Story by Kortny Rolston-Duce and Photography by Kort Duce, Colorado Exposure
Entrepreneurs start businesses for a variety of reasons. Some want to work for themselves while others filled a niche or built upon a specific skill or talent.
For Laraina James, owner of Mountain Girl Pickles, it was a bit more serendipitous. Her flourishing business evolved from her Louisiana roots, a visit from her father, and Bloody Mary’s.
“It wasn’t something I planned to do,” she said.
Pickling is a longstanding tradition in James’ family. She grew up in southern Louisiana eating pickled okra, green beans, and other vegetables that her father and her grandmother prepared and jarred.
As a child, she had little interest in learning how to pickle and jar vegetables or the recipes handed down through the generations.
In fact, it wasn’t until years later after she moved to the mountains of Colorado, that James learned.
She was working in a Nederland restaurant that served Bloody Mary’s, a vodka and tomato juice-based drink often garnished with celery and pickles. During one of her father’s visits, they started talking about pickling.
The owner of the restaurant got involved and asked them to provide pickles for the drink. James agreed and learned her family’s recipes. The ingredient became popular enough customers asked to buy jars.
Mountain Girl Pickles was born.
“I’m a fourth-generation canner,” James said. “My dad learned from his mother and she learned from her mother.”
Mountain Girl Pickles has grown substantially over the past few years. James has expanded her product line to include okra, green beans, corn relish, asparagus, garlic, Brussel sprouts, pickles, and beets. She and some friends spend two days during the summer and fall pickling and jarring products at a commercial kitchen in Boulder. They churn out 60 cases with 12 jars of product each.
“We make as much as possible during the summer while the produce is fresh and in season,” James said. “All of our produce is sourced in Colorado. I get a lot of it from local farms that I’ve met through farmers’ markets.”
The rest of her days are consumed by sourcing local vegetables, staffing booths at regional farmer’s markets, fulfilling orders, and distributing products to stores and online markets along the Front Range.
One of those stores is Longmont-based Cheese Importers, which started carrying the Mountain Girl line last year.
Arenia White, a manager at the store, said they weren’t looking to add more pickles because they already carried some made in Colorado. But after sampling some Mountain Girl products, they immediately placed an order.
“There is a punch of flavor and the jars are tightly packed, so you are getting more product,” White said.
The store carries several of James’ products. The pickled okra and Brussel sprouts are customer favorites.
“They are really popular,” White said. “They sell themselves.”