means a lot to her to keep family traditions alive.
“I’m oldest of five … and my mom and dad had the pizzeria when we were little. We grew up in a restaurant,’’ she recalls. “I saw my parents, they would work from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. … I know how much work this can be. When I took on the job of continuing the tradition, I totally understood the work that went into it. And now my daughter comes here after school and does her homework, and she knows how to fill the disinfectant sinks. She’s learning the industry.’’
“I’m busy, but never too busy to spread the pickle love!’’
If you go
Elsie's is located at 803 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Call (856) 858-7041 or visit www.peacelovepickles.com
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