While many are dubbing 2023 the “year of the pickle” at the Minnesota State Fair, for the Perfect Pickle, every year is all about pickles.
What started as a fun idea between a group of high school friends has grown into a full operation that this year is adding a second location on the fairgrounds.
Dave Finger, Jeff Watson and Gregg Klindt launched Perfect Pickle at Lumberjack Days in Stillwater and the Washington County Fair in 1997.
Perfect Pickle had modest beginnings at the State Fair later that year in the Food Building. Their space was the smallest in the building, the heat was never-ending and fried pickles were just starting to pique public interest. They offered just their Perfect Pickle — a serving of fried pickles with ranch dressing — and the Naked Pickle, which is exactly what it sounds like (but on a stick, for good measure).
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In the 2000s, even after the Food Building was renovated, their growing lines were clogging the building. So in 2010, the State Fair offered them a spot outside on the corner of West Dan Patch Avenue and Liggett Street. They’ve been operating out of a trailer there for the past 13 years, but as any avid fair-goer would notice, the long lines are impossible to miss.
The Perfect Pickle was interested in expanding but it’s no easy feat. The last time the State Fair let a food vendor build on the grounds was in 2018, when Sweet Martha’s Cookies built a third location. So when Perfect Pickle got the call they were approved to start building a second location in January, they got to work.
They broke ground on May 8 and laid the concrete on May 31. Two weeks before the State Fair, the final touches were still being added — windows, industrial ovens and fridges, a personal bathroom, office space and more.
Jen Finger, the head of marketing and wife of cofounder Dave Finger, said there was a fear in the back of her mind that they wouldn’t finish in time but she has tried to ignore it.
“We had to debate if we would build this year or do something temporarily, but we ultimately decided to go for it,” she said. “We see an increase in sales every single year. We always have long lines and we really pride ourselves on keeping those lines moving. But the next hurdle to real, continued growth was space.”
Both locations will have the same menu items: the Perfect Pickle, the Cajun Pickle, the Gourmet Pickle and the Naked Pickle. The Gourmet Pickle, which is a tray of deep-fried pickles with cream cheese in the middle, will all be pre-made at the new location as Finger said they were difficult to make at the smaller location.
For those keeping track, Perfect Pickle hasn’t introduced a new menu item in 22 years. Why? Because the demand is so high, they simply haven’t had to, Finger said.
Just the first floor of the second location is more than four times the size of the trailer. Bright neon signs in pickle green decorate the outside of the building with their classic pickle mascot peeking from behind windows.
They join a new era of the north end, formerly known as Machinery Hill. In 2019 the State Fair unveiled a $16 million project for the north end for a bit of makeover, similar to what the west end got in 2014.
What used to be an oasis of farm equipment now stands the Giant Sing Along, mini golf and the North End Event Center.
“A lot of fans are really happy for us, and I am hoping it will bring us a whole new audience,” Finger said. She said the new location won’t be as crowded as the first one.
“Even on the busiest days where you can barely move down there, there is space to breathe up here.”
Customers can expect shorter lines as well with a staff of 300 between the two locations. In 2022, Perfect Pickle was the eighth most popular food vendor according to the State Fair and nearing the $1 million revenue mark. Finger said she thinks the second location will push them over the top.