#LearningCurve | Foodie’s faith in mustard reaps reward

Vieira da Cruz builds his thriving condiment business on drive, creativity and a keen sense of business savvy

Anthony Vieira da Cruz’s mustards
Anthony Vieira da Cruz’s mustards
Image: Brian Witbooi

His business was built on a retrenchment and the dream of returning to the food industry. But it took Anthony Vieira da Cruz – fondly known as Mustard Man – more than six years of experiments and perseverance to build The Mustard Deli.

Tell me about your business and how it was started.

I started my food journey as an officer’s mess chef in the army, but worked in non-food-related careers for most of my life.

I always dreamed of working in the food industry again.

After being retrenched, I decided it was time to start my own foodie business with the help and encouragement of a good restaurateur friend of mine.

Armed with my wife’s food processor and finances from the UIF, I started Taste-budDelights Deli Foods in 2011, making a wide variety of deli products like pesto, hummus, tapenades, tzatziki and bacon jam.

I started attending markets with my products, and quickly became known for twisting the classics and for my unusual flavour combinations.

My product niche was high quality, organic where possible and preservativefree – inspired by my wife, Stephanie, who was allergic to preservatives in food.

I was super thrilled when our products started finding their way into Port Elizabeth shops, but due to the short shelf-life of the products, this did not last for long.

In desperation, I prayed and about two weeks later, I heard the words whole-grain mustard. Not being a mustard fan, my wife was not convinced until she studied the health benefits of mustard seeds.

At this point, we were experimenting with our mustards in our own meals and became instant converts. That was about four years ago. Last July, we changed our name and started trading as the Mustard Deli, since 90% of our products are mustards.

Today, we have 35 different flavoured mustards.

Where can people buy these mustards?

Our mustards are found down the Garden Route, in delis, padstalle and shops from Swellendam in the Western Cape to the South Coast. They are also found inland in the Eastern Cape as far as Graaff-Reinet and Jansenville.

How did you learn to make mustard and how do you come up with ideas for new variations?

Both my wife and I were not great mustard fans when we started. It was therefore important that I made something we enjoyed. After researching classic German and French mustards, and mustard-making techniques online, we experimented until we developed a deli-style mustard we loved.

With regard to ideas of new flavours, the source varies. Sometimes I take classic combinations like chocolate and chilli, tequila and lime, or peachand brandy and add them to our basic recipe.

Other times, my customers mention a flavour combination they would like to try.

What makes your business unique?

Since the beginning, I have focused on making products that are healthy and flavourful. As a result, our mustards are great for diabetics, vegans, vegetarians, banters and just about anyone without a mustard allergy.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

Come up with an idea or product you can be passionate about or take a classic and re-brand and develop it in a fresh new way. Do as much research as you can to fine-tune your product. Experiment and make it a product that is uniquely you.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?

Finances and a lack of knowledge in most areas. I didn’t have a clue how to get started. I’m very grateful to my wife who designed my labels and helped me develop a brand.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

Entrepreneurship is a labour of love. Creativity, uniqueness and networking is essential.

Visit Seda and ECDC to find out how they can help you build your business.

Working for yourself is not easy; you need to be able to focus in the face of distractions and challenges.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?

Time! Having to wear so many different business hats, invariably one area or another suffers and get neglected, business-wise and personally. Weekends are almost non-existent. Cash flow, and courier and transport costs are also challenges.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?

You have to be able to focus on the mundane day to day and look at the big picture at the same time, and realise that cutting corners now will only hurt you in the future.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

Work to your strengths and tackle your weaknesses one by one. Create strong branding and become social media savvy.

What kind of advertising do you do?

The best form of advertising is actually talking to the customers at markets and festivals, letting them taste and experience the mustards.

What was the first step in actually launching the business?

Sadly, I did everything the hard way and not always the smartest way.

The money that came in from the UIF six years ago went into making products.

The products were sold at markets and to friends and more were made.

This carried on until the shops found my products at the markets while scouting. Eventually, I started going out and introducing myself to shop owners as far as Plettenberg Bay.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

Tenacity! I work daily with the most amazing seeds.

It is difficult not to be impressed by the tenacity of these little seeds to grow.