By LOGAN WROGE
Wisconsin State Journal
MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — After overcoming some money troubles last year, the new owner of the National Mustard Museum is settling into her role.
Patti Bridges took over the museum’s for-profit store and website on May 1 after Dane County and the city of Middleton forgave a majority of the balance on loans taken out by the founder of the museum, Barry Levenson, when he moved the collection from Mount Horeb to Middleton in 2009.
Ever since the county agreed last February to write off about $124,000 of a $200,000 loan, customers have been expressing some perplexity about the museum’s future, Bridges said.
“I want to say it’s almost daily either somebody comes in and says, ‘Oh, we’re so thrilled that you’re open. We heard you closed,’ or we get people calling to check to make sure we’re open,” she told the Wisconsin State Journal .
When the business was transferred to Bridges from Levenson, she ended up paying the remaining $40,000 on the county loan and about 25 percent of a $13,000 loan from Middleton.
“I could never take on that debt,” Bridges said of the original loan balance. “I think now we have a fighting chance, and we have an opportunity to grow the business.”
The store, which sells mustard, other condiments and gifts on the building’s ground floor, helps support the nonprofit museum’s operations.
Bridges, who earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management, said she has experience running contract food-service businesses like cafeterias, catering companies, coffee services and gift shops for large corporations.
Levenson remains the curator of the nonprofit part of the museum, which consists mainly of displays of mustard from around the world, historical information on the condiment and – in the basement – mustard-related dishes.
Bridges said she hasn’t made any big changes to the museum.
“I’ve really concentrated on reducing costs and getting a feel for the business. I’m basically doing the job of three people, so it’s been challenging in that aspect,” she said. “We’ve been bringing in new products, trying to reduce inventory on items that don’t move so quickly.”
Under Bridges’ ownership, the store has begun to sell soft pretzels and occasionally hot dogs and mini bratwursts that can be paired with mustard.
“Down the line, I’d like to do more food-service items that are mustard-related,” she said.
As for the collection, jars keep coming.
Bridges said there are now more than 6,000 containers of mustard in the museum. New ones arrive weekly.
“Our landlord just brought one from Norway,” she said.
The museum’s own line of mustard, called Slimm & Nunne, could see an additional flavor or see one of the current three flavors replaced.
The museum’s annual Worldwide Mustard Competition will continue this spring, as will the popular National Mustard Day festival that occurs in August.
“One of my challenges is going to be maybe some re-branding, trying to get people to know that we’re more than a mustard museum,” Bridges said. “(People) enjoy coming into the tasting bar, and they get to learn about and fall in love with mustard.”