SCHENECTADY — Jay Street just got healthier thanks to a young entrepreneur.
Abby Rockmacher, a Niskayuna resident, opened The DillyBean in Schenectady early this year. It’s a health food store with locally made goods as well as Rockmacher’s own pickled products and to-go meals. At 23, she’s maybe fresh out of college, but she’s already got years of experience behind her.
“I’ve always been known to not take the direct route, Rockmacher said. “I got my GED when I was 16.”
Shortly after, while working toward a bachelor's degree, Rockmacher started pickling for Puckers Gourmet, a Greenwich pickling company. She also worked in the restaurant and food industry through college, learning the ins and outs of the business. Perhaps most importantly learning how to pickle using a natural methodology called lacto fermentation.
“It’s the natural way of pickling. [It’s] what they used to do in the 1600s and 1700s, when they were coming across on the boats,” Rockmacher said. Using only salt, vegetables and water (and Rockmacher’s preferred spices), she creates healthy pickled green beans, cucumbers, sauerkraut, etc. It’s something she wanted to bring to Schenectady.
“I knew there was a market in Schenectady, not only to have pickles but to-go lunches. Because I interned [near] Jay Street,” Rockmacher said.
Between interning at the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office and New Choices Recovery Center, she spent plenty of afternoons trying to find healthy lunches to bring back to the office.
“I knew that there was a void for a health food market [in Schenectady],” Rockmacher said.
Thus, when she saw the listing for 133 Jay St. in October, she put in the deposit and bot the place open by mid-January.
Rockmacher is a doer at heart, it seems like she rarely sits still, which helped her get her business off the ground in a matter of months.
“I already had the concept,” Rockmacher said. “I’ve always wanted to start a pickle company because I saw the potential.”
Even as a kid, while others her age were watching cartoons, Rockmacher was watching Food Network. Though she got her degree in criminal justice and sociology from St. Rose, opening The DillyBean has always been in the back of her mind, and in her mom’s.
“I think I’m slightly living out her dream,” Rockmacher said.
Her mom, Stephanie Rockmacher, went to culinary school but wasn’t able to complete her training. Stephanie taught Abby how to cook and was always passionate about food, making an impact on her daughter.
The cream of vegetable soup that Rockmacher served at the recent Schenectady Soup Stroll (which she served to 1,129 people) was one of her mom’s recipes. Rockmacher also plans to use her mom’s recipes for some of the to-go foods that she serves at The DillyBean.
“It feels good to know that everyone was enjoying my mom’s food,” Rockmacher said.
While the shop has been busier than Rockmacher expected — “I haven’t done any advertising at all. It’s just been word-of-mouth” — she said getting the business started came with a slew of unexpected challenges.
“Now I realize what holds people back [from opening a business]. I got lucky that I’m able to use my own funds because I couldn’t even get a loan,” Rockmacher said.
She was denied a loan from the Capital Community Land Fund because of the shop’s location and her student loans and is funding the shop herself. There’s a big risk factor for Rockmacher. There’s also the responsibility factor, something that many believe millennials her age don’t have enough of.
“It’s like having a baby but the baby can’t go to grandma’s for the weekend,” Rockmacher joked.
Yet, Rochmacker is happy to have the responsibility and she’s hoping the shop will grow and help other local producers grow.
“Everything in the store is from New York State or Vermont,” Rockmacher said.
There’s olive oil from the Evergreen Olive Oil Co., goat milk lotion and soaps from Shady Acre Homestead, crackers from Saratoga Crackers, chocolate from Saratoga Chocolate Co., and sauce from Vital Eats among other products.
“We have the Green Market, which has been great, but I’ve had a ton of people tell me [they’re glad that] if [they] run out of something during the week they don’t have to wait until Sunday,” Rockmacher said.
And of course, she has her own pickled products.
“A lot of pickle companies heat treat their pickles, which kills all the natural bacteria. They can, they don’t pickle,” Rockmacher said.
Using lacto-fermentation, she usually pickles green beans (which turn into dilly beans), cucumbers and sauerkraut. It can take anywhere from a day to two weeks to pickle.
“As local produce becomes available I’m going to pickle anything and everything I can get my hands on,” Rockmacher said. She also plans to expand to making homemade hummus and pesto, which will be used in her to-go lunches.
Although The DillyBean is young — just like its owner — Rockmacher is looking far into the future.
“My main goal is to become the greenest business in Schenectady,” Rockmacher said.
She’s using mainly compostable materials now, but she hopes to take it a step further.
Between going green, pickling and running day to day operations of The DillyBean, Rockmacher has a busy year ahead of her.
What’s the story behind the name?
“The dilly bean is a pickled green bean and, as a kid, we would always go to my great aunt and uncle’s house and everybody wanted Aunt Mary’s chocolate chip cookies, and I always wanted my great uncle’s dilly beans.”