Mike Marcinko is a medalist in mustard-making.
The founder of Pilsudski Mustard LLC, based in Shillington, took home a bronze medal in April for its sriracha mustard at the 2018 Worldwide Mustard Competition in Wisconsin.
Sriracha placed third in the pepper mild-to-medium category, while two of Marcinko’s other flavors, dill garlic and sweet hot with honey, were among the top 20 in their categories.
Pilsudski Mustard and its distinctive yellow label are well-known throughout Berks County.
Created by Marcinko’s great-grandmother, Betty Bennett, in the 1970s in Reading, she named her Polish-style mustard, which uses horseradish, after Gen. Jozef Pilsudski, a famous revolutionary who fought for Polish independence in the early 20th century.
Besides Pilsudski Mustard, Betty had been making horseradish and potato salad, cole slaw and other cold salads and selling them to delis, restaurants, farmers markets and mom-and-pop shops throughout the region. Over the years, Pilsudski Mustard was familiar to fans of the Reading Phillies minor league baseball team, who would have topped their hotdogs with it at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The family closed the business in 2015, but Marcinko revived it two weeks after they closed.
“I basically took the mustard recipe from my great- grandmother for horseradish mustard and formed my own company,” he said.
In the last three-and-a-half years, Marcinko’s added four flavors – sriracha, wasabi, dill and garlic, sweet hot with honey – and is considering adding another one.
“I’ve really grown the business. We’re now in over 100 retailers and I have customers in Alaska, California, Texas, basically all over the United States,” said Marcinko, who also sells online.
He sells to C&S Wholesale Grocers, based in Robesonia, which puts it in the hands of other retailers.
One of the biggest customers is Cabela’s, which recently sold several hundred cases in a couple months, Marcinko said.
60,000 POUNDS ANNUALLY
Marcinko imports the mustard seeds and adds spices and other ingredients to develop the flavors for his artisanal mustards. The mustard is made in a plant outside Pennsylvania and warehoused in Schuylkill Haven.
“We made something like 60,000 pounds of mustard last year,” he said.
The salads are made at his stand at the Shillington Farmers Market.
“My goal is to own a warehouse and have an industrial kitchen where we would do everything,” he said.
Marcinko spends many weeks on the road selling Pilsudski Mustard at shows and festivals. He’s found a niche at shows that cater to the outdoorsman market, such as hunting and fishing shows.
He found his best advertising is putting the product in people’s hands and getting them to taste it.
Last year, at the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, N.Y., which attracts about 500,000 visitors, he gave away 16,000 sample cups of his mustard with a couple small pretzel sticks.
“I sold over 250 cases of mustard that week,” he said.
WITH A KICK
Marcinko described his best-selling Polish Style mustard “like a spicy brown but it has that horseradish kick at the end.”
His Betty’s Horseradish is another best-seller originally created by his great-grandmother in 1956. Sold in 5-ounce glass jars featuring Betty’s photo, it is unlike many commercial brands because this horseradish is spicy hot.
“Everyone always says it is hard to find a good, hot horseradish out there,” Marcinko said.
“It takes your breath away, but [the heat] goes away quick.”
FAMILY PITCHES IN
Marcinko is sometimes helped by his parents, who work at his stand at the Shillington Farmers Market, and his 15-year-old daughter, one of his three children.
But he does the shows by himself and, driving an 18-foot enclosed trailer that fits 400 cases of mustard.
The mustards are sold in 9-ounce, 12-ounce and 32-ounce squeeze bottles and gallon-sized containers for food-service
operations. Price varies by region.