It has been quite a ride for Dan Collins. Ten years ago the Lawrence Township resident started making 3 Monkeys Mustard in his home to give to friends as holiday gifts, with a picture of his sons adorning the lid. He eventually found himself making 400 jars a year. In late 2009, his friends convinced him to sell his culinary creation to the public, figuring if they loved it, so would many others.
Like it people certainly have.
In April, 3 Monkey’s Sweet & Spicy Mustard beat out nearly 300 mustards from around the world to be named the Grand Champion in the 17th Annual World-Wide Mustard Competition held in Wisconsin. And in the next few weeks a company in Lancaster, Pa., will begin producing Collins’ mustard on a larger scale to keep up with the ever-growing demand.
Back in 2009, Collins’ friends were raving about his mustard and encouraging him to take it to the next level. With the support of his wife, Harper, and their three boys – their “three monkeys” – he decided to give it a shot.
He credits Tony Buchsbaum, a friend and local businessman, with convincing him to ignore “that little voice” of doubt. Buchsbaum talked to the former buyer of Pennington Quality Markets and asked what about Collins needed to do in order to get his mustard on their shelves. “He gave me the shove to get this in the store,” Collins recalled.
Other friends, themselves entrepreneurs, also offered advice. “There is a lot of talent in this town. Everyone is giving me advice and being supportive,” he said.
While it is often said that “it takes a village to raise a child,” Collins feels it “takes a community to make an entrepreneur a success.” He openly expresses his gratitude to the many people in Lawrence Township who encouraged him to pursue his dream. Without the support of friends and neighbors, he never would have made the leap to starting his own business.
During the day, Collins works as director of account management at Caliper Management. In the afternoons and weekends, he attends his sons’ sporting events and takes care of his own yard work. He is also very philanthropic. For the past five years he has fundraiser to support childhood cancer research. During this year’s St. Baldrick’s event in March, he and his boys teamed up and were shaved together.
Somehow, he has figured out the trick to squeezing a few extra hours out of each week.
Lately, Collins has been making 180 jars of mustard a week in the kitchen at , the restaurant on Main Street in Lawrenceville that is owned by his friends, Mario and Laura Mangone. That is up significantly from last year when he made about 180 jars each month.
Collins cites support from friends like the Mangones as a large part of his success in the mustard business.
He admits there have been days when he wondered if it was all worth the effort, but someone would always encourage him to “keep going.” He said he receives a lot of encouragement via email, phone calls and though working events such as Localpalooza at Whole Foods Market on Route 1 in West Windsor Township.
Beth Pearson, marketing team leader for Whole Foods, describes Localpalooza as an event where “we invite local artists, musicians and vendors. Dan started here before he was on the shelves. Everyone loved him so much he is now on the shelves.” There is a vetting process to approve new products, she explained, and 3 Monkeys Mustard now sells for $6.79 a jar at Whole Foods.
“I’m doing what is the message of Whole Foods – encouraging people to buy local,” Collins said.
The endorsement by Whole Foods, Pennington Market and other local retailers has opened Collins up to the possibility of entering a global market.
Last year, while listening to National Public Radio during his drive home from work, Collins heard a story about the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin. He thought about it for about a month, then he called Barry Levenson, owner of the museum. He told Levenson,” I’m goofy enough to think I’ll sell mustard.”
Levenson asked Collins to send him a couple of jars – one to display and one to eat. “I sent him a few jars. Two weeks later the curator called me. He said, ‘You have a terrific mustard – right amount of sweet and sour. I want some.’”
The mustard museum became his first business that involved shipping his product.
During this year’s World-Wide Mustard Competition, 3 Monkeys Mustard competed against almost 300 other mustards in 18 categories. After winning a gold medal in the sweet mustard competition, Collins creating went up against 16 other gold medal winners and was finally named the Grand Champion by a panel of 30 Chicago-area chefs.
Levenson, curator of the National Mustard Museum, said 3 Moneys Mustard reflects both the quality and diversity of the mustard industry. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a well-established large producer or, as is the case this year, a small boutique mustard maker, this competition attracts the finest mustards in the world. The judging is blind, giving each mustard the same chance to win. The judges were certainly challenged by the high quality of the entries.”
Collins said he plans to go to Wisconsin on Aug. 4 to attend National Mustard Day – an event that annually draws between 4,000 and 6,000 people. He said 3 Monkeys was one of the National Mustard Museum’s top eight selling mustards in 2011.
As his mustard moves to the next level, Collins is cautious.
“It is hard to let go” of his recipe and full control of the product. He is also wary of moving too quickly. “My wife and kids are the whole reason I am here. If I have to choose between making mustard and doing something for my family, the family wins. I appreciate that. You don’t get those years back. It might take me longer, but I wouldn’t trade the time with my wife and kids for anything.”
Locally, 3 Monkeys Mustard is available at , Cherry Grove Farm and in Lawrence Township, Pennington Quality Market in Pennington, Whole Foods in West Windsor, and Whole Earth Center in Princeton Borough. It also sold in South Carolina at Palmetto Dunes General Store, in Wisconsin at the National Mustard Museum, and in Martha’s Vineyard at Cronigs State Road Market.