It started with love.
Dayton Comestibles Corn Whiskey Mustard started with a Valentine’s Day surprise. I’m Kathleen, and I created our flagship product with my wonderful husband, Kaden. On the Saturday before V-Day, I bundled him into the car, mysteriously refusing to tell him our final destination—a surprise tour and tasting at a craft distillery located in Miami County, Ohio. As a rye whiskey aficionado, I knew he would love it—and he did!
Kaden and I love to cook together, and we’ve been making our own condiments from scratch for some time, including ketchup, mustard, pickles, preserves, relishes, etc. After sampling the locally produced whiskeys, we knew we had to find a way to incorporate them in our condiment collection.
Then we added whiskey.
Within two weeks after our distillery tour, we had created two flavors of mustard built around their craft whiskeys. We took samples out to share with the distillery owners. They (and their family) really enjoyed them, and encouraged us to develop the mustards into a commercial product. The mustard also got rave reviews from line cook Big Mike from Ollie’s Place, a whiskey bar and restaurant in Centerville, OH. (We met Big Mike on the distillery tour, and when he heard our plans to inject whiskey into burger fixings, he made us promise to share our prototypes with the folks at Ollie’s.)
By mid-March of 2016 we were seriously researching Ohio’s cottage food laws and other local regulations. The distillery owners wanted to sell the mustard in their gift shop, and Ollie’s Place wanted to use Dayton Comestibles Corn Whiskey Mustard in their restaurant! Friends and family were clamoring for mustard, and we wanted to sell it to them! But we were dismayed to discover that Ohio’s food laws made it impossible for us to legally make mustard at home for retail sale. We would have to go through a lengthy and expensive process to sell our slice of mustardy heaven to the public.
It was about that time that the distillery owner told us about the Ohio Signature Food Contest sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Center for Innovative Food Technology. I had a feeling that Dayton Comestibles Corn Whiskey Mustard was exactly the kind of product they were looking for, and we decided to enter.
Then it all went up in smoke.
Just a few weeks later, all our plans went up in smoke—along with our ingredients we had set aside to make a test batch of the mustard in a commercial kitchen. At about 10:30 p.m. on the night of April 18th, 2016, an arsonist set fire to our garage. Within about a minute, the deck was on fire, and two minutes after that, the back of the house was in flames. The Dayton Fire Department was on the scene in less than five minutes, but by then, nearly $100,000 in damage had been done and our garage and everything in it was a total loss. The kitchen and everything in it was water-damaged and/or smoke-damaged, my home office was smoke-damaged, and the fire had burned through the power line to the house. Everything in the house was coated with a layer of greasy, corrosive black soot.
We didn’t get the power back on for nearly a month, thanks to some agonizing Vogon-level bureaucracy at the City’s planning department. Then it took another three months (and several flooring-contractor screw-ups) to get our kitchen floor replaced. We didn’t get our appliances back, and get our kitchen functioning again, until mid-August of 2016. Even though we didn’t have power (or heat—and dang, it was a cold April), or a functioning kitchen, we slept at the house every night to protect it. Kaden was there all day, every day to keep out the copper thieves and to make sure the arsonist didn’t get a second crack at the house. I spent a few hours a day in an extended-stay hotel room that the insurance company paid for. That’s where I charged our cell phones, made sandwiches and got ice for the coolers during that first month without power.
Then we entered the Ohio Signature Food Contest.
In late June of 2016, I re-discovered the old email with details of the Ohio Signature Food Contest—just two days before the deadline to enter. With no kitchen, no ingredients, no money, and really no hope, I entered Kaden’s recipe for Corn Whiskey Mustard into the contest, thinking we had no chance to win, but it would be good practice—and that we’d put in our “real” entry the next year when we had a kitchen again!
We celebrated our first wedding anniversary on July 4th with an overnight trip to Gatlinburg, TN, thanks to a lovely gift from a friend. It was the first night since the fire that we spent away from home, in a place that didn’t smell like smoke. A few days later, we learned that Dayton Comestibles Corn Whiskey Mustard was a finalist in the Ohio Signature Food Contest! I screamed and cried when I got the call.
We were shocked—stunned! Especially because they wanted 12 mustard samples and we still didn’t have a kitchen! Luckily, our extended-stay hotel room had a micro-kitchenette with a Barbie-sized stove, and that’s where we made our samples for the judges. I presented our product and our story to a “Shark Tank”-style panel of a dozen food experts in mid-July at the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen. Kaden had to stay home to oversee three different construction crews working on the house at the time.
Then we won!
On August 2, 2016, Dayton Comestibles Corn Whiskey Mustard was announced as a winner of the Ohio Signature Food Contest at the Ohio State Fair. We could not believe that despite all odds, our product had been picked as a winner from among nearly a hundred other great Ohio food products.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2016, when we weren’t working on fire recovery, we went through the steep learning curve that is involved with launching a new food product in Ohio. (We’re so grateful to Paula Ray from the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen for all her help as we continue to navigate the regulatory maze.) We sourced ingredients, jars, and labels. I launched social media accounts and created this website. We talked to several big-name retailers who may want to stock the product, and several specialty stores. At least four restaurants told us they want to put Dayton Comestibles Corn Whiskey Mustard on the menu.
One door closes…
When we first shared our Whiskey Mustard with the distillery owners, they were flattered that we had chosen a name for our product that honored the distillery. We cleared the name with them again before we entered the Ohio Signature Food Contest with that product name. We promoted the product with that name for almost seven months, earning the distillery a lot of foot traffic and tens of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity.
We had hoped to have the mustard business up and running by January of 2017. But at the end of 2016, days before we planned to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, we were extremely disappointed to get a Facebook message from the distillery owner. She said her lawyer wanted us to change our product name because, he said, it infringed on their intellectual property. For the next three months we tried to work out a licensing agreement that would have allowed us to keep the product name and logo, but unfortunately the distillery’s licensing fees and other conditions of their contract proposal would have been unsustainable for our start-up business. So we’ve had to start from scratch with a new whiskey, a new name and a new logo (to be announced soon!)
And another opens.
In February of 2017 we were thrilled to get a call from ThinkTV’s Richard Wonderling, the producer of “Our Ohio,” the TV show sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau. Our Ohio Magazine had profiled our Corn Whiskey Mustard journey, and now they wanted our condiment to star in its own segment on public television! We spent nearly four full days with Richard and his crew over the next several months, shooting in our now-functioning kitchen where the mustard was born, and at the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen, where we will manufacture and bottle the first batch. Our segment airs Saturday, July 22, 2017 on most of the public television stations in Ohio. Here’s the promo for Season 11 of Our Ohio, with about a second of airtime from our segment:
The rest of the story is up to you.
Our next step is to raise the money we need to create our first large-scale test batch of the product. We have a new product name (which will be revealed on July 22nd during the Our Ohio segment!) but we need all new marketing and PR materials: a new logo, new product labels, new product photography, and everything else you need to launch a new food product in Ohio. Join our mailing list to get first notice of our Kickstarter launch. If there’s enough support out there for this fabulous (she said modestly) condiment, we could be in the mustard business in just a few short weeks!