It is still difficult for Robb Miller to wrap his head around it. What started out as a family tradition creating tasty mustard “sauce” in the family kitchen has evolved into a worldwide brand. Eighteen years after the first jar of banana pepper mustard hit the streets of the ‘burgh, Miller’s Mustards has become quite the international sensation.
When they shared their secret sauce with friends and family members—and they fell in love with it—Miller said that they decided to take the show on the road to local fairs and festivals. “That was how we grew in those early days. Our sample-to-purchase ratio is really high,” he explained.
Five years passed before they expanded the product line to include a mild version of the original mustard, followed by a habanero version in 2017.
What makes their product unique is the banana peppers, sourced from a banana pepper farm in Ohio. The peppers must be vine-ripened before earning the privilege of inclusion in their product.
Expanding to the national market was a happy accident. Miller said a manager for a local Whole Foods shared their mustard with a regional manager for the grocery chain. “He loved it and said he had to have it for all of his stores,” said Miller.
The national rollout continued from there, and today, Miller’s Mustard is available in the U.S., Korea, Japan, Mexico, and Nigeria.
“It’s hard to believe we went from making 250 jars in our kitchen each day to now, we’re shipping containers to Korea,” said Miller. “It just blows my mind.”
Raw Success: Tal & Bert
Tal & Bert launched in Pittsburgh in February 2020 as an online platform featuring functional art inspired by raw materials. It started in the sunroom of Valencia and Ray Talbert’s home before eventually transitioning to a brick-and-mortar storefront in November 2020.
“We had no idea how big we would get so quickly,” said Val Talbert. “We came up with our signature geode design, and that look went viral, which launched us to create a somewhat large ‘small’ business with two studios and a storefront.” They are currently renovating their new headquarters in Sharpsburg.
Going national was never really part of the plan, she said. At least not a part of the plan they had time to think about after their launch.
“It all happened so fast,” said Talbert. “By June 2020, we were already being featured by CNN, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed and so many other news outlets and celebrities. We were just kind of thrown into the national spotlight.”
Having Pittsburgh as its backdrop has afforded Tal & Bert access to the local artist community and its support, which Talbert credits for their ongoing success. There were many challenges associated with such a quick rise to fame, including managing massive amounts of cash flow, hiring employees, signing contracts with major brands, and imitators stealing their designs and underselling them, but that has not stopped them.
“We are finally getting a solid foundation down so we can be a strong company for the future,” said Talbert, adding that Pittsburgh will continue to play a major role in that future.
Nugo on the Go
NuGo Nutrition started in Pittsburgh in 2000. “Pittsburgh has a rich tradition with food companies and provides a great place to incubate a business with available resources, experienced advisors, and great talent all based in Pittsburgh,” said CEO David Levine.
The company quickly expanded into the national and international marketplace once retail partners realized the uniqueness of their products. According to Levine, NuGo is the only company that uses real dark chocolate to enrobe their protein bars instead of the fake, palm oil-coated product that its competitors use.
“Real chocolate tastes better and is better for the environment,” said Levine, adding that the taste of this better-for-you snack drives sales, which has in turn boosted local, national, and international sales.
“We always hope to grow and add more products to our offerings. With growth means more hiring and more people,” said Levine. “Pittsburgh has given us the staff to grow, and the personalities of those employees create a great team and working environment.”
From Plumbing to Baby Gear: 4moms
When 4moms co-founders Rob Daley and Henry Thorne first started brainstorming business ventures over lunch one day in Pittsburgh, they decided to revolutionize a long-stagnant industry: plumbing.
Their first invention was a showerhead that remotely controlled water temperatures geared toward elderly consumers. Showing off their creation at the Pittsburgh Home Show earned them some unexpected feedback from parents. “A number of parents commented on how a similar device would be great to use for their infants,” said 4moms CEO Gary Waters.
Out of those helpful suggestions, 4moms’ first products were born: a spout cover and infant tub, both of which use a digital thermometer to alert parents when water temperatures are too hot or too cold. Daley and Thorne quickly shifted their original intent to focus on Pittsburgh’s littlest consumers and 4moms was born.
It was always part of the mission and vision to expand their offerings to the national and international marketplaces, according to Waters. Having roots in Pittsburgh helped with 4moms’ overall vision of incorporating robotic technology into its products with the likes of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh in the neighborhood.
By 2010, 4moms was selling its products at major national retailers, with a full expansion to the international market a year later.
“The biggest challenge was educating parents about our products and why they needed them. We were the new kid on the block. The industry hadn’t seen anything new in decades, so how do we create demand for a ‘spaceship-looking egg’ seat that calms and soothes your baby?” said Waters.
A lot of time and effort was directed toward effective marketing and brand building, which was the key to helping 4moms grow beyond Pittsburgh.
Even as they continue to expand, 4moms has no intention of leaving its roots behind, Waters said. “Pittsburgh is our home. We love it here. Our employees are a big part of our success, and the majority of them are based here.
“There are a lot of exciting new products in the development pipeline, so stay tuned,” he added.
Boyd & Blair Expand Footprint
It was nothing short of trench warfare when Boyd & Blair first opened its doors in Glenshaw in 2008. It was only the second distillery to open in Pennsylvania since the end of Prohibition, and there was a lot of red tape to be cut.
Master distiller Barry Young, a Pittsburgh native, decided early on that he wanted to take his love of distilling and give Pittsburgh something it was missing. His efforts paid off, as he and his partner have worked to expand their products into the national marketplace.
He quickly realized that Pittsburgh was the ideal location for a launch into Ohio, upstate New York, Washington, D.C., and Maryland as his first national targets.
“The footprint was a circle outside of western PA; we were perfectly positioned for it,” Young explained.
Because Boyd & Blair is unable to sell directly to consumers outside of the state, they must use distributors in states where they wish to expand. It took the brand from 2008 until 2015 to build a solid national network. Now, their products are sold in 42 states.
Young said there are plans to hire a national salesperson to coordinate their expanding national efforts. Like other local businesses, he said Boyd & Blair owes its success to Pittsburghers.
“Pittsburghers are always so loyal, even when they no longer live here,” he said. “We knew if we could make it here, that we could expand anywhere.”