By Gregory Daurer | Jan 04, 2021
Sausage and meatballs
There's an old expression: "You don't want to know how the sausage is made."
Mulay Weisman, on the other hand, wants you to know exactly what goes into her sausage -- including her brand's Italian-style, based on a longtime family recipe -- as well as what gets left out of it.
Mulay Weisman says, "I want you to understand every part of the sausage-making process at Mulay's, because of the care we take in sourcing our pork." She adds, "We only use whole muscle meat, and the animals are all raised humanely and free range on small family farms."
Here's what doesn't go into Mulay's sausage or meatballs: the animals aren't administered antibiotics as they're raised. Mulay Weisman adds, "We were the first -- and, now still, the only -- meat company to be certified free from the eight major allergens in all of our products." That means no eggs, dairy, soy, wheat, or sugar. (And no MSG or nitrates, as well.) Want more certifications? Mulay's products are gluten-free (and paleo-friendly). As it says on the packaging for her sausage, "Simply pork and spices."
Additionally, the company is a woman-owned business.
From humble beginnings in Crested Butte (and now headquartered in her hometown, Longmont), the company's products can be found in 40 states. Mulay Weisman cites data from SPINS that puts her brand in the top 10 for sales of both natural dinner and breakfast sausages nationwide. While her sausages aren't available on the East Coast yet, they can be found at Kowalski's Markets in Minnesota; Bristol Farms, Lazy Acres Market, and Berkeley Bowl Marketplace in California; and in King Soopers stores in Colorado. Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers has also been a longtime customer.
It all started with her grandmother's recipe -- with its roots in Sicily -- which Mulay Weisman used to help make during visits to her grandparent's house in Pueblo. "The food was always fantastic," she says.
In 1990, Mulay Weisman lived in Crested Butte with her future husband. Both were hard-working, yet self-described "ski bums," who would attend Grateful Dead shows whenever they could. During a trip to his native New York, her now-husband Ward coaxed her into reluctantly sampling a sausage at the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. "I gave in and I took a bite," Mulay Weisman recalls, "and it was just this big mouthful of gristle and fat. Ugh! 'My [grandmother's] sausage is so much better! I just want to eat my Nana's sausage!'" Flying back home, Ward suggested, "We should link up some of your Nana's sausage and sell it at the Fourth of July festival Crested Butte."
What a long, strange, sausage trip it's been for Mulay Weisman since 1990, when the couple sold out their stock of 400 Italian sausages during that July 4 celebration. The next year, they had a local grocery store prepare the sausages using the family recipe. Next, a co-op in Hotchkiss prepared them. Then a food production facility in Denver. Now her products are made in Texas. Along the way, Mulay Weisman honed her business acumen -- which had already been evident as a founder of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association, back when she ran a lodge and hostel -- taking on active roles in the sourcing and pricing of the meat that Mulay's uses.
Today, Mulay Weisman purchases pork raised on about 100 family farms in Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas. She conducts farm audits to ensure satisfactory conditions. "I think one of the most important things we do is we pay our farmers a living wage," says Mulay Weisman, adding that the farmers are guaranteed a set price per pound, which can be invested in machinery or their kids' education.
In addition to the Italian sausage, Mulay's provides other takes on international cuisine: German franks, bratwurst, British bangers, and Mexican-style chorizo, in addition to meatballs and breakfast sausage.
"This year has been fantastic for us," says Mulay Weisman. Although the final numbers aren't in yet, she says, "It's looking like we're up 20 percent, at least, across the board. And web sales are skyrocketing well over 20 percent." Mulay Weisman attributes those increases to people seeking out healthier meat alternatives, whether at stores or online. She says her brand is "more expensive, for sure, but it's worth it." It's all a part of what she refers to as The Mulay's Difference.
Still, Mulay Weisman says there's a commonality among the responses she's heard from consumers: "'This reminds me of my grandmother's sausage' . . . 'This reminds me of growing up in New York' . . . 'This reminds me of Chicago.'"
"I love that our products bring people back to a slower, simpler time -- to a really good memory with family or friends," she says. "I love that about it, because food is important and it's connection. And it is for our family. And I love to bring that to people, to their tables, to be like, 'Ah, this is the way it used to be made!' Because, we don't cut corners. It's just good."
Challenges: Mulay Weisman says, "Retailers -- getting them to commit to a new item. Everybody says they want transparency, they want natural, they want well-sourced things, sustainability -- all the things that we offer. We check every box -- woman-owned, diversity supplier, whatever is the buzzword of the day, we're there, and we have been forever. It's not like we're just trying to follow a trend: No, we're paleo, we're keto -- but we've always been. Retailers say they want that. But they're not willing to pay for it. I'm not speaking to all, I'm just saying a majority."
Opportunities: Given that some retailers still aren't making as much room for Mulay's products as Mulay Weisman would like, she's reaching out on social media directly to consumers. Mulay Weisman says, "The internet is definitely a huge opportunity, because people are [sourcing their own meat], and will find what they're looking for."
Needs: It's not what her business needs, it's what potential customers need from her brand as a result of dietary restrictions. For "the number of people diagnosed each year with severe allergies" due to the ingredients within processed foods, Mulay Weisman says that "having products super clean and simple is going to be like food as medicine."