And the Alabama Food Bracket winner is . . .

In an extremely close vote, Wickles edged out another homegrown Alabama food, G Momma’s bite-sized cookies of Selma, in the final round of our NCAA Basketball Tournament-style food bracket, which matched 32 foods that are either made in Alabama or that originated here in round-by-round competition.

 

Wickles received 52.5 percent of the 10,917 votes cast in the final round, while G Momma’s received 47.5 percent. Final-round voting ended at 5 p.m. Sunday.

 

On the road to the championship, Wickles Pickles ran through the gauntlet of iconic Alabama food brands — eliminated Dale’s Seasoning sauce in the Round of 32, Dreamland Bar-B-Que sauce in the Sweet 16, John’s Famous slaw dressing in theElite 8, Zeigler bacon in the Final 4, and G Momma’s cookies in the Championship Round.

 

The Sims brothers began making their Wickles Pickles in December 1998, after they acquired the recipe from their cousin, Dana Ferniany, who was living in Philadelphia at the time. (Ferniany now lives in Birmingham, where her husband, Will Ferniany, is CEO of UAB Health Systems.)

 

Brothers Trey and Will Sims acquired the recipe for Wickles Pickles from their cousin Dana Ferniany.

Ferniany perfected an old family recipe that give the pickles their distinctive sweet heat, and she began selling them to friends and at farmers’ markets, Trey Sims says. She, too, is the one who came up with the name “Wickles” — short for ”wickedly delicious pickles.”

 

“She wasn’t doing any retail or wholesale orders,” Sims says. “She was basically selling them to individuals.

 

“So we went up to Philadelphia, and she got the recipes and taught us how to make them. We gave (the Fernianys) a little royalties off each case that we sold, and we’ve been making them ever since.”

 

The Sims brothers rented an old restaurant in Dadeville, and they started out making 27 cases of Wickles a day. They made pickles three days a week and hit the road selling them the other days.

 

“We basically went to places we liked to go — to Destin (Fla.) or Highlands, N.C., touristy type destinations — to try to get accounts,” Sims says. “Our theory was, when people would travel to these places, and they would pick them up, then when they went home, they would ask local people to carry them. Being here at Lake Martin helped a lot, too, with people coming here from all over the state.”

 

Word has certainly gotten around. Wickles Pickles are now available in all 50 states, including at such major supermarket chains as Publix, Winn-Dixie, Kroger, Safeway and Walmart.

 

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse has served Wickles on hamburgers at one of his New Orleans restaurants, and Alabama’s own Bob Baumhower has offered fried Wickles at his restaurants.

 

In addition to the original Wickles, the Wickles Pickles product line now includes relish, hoagie relish, pickle chips, pepper rings, pickled okra and sliced jalapenos. By early summer, Wickles also will offer a jalapeno relish, Sims says.

 

The demand has long since outgrown that little restaurant kitchen in Dadeville. The parent company, Sims Foods Inc., is still based in Dadeville, but Wickles Pickles are now made in North Carolina.

 

“We would love to get production back in Alabama, but that would be a whole ‘nother headache,” Sims says. “That’s not something we can afford to do right now.”

 

Although they have gone nationwide, Sims Foods remains a small, Alabama-owned operation. The Sims brothers have another partner in the business, Andy Anderson, and a staff of three other people.

 

And while their cousin Dana Ferniany is not part of the company, she remains one of their biggest fans.

 

“She still takes a lot of pride in seeing it out there,” Sims says.

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