When longtime Maplewood resident Arthur Cohen talks about his new business venture, Pickals, his eyes light up and for a moment you’d never know he’s facing the biggest challenge of his life.
Cohen, 59, a photographer and father of two, has turned his love for pickles into a thriving non-profit corporation focused on raising funds for research and awareness of ALS, the progressive neurodegenerative disease he’s bravely been battling since 2013.
While awaiting the devastating diagnosis, Cohen and his wife, Janet, kept busy making pickles from the organic Kirby cucumbers they grew in their garden.
“We gave them to friends, family, and neighbors and everyone loved them,” Cohen says.
It was then that the couple came up with the idea to launch a cucumber crusade. Janet, an advertising copywriter, designed the clever name, while neighbor Mark Holechek dreamt up the original logo for the company that has raised over $10,000 for the Greater New York Chapter of the ALS Association and additional funds for the national chapter as well as Project ALS.
To date, 1,000 jars have been sold and more given away to spread the word about this mouth-watering mission. Cohen says he looks forward to increasing those figures exponentially by introducing the savory sandwich sidekick at local farmers markets, restaurants, and independent supermarkets. He also plans to attend as many ALS walks as possible to continue making positive steps toward finding a cure for the condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Additional offerings, including pickled okra, tomatoes, and peppers, are also on the Cohens’ agenda. Pickals are priced at $10 per jar, though customers often choose to donate additional dollars to the worthy cause. Soon, shipping will be available, delivering the succulent slices right to your doorstep.
“It’s a great idea — I’m not bragging,” says Cohen humbly. “It’s taken off so organically and people have just been amazing.”
Community Unites to Help Beloved Friend
While starting and growing a new business seems a daunting endeavor, if there’s a silver lining to Cohen’s debilitating condition, it has been the tremendous outpouring of support from friends, family, and the community, who’ve rallied to form the Pickals Brine Trust. The group contributes its time and talent to ensure the company continues growing and flourishing. Law firms Cohen previously worked with ensured the business became incorporated and trademarked at no cost, while an art director has created Pickals’ colorful website gratis. A manufacturing partner has emerged who will help the pickle purveyor mass produce the flavorful and addictive side dish as cost effectively as possible.
Cohen says though he has made peace with what his future holds, working to help find a cure has taken his mind off it.
“It is what it is,” he concedes. “I’ve been dealt a raw hand but I have great friends and an amazing wife and family. I never get sad. When I cry, it’s tears of joy because you can really see the best in people. Never once have I cried for myself. I know that the kids and Janet will be taken care of by the community and our friends.”
A Delicious Undertaking
Keeping the business strong and the mood light, the Cohens regularly host Pickals parties, where those committed to the cause gather to assist in assembling mason jars filled with cucumber slices, garlic, dill, and, most importantly, hope.
“We have a lot of fun. We get a hedge fund manager, a writer, an athlete, and a mom together and they leave with a new friend and a jar of Pickals,” Cohen says.
John Lawler, a friend and champion of Pickals, believes that while he has been helping the homegrown industry, he is the one who has truly benefited.
“Arthur has always been fun to hang out with since he is so upbeat and positive. To say he always finds to good in everything sounds cliché, until you visit his house to help in the production of Pickals or to just pick up a jar — or 10,” Lawler says. “Arthur has found a way of creating meaning out of this devastating illness. Beyond raising awareness and money, beyond offering support and friendship to others with ALS, he has shown all of us such a better way to live.”
A Legacy of Good Taste
True to his altruist nature, Cohen isn’t thinking of himself but of the future generations also afflicted with the disease. Each year, 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the illness which transcends racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries. Keeping others at the forefront of his mind, and working to help fund research for treatment and ultimately a cure, has helped him maintain motivation and momentum.
“I’ve had a great life; I’ve seen my children grow up,” says Cohen, who knows of several ALS patients in the mid-20s. “I wish I could trade places with them.”
When asked how he has been able to find such courage in the face of this illness, Cohen points to his parents, whom he calls “strong people.”
“My dad was a Holocaust survivor,” he says.
Proving that he comes from hardy stock, Cohen’s message to others facing a similar diagnosis is this: “Keep fighting; keep laughing.” To quote the late Warren Zevon, he adds, “Enjoy every sandwich.” Preferably, with Pickals.