Paisley Farm: A passion for pickling

WILLOUGHBY -- Not many people land a well-paying job right out of college, and even fewer people would leave that job after only a few months, just to follow their passion.

In 1980, Ken Anderson scored a job at Lincoln Electric freshly out of Lakeland Community College. But after working there less than a year, Anderson realized it was not the career for him.

"It was a great job, and I loved programming the computers," says Anderson. "But it did not fill the entrepreneurial spirit that I had."

It's a spirit that Anderson calls a gift from his dad.

"My dad was a self-employed barber, and when I was in first grade, he converted our garage into a barbershop," Anderson remembers. "My dad was adaptable too. As the 60s came along and people stopped getting their hair cut because the Beatles rolled into town, my dad opened a guitar store because every kid in the world wanted to play guitar."

That same entrepreneurial bug quickly made the younger Anderson sick of his new job at Lincoln, but he wasn't really sure what his next step should be.

That is until a chance meeting with a veteran World War II pilot named J.W. Paisley.

"When he got out of the war, he told me that he wanted to do something for himself," Anderson says. "And that, of course, struck a nerve in me. I think that's me too."

Paisley told him that in 1945, he had followed his passion and started his own pickling business, right on his grandfather's farm on Lakeshore Boulevard in Mentor.

Anderson had some ideas for how computers might help Paisley's small company. Paisley was a bit of a novice techie, and the two quickly bonded over technology.

"He had an IBM System 32 computer. It was a $36,000 computer that had disks the size of an LP record, and (each disk) was two megabytes. I think a picture on our phones has more than that now. This was 1981," Anderson laughs.

Paisley found that Anderson was the perfect person to program the new-fangled machine to do wondrous things – like keep track of inventory and store their recipes electronically.

Paisley eventually offered the young man a position with his pickling business.

"I liked that. But it was for $5 an hour!" Anderson says.

Anderson wondered if he had the courage to leave the cushy job at Lincoln for this intriguing new prospect.

"I had to think long and hard. I really wanted to do it," Anderson says. "Everyone was trying to talk me out of it. I was trying to talk myself out of it!"

Even as he weighed his options, it wasn't the money that totally motivated him.

"It was a big step down, but I could adapt to the $5 an hour. It was the potential that ate at you -- the potential for what I'm giving up at Lincoln but also the potential for what could be at Paisley Farm."

So Anderson took the plunge, getting a little inspiration from his mentors.

"That's when you have to adapt," he said. "I saw that J.W. Paisley was good at it. I saw that my father what good at it."

Within six years, Anderson became Paisley's right hand man, earning the title of controller for the company.

"We became good friends, and he loved the computer," Anderson says with a smile.

When Paisley died suddenly, Anderson continued to run the business for years for his estate. He wanted to keep the company alive.

"I then approached the estate and said, 'I don't have any money,' which is not a strong opening line in any negotiation, but ..."

Luckily, they agreed to let Anderson pay them back over the years out of the company's profits. And, in 1989, Anderson took over as president of Paisley Farm Inc.

"I can honestly say, I'd never dreamed I'd own it. But that's the path that got me there."

Under Anderson's leadership, the small Willoughby facility now supplies Costco and Sam's Club and has even gone international.

"An inquiry on our website the other day from a guy from Lake County who said, 'I live in Australia now, and I saw your product.' And that was exciting," Anderson says.

Paisley Farm Inc.'s most popular product is its four-bean salad, followed closely by their sweet pickled beets, but the company has a whole line of specialty relished and pickled vegetables.

Don't expect a traditional gherkin here, though. One vegetable the company doesn't pickle is cucumbers.

So does Anderson have any regrets about making the leap into his new career?

"Absolutley not. Absolutely not. It's been fantastic."

He's proof that sometimes you have to make a wrong turn before you truly see the possible.

"You have to be adaptable," Anderson says. "You choose a path, but you don't know where the forks are, and you don't know when they're coming."

For more information on Paisley Farm, visit the website HERE.

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