Restaurant News & Reviews

How Filthy Food is raising the bar on cocktail garnishes

Ralph Singer with his son, Daniel Singer at the Broken Shaker cocktail bar in Miami Beach with olives from Filthy Food. The company’s premium cocktail garnishes add a creative twist to drinks.
Ralph Singer with his son, Daniel Singer at the Broken Shaker cocktail bar in Miami Beach with olives from Filthy Food. The company’s premium cocktail garnishes add a creative twist to drinks. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Can an actor formerly with the Royal Shakespeare Company run a food company?

“I’ve read Glengarry Glen Ross enough times. What else do you need to know? Always be closing.”

Or so Daniel Singer thought.

The British actor moved to Miami from London with a young family and wanted to start a business. He took the reins of a Miramar pickle company in 2004 and then in 2005 joined on to help run a meat company owned by his father. Singer had some success with expansion, but the passion just wasn’t there.

That is, until he had the idea to create a specialized company that focused on the cocktail niche.

The family sold National Deli (which had purchased the pickle company) and his father, Ralph Singer, a serial entrepreneur on both sides of the pond in textiles, child care, real estate and food companies, quickly signed on as a co-founder with the new venture. “It’s a gem of an idea that just needed a little polish,” Ralph said.

The idea for Filthy Food, a company with a line of cocktail pickles, olives, onions and cherries, was germinating as the current craft cocktail movement began to pick up steam. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, it wasn’t difficult for Daniel to talk his documentary filmmaker brother, Marc Singer, into joining the company. “If you are an entrepreneur, it’s in you,” Daniel said. Together, they embarked on a two-year pilgrimage of olives in the name of research.

If you are an entrepreneur, it’s in you.

Daniel Singer of Filthy Food

Did you know there are more than 200 varieties of cultivatable olives?

The proper olive is important, but the fermentation process is key — the ones on the market reeked of salt and oil, Daniel said. (Ever notice the little pool of oil on the top of your martini?) Filthy Food developed a proprietary fermentation process, and with samples in the back of their car, the brothers drove around New York pitching Filthy.

The big challenge: “To get people to care about something they didn’t think they needed to care about,” Daniel said. Bar olives and the like were thought of as commodities; Filthy is essentially creating a new category, he said.

In March 2010, they launched the Filthy Pickle, a cocktail pickle-olive garnish, at a trade show in Las Vegas. Let’s let the website for Filthy, “the world’s sexiest drink garnish,” describe it: “A beautiful, fleshy, seductive olive is the perfect place to put a firm, Filthy little pickle.” There are also descriptions for varieties of olives, cherries and onions. The big goal, Daniel said, is to become the most recognizable cocktail garnish company in the world. The W hotel on South Beach was the company’s first South Florida customers.

Although Filthy Food has always been headquartered here, the company last year consolidated its manufacturing from Chicago and New York to a 40,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Miami Gardens refurbished to meet Filthy’s high production standard, said Daniel.

Filthy Food last year consolidated its manufacturing from Chicago and New York to a 40,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Miami Gardens.

Today the company is 30 people strong, and Filthy’s products are shipped to all 50 states through liquor distributors and are served in cocktails in local places such as the Melting Pot, Yardbird, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Soho House, Juvia, Broken Shaker and Sweet Liberty as well as Total Wine & More, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and on filthyfood.com. It’s on Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships, too. “If they care about quality, Filthy is behind the bar,” Singer said in his best “Glengarry Glen Ross” mode.

Daniel handles branding and business development, while Marc, whose 2000 documentary “Dark Days” won awards at Sundance, runs operations. “I never regretted even for one day my massive career change,” Marc said. Their father, Ralph, a managing member for the company, describes himself as the rudder that keeps them on course. Also involved as an investor and full partner is actor and friend Josh Lucas, who has starred in movies such as “American Psycho,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “A Beautiful Mind.” Said Daniel: “There’s the Josh that everybody sees on TV or in movies and there is the Josh that will be in New York with Marc getting boxes out the door.” Lucas has also helped with connections, such as getting Filthy on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

Best-sellers in liquor stores are the blue-cheese-stuffed olives, Daniel said. In bars and restaurants, because of the resurgence of American whiskey, black cherries are most popular (Daniel prefers them in the Classic Manhattan). Try Filthy Peppers with tequila or in a Bloody Mary.

And the original pickle? “The brand is unexpected and joyful, and the Filthy Pickle embodies that,” Daniel said. “It’s a real surprise in martinis or Bloody Marys.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

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