Maria’s Munchies Wins National Good Food Award
At an age when most people are planning retirement, Marcia Nodel started her first business. In her early 60s she decided to turn 30 years of experience as a home cook into Marcia’s Munchies all-natural pickles. Five years later, business is booming.
Today her products are in upscale grocery stores around southeastern Michigan and as far away as California and New York. You’ll also find them accompanying sandwiches at the foodie heaven known as Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor.
In January this year Marcia’s Munchies won a Good Food Award from the San Francisco–based Seedling Projects. The winning entries were Little Hotties (a bread and butter pickle spiced up with habanero peppers) and their newest product, Cherry Pops (unique rosemary-scented pickled cherry tomatoes). Good Food Award winners must be not only delicious, but also all-natural, locally produced and responsibly sourced. In 2014 Marcia’s Munchies Sweet ‘N Sassy bread-and-butter pickles were also a Good Food Award winner.
Adding to that success, in February Cherry Pops were selected for the Saveur 100 and given a prominent review in Saveur magazine. Soon after, Mitten Crate, a monthly subscription service featuring Michigan-made foods, added Little Hotties to its lineup. More recognition came when a whimsical online feature called “Snow Dogs Vlogs” created an entertaining installment in which the hosts tasted their new Mitten Crate delivery on camera and gave Little Hotties a thumbs up. "It’s been an exciting year," she says.
Behind that success is a lot of unglamorous work. Marcia’s Munchies is still almost entirely a one-woman operation, and Nodel is definitely hands-on when it comes to preparing her products. Although her family pitches in to promote the business and help with details, Nodel still does most of the work in the kitchen with the help of a couple assistants. The pickles are produced in a small commercial space that she shares in Hamtramck.
"We have no automation. It’s the old-fashioned way,” she says. “We pack it by hand; we make it by hand. Everything is done by hand.”
She admits sometimes when she’s waiting for the delivery truck in front of the store, still wearing her hairnet from the kitchen, she thinks, “I’m glad my friends can’t see me now."
But the hard work pays off in a product she’s proud to put her name on. “The long, hard process makes a difference,” she says. She started out selling the caramel corn at the local farmers’ market and a few small stores, but she wasn’t happy with its limited shelf life, so she pulled out a recipe for bread and butter pickles she’d been making for years.
It was tricky to produce a pickle as tasty as homemade using local ingredients and avoiding anything artificial. She tweaked and tested and went through a lengthy FDA approval process before perfecting the first Marcia’s Munchies Sweet ‘N Sassy bread and butter pickles.
She soon added Little Hotties—a variation of her basic bread and butter recipe ramped up with habanero. Then she added dill pickles and pickled asparagus. Cherry Pops came after more than a year of trial and error working with Michigan State University experts to develop a recipe that kept the tomatoes al dente and the flavor bright.
“Everything is all-natural,” she says. “These are time-honored recipes, and that shows.”