In 28 years, I have never missed a Kosherfest. I still get the same feeling of excited anticipation as I walk the aisles in search of the latest kosher products. This year’s search led to a discovery of a long-held trade secret. Here’s the scoop…but keep it under wraps.
I entered the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, to find over 6,000 buyers milling about, meeting and greeting existing clients and checking a multitude of new products. This annual event, launched by Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting back in 1989, continues to draw many of the kosher food industry’s Jewish Who’s Who. Celebrated chefs and talk show hosts, as well as a myriad of manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, buyers, caterers, retail stores, and media personnel participate every year. They all have their eyes out for the newest product, recipe and, like me, that special story, one that uncovers something never seen or heard before. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to land one.
I stopped to say hello to my old friend Stephen Leibowitz, affectionately known as “Chief Pickle Maven” of the world famous Guss’ Pickles. Amid the pungent smell of half-sour pickles, Stephen informed me that he has participated in every Kosherfest since the first, and that Guss’ Pickles has been certified by the OU for 55 years. He also filled me in on the behind Guss’ Pickles’ rise to fame.
Back in 1920, Isidor (Izzy) Guss, an enterprising immigrant from Russia, decided to treat the American public to a steady flow of perfectly pickled pickles. He opened his storefront on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and aptly named it “Guss’ Pickles.” The business took off quickly, attracting and creating thousands of pickle lovers. Then Stephen let me in on a trade secret.
Stephen’s grandfather, Max Leibowitz, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1897, owned a pickle manufacturing facility in Milford, Delaware. He was the pickle-supplier behind Guss’s popular pickles. Guss insisted on keeping the arrangement top-secret. So much so, he had Max deliver the pickles in the wee hours of the morning – in an unmarked truck.
By the 1960’s, Stephen’s father, David, sought OU Kosher certification, realizing its significant value to Leibowitz’s Pickle Facility.
Stephen and his son Andrew went on to co-own United Pickle Products Company in the Bronx. They made certain to obtain OU certification for their new facility. United Pickle Products is currently the largest and oldest family-owned pickle wholesaler on the East Coast.
Sadly, in 1975, Izzy Guss passed away. His store was sold to Harry and Tim Baker. Leibowitz’s facility continued to supply their classic pickles to Guss’ Pickles, which moved to the Battery Park area of Manhattan. Unfortunately, after the 9/11 attack, the Baker family suffered serious financial loss. The mounting debt to their pickle suppliers prompted them to agree signing over the “Guss’ Pickles Trademark” to the Leibowitz family.
An appropriate ending to the story. After all, unbeknownst to the world of pickle aficionados, it was the Leibowitz’s tasty pickles that made “Guss’ Pickles” famous in the first place.
Apparently, there will always be a place in the fridge for Guss’ kosher pickles. According to Stephen, like fine wine, “the pickle complements every meal.”
Truth is, behind every OU Kosher product waits a story to be told. It’s all about people working together to bring a dream to life.
Phyllis Koegel serves as the Marketing Director of OU Kosher based in New York City. Phyllis received her MBA from Pace University and resides in Woodmere, NY.