When Hattie Davis, an aspiring actress from Witchita, Kansas, moved to Los Angeles, the last thing on her mind was making pickles.
“I came to L.A. to be an actor and of course I got frustrated, just like everyone does,” Davis said. “I’d been waiting tables pretty much my entire life. And I was like, ‘I got to do something.’ I didn’t want to wait tables for the rest of my life.”
Then her fiance’s aunt sent her a jar of homemade pickles. Davis, who has always loved pickles, thought they were better than anything she had ever purchased from the store.
“And I thought, ‘I’m going to make some pickles,’” Davis said.
Davis first used a recipe she had found in GQ. Then, inspired by an old deli in her hometown, Davis made a variety of spicy pickles.
“I invited all of my friends to come over and try them,” Davis said. “They were like, ‘These are really good. You should start a business.’”
And so she did. Three years later, Davis is making pickles by the jar for her company, Hattie’s Hotties. At the last Unique LA — a seasonal boutique featuring local products — Davis sold 400 jars in just two days. Apart from larger shows, Davis currently sells her spicy pickles through her website and at a variety of markets, including the Foothill Artisan Market.
“Now, I’m just looking to get into as many farmers markets as I can and solidifying my space in a commercial kitchen so that I can do that,” Davis said.
Hattie’s Hotties currently sells pickles in four different variations: Hattie’s Hotties, Vampire Slayers, BB’s and Bloody Buddies.
Hattie’s Hotties are spicy dill pickles, Vampire Slayers are garlic dill pickles and the BB’s are spicy bread-and-butter pickles. Arguably the most intricate offering, however, is the Bloody Buddies, a mix of spicy pickles, asparagus, green beans, carrots and okra (this was partially inspired by the Beach Ball, a bar in Seal Beach that serves pickled asparagus with its Bloody Marys).
Rock and Reilly’s Irish Pub, a restaurant and bar on the Sunset strip, uses Hattie’s Hotties and BB’s for some of its sandwiches.
Davis said she came upon these recipes through a process of trial and error, but also sought the guidance of some old family recipes.
“I did a lot of online research, read a lot of books and just played around with stuff,” Davis said.
Davis used to be stationed in Culver City, where she shared a kitchen. But because of a change in laws stating that only one business can operate in one kitchen at a time, Davis moved her cooking to Pasadena, which has different regulations.
Davis makes her pickles about once a week and estimates that she can produce about 50 jars in eight hours. Each jar is 32 oz.
“It’s hard work,” Davis said. “It’s a hard, long day and it’s hot, and you’re over boiling vinegar and water all day.”
But cooking is not the most challenging part of operating a small business, Davis said.
“It’s the rest of the filling through the red tape and figuring out what rules you need to follow,” Davis said.
In fact, Davis loves cooking pickles.
“I just enjoy it,” Davis said. “I like the time alone in the kitchen. It’s kind of a Zen thing. It’s a lot of repetitive stuff but it’s good. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I’m done, seeing those 50 jars sitting there, waiting to make me money.”
Davis does not operate her entire business alone. She has received a lot of help and support from her fiance.
“He’s the muscle. We have to go up two sets of stairs to get to the kitchen so it’s lots of heavy lifting,” said Davis, who said she buys anywhere from 50 to 75 pounds of cucumbers at a time.
Her fiance, a comic book artist, also helped her design the labels for the jars.
Looking to the future, Hattie said she would love to make her own Bloody Mary mix and also transition to using sealable plastic bags.
“The sky’s the limit,” she said. “Honestly, I would love to do all kinds of stuff.”
Davis said she’s received positive feedback from many customers and has even been able to persuade pickle haters to buy a jar of Hattie’s Hotties after sampling her creations.
“People love the labels. People love the names. And they just love them,” Davis said. “They’re just better than anything you can buy in the store. You can really tell the difference.”