It’s not often you hear of a scientist-turned-educator trading in her glass beaker for a glass Mason jar, but sometimes two passions can collide to create unique results, which in the case of Kirsten Hibbs, could only be described as uncanny.
Hibbs, a support specialist and dean of ninth-grade life at University Liggett School, managed to take her love of science, education and cooking to create Dillicious Canned Goods, a small-batch pickling business that prides itself on homemade family recipes passed down through generations.
“It all comes back to my mom, Tricia Kulek,” Hibbs said. “My mom’s love language was in her food and her cooking.
“I grew up learning to cook from her and she taught me all of her recipes.”
But how Dillicious came to fruition took a few twists and turns before it became a local taste sensation.
Armed with her love of cooking after her 2000 graduation from Grosse Pointe North High School, Hibbs headed to Michigan State University to pursue a degree in microbiology and molecular genetics. While she always intended to become a scientist and researcher, it was a fellow Spartan who first mentioned Hibbs’ acumen for teaching.
She recalled a time when she was helping explain the complexities of pressurized systems to fellow classmates when a friend complimented her ability to break down the concept into digestible components.“At MSU, I was just a high-flier, especially with science,” she said. “I am able to take complicated principles and bring it down to a baseline (for others) and take it from there.”
But after finishing her undergraduate degree, Hibbs stuck to her career path in science and worked as an AIDS and HIV researcher, beginning at Emory University in Atlanta, then at Loyola University in Chicago.
While at Loyola, she volunteered to take part in a program where high school students shadowed researchers to learn more about the field.
“I got put in charge of it because of my outgoing personality,” she said. “Students were like, ‘This is amazing. I have learned so much here.’”
Inspired by the idea of teaching science, Hibbs then decided to take part in Northwestern University’s Golden Apple Alternative Certification Program in tandem with Chicago Teaching Fellows in summer 2011. Through the programs, she worked in Chicago Public Schools student teaching and earned a teaching certificate. From there, she traded in her lab coat for the classroom and earned a master’s degree in educational leadership at Central Michigan University in May 2017.
“I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to get kids excited about science,” she said. “In college, you are around kids who know they like science and already know they want to pursue it.”
Hibbs herself was inspired by one of her own teachers, crediting her former North biological sciences teacher, Randi Zwada, for inspiring and pushing female students like herself to pursue science careers, a once traditionally male-dominated field.
Hibbs also said she is living proof that people can pair passions together, such as science and teaching, and have them lead to something special.
“And then there were pickles,” Hibbs joked about her third career passion.
No stranger to the kitchen, Hibbs kept up her childhood love for cooking and baking as a young adult, often cooking for friends in college and hosting holidays when she lived in Atlanta and Chicago.She also kept up the family tradition of pickling, often gifting friends jars of “dilly beans” and pickles. Her personal life began to heat up, too, when her high school friend, Paul Hibbs, whom she met as a fellow freshman at North in 1996, slowly became her boyfriend. She decided to move back to Michigan to be with him in summer 2015, and the couple got married in 2016.
Aware of her predisposition for pickling, Paul Hibbs purchased his then-girlfriend a canning set. However, both were unaware how this gift would set the wheels in motion for the creation of Dillicious Canned Goods, a pun-inspired name that combines both a central pickling ingredient and the concept of “delicious” products.
“(Friends of friends) would approach me and say, ‘You’re the pickle lady! They are amazing! Where can I buy them?’” Hibbs said of her budding canning career.
One of her friends, Jason Peltier, who was lucky enough to have tasted Hibbs’ canned creations, also happened to be the general manager of Clubhouse BFD, a beer garden and sports bar in Rochester Hills.
He suggested Hibbs provide her products for a tasting he was hosting for beer brewers from throughout Michigan, including Bell’s Brewery out of Kalamazoo and Birmingham’s Griffin Claw Brewing Co.
The reviews were unanimously glowing.
“One of the brewery (higher ups) said they were the most delicious pickles he has ever had,” she said.
Today, Peltier is the general manager at Oat Soda in Lake Orion, which both carries and serves Dillicious products.
“(Jason) believes in and loves my product so much that they carry my shelf-stable quarts for wholesale … and I provide large-batch pickles for them to utilize in the restaurant,” Hibbs said.
Buoyed by the positive feedback, while continuing to be inundated with requests to buy her products, Hibbs eventually gave in and created her own official business in 2015.
“I have had people offer to fund it,” she said, “but I wanted to keep this company ours.”Though the concept and recipes were hers, Hibbs needed to get licensed and find a commercial kitchen to officially launch her company. She linked with Detroit Kitchen Connect, an arm of the Eastern Market Corp. program, which supports a diverse group of local entrepreneurs to help contribute to “Detroit’s growing good food system,” according to its website.
“(Detroit Kitchen Connect) is always looking for good people. No one can afford a commercial kitchen,” said Hibbs, adding that she grew up going to Eastern Market for years, making the partnership a full-circle moment.
With commercial kitchen space secured, Hibbs received a license from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Her husband, who works in IT for the Grosse Pointe Public School System, designed the company’s logo and label and developed its website. He also provides a second hand in the Dillicious kitchen.
As the company continues to grow, opportunities for Hibbs to sell her company or to make it a high-volume business are knocking. But she is committed to keeping it small enough to maintain both its flavor and charm.
“Westborn Market wanted my products in there, but there’s no way I could,” Hibbs said. “I always wanted it to be boutique and artisanal. It loses its flavor and quality (when produced in bulk).”
Hibbs also remains committed to keep her products not just high-quality, but also locally supplied.
The company uses Detroit’s LaGrosso Bros Produce as its distributor, pulling ingredients from local, earth-friendly Michigan farmers. The company’s labels are made by Label Stop in Warren. It purchases its glass Mason jars from local Ace Hardware stores.
“Once you go bigger, you lose your ability to keep it local like we do,” Hibbs said.
With the company ever-growing, the Hibbs family has grown along with it. Son Hudson was born four years ago and now attends preschool at Liggett. In the summer months, he is front and center at Mom and Dad’s pop-up shops in the family’s front yard in the City of Grosse Pointe and often accompanies them at farmers’ markets in Birmingham or Greenfield Village.
“The hardest part about growth (of the company) is time,” Hibbs said. I love Liggett and I love what I do, and I’m also a mom.”
Ultimately, Hibbs said she envisions a storefront and delicatessen, but only when the timing is right. For now, things seem to have fallen perfectly into place for this pickle-loving Pointer.
“I am so incredibly glad I moved back here,” she said. “We have a phenomenal community.”
Finding Dillicious food
Now that the word is out about Dillicious Canned Goods, the next step is to figure out where to find them.
Certain products for Dillicious Canned Goods are available at Village Wine Shop in Grosse Pointe Park, while Giuseppe’s International Oils & Vinegars on Kercheval Place in The Village carries its full line of products. Several shelf-stable canned products are available year round, including pickle slices, pickle spears, pickled green beans, preservative-free Bloody Mary mix and Bloody Mary Hot Sauce.
The company also has specialty products that rotate monthly, which require refrigeration including: dill pickle cheese spreads, assorted pickled products, Korean-style bulgogi marinade and restaurant-style salsa. Owner Kirsten Hibbs also added deviled eggs and 9-inch quiches for the holiday season.
For more information or to order Dillicious products online, visit www.DilliciousDetroit.com, Facebook @DetroitPicklesRUs or Instagram @Dillicious_Detroit.