Meet the Philly-Area Inventor of the Now-Famous Pickle Sandwich
“I am so exhausted,” says Katherine Cohen following a week of viral success for her bread-free creation.
One week ago, South Jersey realtor Katherine Cohen was trying to get the word out about the bread-free pickle sandwiches that she sells at Elsie’s, a Haddon Township deli she opened with her husband about two months ago. Well, the word is now officially out.
A viral Thrillist video on her pickle sandwich is up to more than 14 million views in just five days. Outlets like Buzzfeed and Bustle have taken notice, as has, er, Lance Bass. And on Monday, she was up bright and early to get to New York for a taping of Good Morning America’s Strahan & Sara. Naturally, we had to get her on the phone after the taping to learn more.
Well, somebody’s had quite a week.
I am so exhausted. I was up at 3 a.m. and had to get to New York at 5 a.m. for Strahan and Sara and bring 100 pickle sandwiches with me. They wanted us to feed the audience and get their reaction. I didn’t even know who Michael Strahan was! I had to ask my husband.
How much did you pay a restaurant publicist to blow up your pickle sandwich?
Nothing. It blows my bind. This is a completely organic perfect storm. I keep getting all these phone calls and emails. It’s just crazy.
So just to make sure I understand this correctly, you don’t have any kind of sandwiches on bread at Elsie’s. Just pickle sandwiches. Is that right?
There is no bread in the house. You can have a sandwich on thick slices of pickles that replace the bread. Or we also do roll-ups, like sushi rolls but with sandwich fillings and the pickle is the wrapping. We serve them with chopsticks.
How in the world did you wake up one day and decide to make a pickle sandwich?
My family used to have a deli down the shore. My mom is diabetic, and I’m always on a quest to make her eat better, and so I thought that we could just make sandwiches out of pickles instead of bread. So we started selling them at that deli, which has since closed. But mostly it was just regular sandwiches there. At our new place, it’s all pickle sandwiches.
Was your family always in the food industry?
Yup. When I was a kid, my parents had pizza shops and I grew up working in them. And now, at Elsie’s, my seven-year-old daughter comes in. She’s learned how to wash the dishes. She mops the floors. That was me when I was a kid. Always working.
Did people think you were crazy when you decided to get rid of bread?
My dad thought I was crazy. He’s that old-school deli guy. Everybody wants bread. Nobody wants pickles. He pushed back until he saw it work.
You can’t patent a pickle sandwich, right? I’m assuming other people will knock you off.
Oh they already have been. But you can’t just make a pickle sandwich on just any pickle. We searched high and low to find the right pickle. We have a private agreement with a commercial pickler, and it’s impossible to keep up with the demand. We’ve been selling about 300 sandwiches a day at anywhere from $8.50 to $9.50 each.
You mentioned your mom’s health being one of the reasons behind the creation of your pickle sandwich. But what about all that salt?
We have people coming in three days a week for a pickle sandwich. People who have celiac and can’t eat bread. People who are diabetic. But for people concerned about the sodium, we also offer a cucumber roll-up, where you get the same fillings but rolled up in a plain cucumber without the pickling.
Now that you have all of this attention, what’s the next step?
I have had several phone calls with an attorney regarding which direction we want to take. Do we want to franchise? Do we want to license the name? Do we want to expand ourselves? It’s a conversation we’re having right now.
Any advice for a small entrepreneur like yourself who wants to get publicity like this … for free?
Do what you love to do. It’s all about instinct. If you feel like what you’re doing is 100 percent positive, do it and accompany it with tons of amazing photos on Facebook and Instagram. Share it with the world. Man, I sound like a big hippie.