The Pickle Barrel celebrates a big birthday

Who: The Pickle Barrel, with III Inc.

What: “Here’s to what we’ve made,” a new campaign celebrating the casual dining chain’s 50th anniversary. “It was really about [answering the question] ‘What does it take to make it to 50 years?'” said III Inc. partner and ECD Joseph Nanni.

When & Where: The campaign kicked off on Monday (March 29) and runs through September. It’s anchored by a 60-second online video that is being supported by in restaurant (and online) activations, including a line of T-shirts and a themed menu for each of its five decades.

Why: The campaign is celebrating both the chain’s adaptability and its longevity, said The Pickle Barrel president, Peter Higley. “Not a lot of businesses can be around for 50 years, especially in the restaurant business,” he said.

While the phrase “Here’s to what we’ve made” has an obvious food connotation, Higley said it is also intended as a reference to the Ontario-based chain’s efforts around championing its “family” of employees and customers and, more broadly, the community as a whole. Its philanthropic efforts over the years include raising more than $500,000 for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, as well as donating nearly 40,000 meals to Ontario healthcare workers in the past year.

How: The 60-second spot relays the restaurant chain’s history, noting its place in the fabric of the communities in which it operates. “Back in 1971, Pickle Barrel made a place for people who love great food,” says the voiceover. “And you? You made it famous.” The spot features representations of its food over the past half-century

“The brand was made by the customers, by the staff and by the city,” said Nanni. “Everyone has a story and a connection, but it’s not a brand that trumpets itself that often.”

As with just about every restaurant, it’s been a tough 12 months for The Pickle Barrel—part of the Recipe Unlimited family of restaurant brands—which included the closure of its only downtown Toronto location last fall.

The spot strikes a celebratory tone, however, with no indication that things have changed because of the pandemic. “When it’s your birthday, and you hit a milestone, it really doesn’t matter what’s going on around you—you’ve got to celebrate that birthday,” said Higley. “We’ve been through tough things before… but we’ve managed to get through it, and we’ll get through this. We have a strong balance sheet and we’re in a good position. ”

The company also enlisted the Manchester-born illustrator Nick Burton (who spent a large portion of his career in Canada, working with agencies including DDB Canada, Draft FBC Redline and Ogilvy) to develop a line of T-shirts. They feature imagery of staple menu items like a smoked meat sandwich and an anthropomorphic pickle, accompanied by phrases like “Smoke it if you got it,” and “Makin’ folks dillerious since 1971.” Pickle Barrel is donating $5 from every T-shirt sale to the SickKids Foundation.

Who is III Inc.? Originally launched as Lemonade by James Rasmussen and Sharon Brunetta in 2016, the agency had previously worked with The Pickle Barrel and Montana’s, its sister brand in Toronto-based restaurant operator Recipe Unlimited. The agency rebranded as III Inc. after bringing Nanni aboard as partner and ECD late last year.

And we quote: “I can’t control the weather, I can’t control the government, but I can control good food, great service and [a great] value proposition every day. That’s the way you have to look at.” — Peter Higley, president, The Pickle Barrel

Chris Powell