Marcus Weaver’s passion for The People’s Pickles is irresistible, because looking back, it’s a story he almost can’t believe. “It was just an idea I had kicking around, and now it’s helped so many people,” he says.
Based in Arvada, Weaver started the People’s Pickles in 2019 as a social-entrepreneurship venture of Lower the Barrier Vocation and Training Services, the nonprofit he started with Frances Blair. Lower the Barrier is a job-training program that seeks to help marginalized citizens such as those re-entering society after serving prison sentences, recovering from addictions or experiencing homelessness. Weaver leads courses that cover such topics as how to give an elevator pitch and how to talk about one’s background in three steps. A focal point is viewing any obstacle to employment as a teaching tool rather than a barrier, he says.
Last month, Weaver transitioned the People's Pickles into its own business, with plans to turn it into a nonprofit by the end of the summer. The company sells pints, quarts and gallons made from Weaver’s secret family recipe, and the production process helps community members gain skills and confidence to assist them in finding employment.
Weaver works with employees and students from a point of empathy; he himself served a prison sentence in 2008. “I’d gotten in trouble, but it turned my life around,” he explains. “I’m thankful I’ve always had good people around me to help me along the way.” Having resources and support made all the difference, and so he sees his role at the People’s Pickles as a way of paying it forward.
The social-entrepreneurship venture is only part of Weaver's with the community. Along with the classes he teaches at Lower the Barrier, he also teaches at Department of Correction re-entry centers, county jails and re-entry nonprofits around Colorado, as well as working a day job with the Community Outreach Service Center as deputy director. He was recently recognized for his work in the community with the 2021 Verizon Juneteenth Dream Big Award.
The idea for the People’s Pickles started small, when Weaver realized that entrepreneurship resonated with many of the community members he was working with and that his family's pickle recipe could be the vehicle for a new venture.
The Weaver family pickle recipe goes back generations on his mother’s side of the family. “It dates back from the days of slavery,” he says. Then, pickling helped make cucumbers taste better and last longer, especially when they weren’t fresh to begin with. “That’s how it came about; it’s a source of family pride,” he notes. Weaver says that the recipe is so highly prized that only some of the family members learn it, and he was sworn to secrecy.
The pickles come in six flavors: sweet-hot, sweet-sweet, hot-hot, dill, dill-garlic, and hot garlic. The pickles are first brined whole, then chopped into thick pieces that help ensure a crunchy texture. And the product is popular, selling out to the point that Weaver is currently assessing inventory to ensure he can meet demand. “People really liked what we were doing," he says. "It gave them hope [and led to] people meeting people during a time when people needed people,” he says.
The business was so successful that Weaver received requests from supermarkets like Whole Foods and Safeway to get his pickles on the shelves, but he made the decision to evolve the business in a way that prioritized people instead of the product.
Along with the goal of becoming a nonprofit, Weaver hopes to open a brick-and-mortar location with a warehouse space for classes, which would increase his ability to help even more people. He would even like to see the idea expand beyond Denver in the future.
“We’re a resource in the community, not just a business,” he explains.
The People’s Pickles are available at Hope Tank as well as pop-up stands at Brother Jeff's Cultural Center and the Mile High Flea Market on the last weekend of every month, or ordered by phone, with free delivery in the metro Denver area. Online ordering and national shipping is planned for late summer. For more information, visit thepeoplespickles.com or call 720-939-2811.
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