Man turns mustard hobby into full-time businesses
HOPKINTON, N.H. (AP) — Steve Cybulski was sitting at his desk Tuesday morning in his Contoocook home, scrolling through emails on his laptop and sipping a cup of black coffee.
He stood up and strolled a few yards in his slippers to the kitchen, where four large, deep pots simmered on the stove, each containing a different type of mustard set for delivery later in the day. He set his coffee on the counter, away from the stove, and stirred each pot with a different wooden spoon.
Cybulski’s home doubles as his mustard factory, one that produces several cases of jarred mustard each day, none more than his award-winning hot-sweet mustard, the original flavor that turned his hobby into a full-time job.
Blackwater Mustard Company is Cybulski’s business, one that offers more than 20 varieties of mustard, some that will clear your sinuses with sharp spice and others that will soothe your taste buds in sweetness. Many can do both.
The company’s name comes from the Blackwater River that runs near his home. Cybulski found in some old town maps from the 19th Century that his Tyler Road neighborhood was then referred to as the Blackwater District.
His mustard is distributed to stores and restaurants across New Hampshire and down into Massachusetts. The busiest time of year — roughly Labor Day through Jan. 1 — should be over by now, but orders are still coming in each day.
About 13 years after Cybulski first registered with the state and made mustard his official business, it’s carved a niche in the movement toward consuming more local products.
“It’s like a home-cooked meal versus a TV dinner,” Cybulski said. “It’s different and the quality is there. People like to support something local versus something trucked across the country.”
But even Cybulski’s mustard sometimes will be packaged up and delivered to another part of the country, or another country altogether. The ability to offer online ordering has pushed his business’s reach beyond just New England.
While his business has expanded, Cybulski said he wants buyers to know his mustard is made-to-order and fresh whether it’s bought off the shelf at a farmers market or delivered to your doorstep.
The production process is short and simple: Cybulski and Janna Kupper, his only employee, start about 8 a.m. making mustard in his kitchen. This takes only a few hours, and then the product is jarred, packaged, and delivered.
“It’s nice to get it out fresh like that,” Cybulski said. “Even though it has a shelf-life of two years, for the hot stuff, the more fresh it is, the more hot it will be because of the way the chemical makeup is. The stuff will dissipate over time.”
Cybulski has worked several different jobs over the years, from teaching high school to welding at the former Milton CAT site to running an organic pig farm. While he has an easygoing demeanor, Cybulski said he likes to stay busy.
When complications from hip surgery put him on the sidelines in the mid-2000s, Cybulski’s son gave him an idea to try making mustard from an old recipe to fill his free time.
“So I try it and was like, ‘Wow, this stuff is great,’ ” Cybulski said. “Imagine that. It’s an odd thing. I never thought I’d end up doing it. I never gave it two thoughts.”
The first product, his traditional hot-sweet mustard, took off, eventually winning first-prize out of 340 products at a worldwide tasting competition in 2011. It’s smooth texture and sweet accent is the first thing you’ll notice with a taste. Swallow it down, and the spice packs a strong punch.
Too strong for some. As word spread about his tasty hot-sweet mustard, Cybulski’s wife, Jill, suggested he try making a milder flavor to reach customers with different tastes.
“It was a great idea because it expanded our market,” he said.
The list of different flavors began growing from there: dill pickle, garlic, maple, apple cider, as well as several beer-inspired mustards. Cybulski makes one called Beechwood for the tasting room at the Budweiser plant in Merrimack. He also makes mustard for several local craft breweries, such as Lithermans in Concord and Tuckerman Brewing in Conway.
Cybulski said he is impressed by how creative those craft breweries are with wide varieties of beer, and it has inspired some of his creativity in the kitchen.
“Those guys can make beer out of anything,” he said, adding that he enjoys the cross-promotional side of the business when working with local brewers. “It’s nice because it’s not the same old thing, you get to feature different items.”
Cybulski, 62, doesn’t plan to slow down his micro-mustard empire soon. The manufacturing side hasn’t yet outgrown his kitchen, and the logistical side is still manageable for him and Kupper.
As for the number of flavors, Cybulski said he’s just about reached the limit.
“Twenty-three is enough to do,” he said.
But when a special occasion calls for new mustard, Cybulski might be open to it. A native of Michigan, Cybulski got a call from a friend he grew up with who is involved with a Vietnam veterans’ organization in Racine, Wisconsin. The group runs a bar and kitchen where the proceeds benefit homeless veterans.
“I may make a mustard for them, and that could be the last one,” he said.
Not so fast.
When reached Thursday morning, Cybulski was already working on a new creation, a wild clementine mustard using surplus fruit from the Foundry Restaurant in Manchester.
He laughed and said, “I wanted to do this one for fun.”
Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.concordmonitor.com