Photo by Katie Drake – Juli Webster (left) and her sister Jenny Vittiglio have rekindled the Mustard Seed experience by opening their new store in Canal Place.
Story and Photos By Katie Drake
Juli Webster and her sister, Jenny Vittiglio, rekindle the Mustard Seed experience with a new shop and a new look. In case you are the last to know about it: these two smart, sweet, and incredibly creative ladies accidentally found the perfect space to open up a storefront again.
When I asked how they scored their new digs, Juli shared, “It was an accident. I wasn’t looking for a storefront, in fact, I had told my husband I wouldn’t do retail anymore. Oops!” At that moment, she let loose one of her infectious giggles that instantly makes me smile every time.
Jenny added, “It was the right time and this was the perfect opportunity. This storefront is the perfect setup for retail space and a great place for production.”
“It was definitely the space that nailed it for us.” Juli continued, “We found out from Kim at the Bead Shop that there was a rumor that this space was going to be available. She asked me if I was thinking about it. I said, ‘No, I wasn’t thinking about it… but it is Jayne (Ritz’s space)… and its Canal Place… and, and, and!”
“We knew the space was pristine. It had great energy from others like Eli, Boyd, and Pierre. So, I sent Jayne an email right away, explaining to her where we were at. We could be looking for a space for retail and production with a showroom-type atmosphere. We went back and forth. And I’m proud to say Jayne trusted me.”
As we were talking, I looked around their beautiful new space, and it struck me that Mustard Seed hasn’t ever had a commercial kitchen space before. I couldn’t help but ask Juli “How did you ever manage to make ALL this product at home?”
Juli giggled, and replied “Inefficiently! We outgrew home. When we closed the shop and when mom closed her shop, we continued to do wholesale, shows, and markets as much as we could the last few years. But the more production that happened, the less room I had at home.”
Prior to this, Mustard Seed had a NYS Ag. & Market home processing license so they had to make what they call “smelly stuff” on one day and food products on a separate day.
Their Canal Place location allows Juli and Jenny to have an inspected kitchen on site. That broadens the range of what Mustard Seed is able to do, and opens up new possibilities like online sales outside of New York State.
Jenny said, “This winter, we are working on all the steps leading up to being licensed to use the kitchen to make gluten-free baked goods.”
Juli recently completed her Cornell Certified Foods course which will allow her to do more jams, jellies, and more. She said, “For 27 years, we’ve had to say, no- we don’t make mustard!”
“We are hoping to become certified gluten-free because that would change everything. We will be able to do so much.” (Maybe even mustard?)
In 2020 Mustard Seed was already working on changing its labels. They didn’t have a storefront. They concentrated on how their logo looked at shows and how it was received by wholesale customers, that kind of thing. When the new space became available Juli and Jenny agreed it was time to redo everything.
Juli shared the story behind the bee in their logo.
“My mom and I have always had a thing for bees. But the bumblebee in specific is scientifically not supposed to be able to fly. His little bum is too big. Nobody told him that he shouldn’t be able to be flying, so he is. It’s a reminder, like the red boots, that I can do hard things. We can do hard things.”
Speaking of the red boots, if you’ve ever been to Garlic Festival, Chicks Along the Canal or a show that the Mustard Seed participated in, you’ve likely noticed Juli in her red boots.
“When I was 9, I wanted a pair of red boots. We were out in the Midwest at Wall Drugs one day. There were three of us in the family, myself and my two brothers. My dad told us we can each pick out anything you want.
I wanted a pair of red cowboy boots. They were red leather, nothing super crazy. And he said, ‘No, you’ll look like a hussy.’ So, I left without boots. I was 9 years old and held a grudge for many, many years.
Many years later at Christmas one year, my younger brother John handed me this pair of red boots. It was my first pair of red boots and had all the glitter and everything else. John said to me, “You’ve waited too long. If you’re going to do the hussy boots, you better do it!’
What they mean to her. “Well, I have always had other vendors, other people’s stuff in our store. So, it was very difficult to go do a show and say ‘this is me, I made this, here’s everything on my sleeve.’ Those red boots gave me something else to talk about.”
Do you remember when Mustard Seed’s location was below Dr. Yallowitz’s Dentist Office? Or in the Shops at 25 West Mill? Back in 1999, it was named Old Time Herb Shop. Even though its Juli and Jenny now, the Mustard Seed always makes me think of their mom, Gail Rochette.
“She is a super amazing lady,” Juli said. “27 years ago, I was a Jr. in High School and Jenny was tiny.” Jenny piped in “I was 3!” Julie continued, “My mom saw an article in Victoria Magazine. We had a little teeny tiny carriage house, slash garage in our back yard and she said, “Hey, you want to start an herb shop?” As a project just for fun just she and I, so I said, ‘Sure!’ I did Tie-Dye, and daisy chain necklaces, incense, and Jenny and I would garden and just do whatever. It was fine. I had no vested interest it was just a project.
We’ve been involved with Mom the whole time. It’s been 27 years since we’ve had all our own products and no one else’s. No other vendors, no other consigners. So, this is a super big deal for us. Our mom is in the back wings now, pushing us.”
When I asked about their entrepreneurial spirit, Jenny said, “It just comes naturally to us. We’re all naturally creative. We have this drive to say okay I want to do that. I’m going to help make that happen! Can you help me make it happen? Cause we’re going to try it together.”
Juli added “My mom always encouraged each of us to do something that makes you happy. We have two brothers and a sister in there too, and our mom has never pushed us to a version of success that doesn’t make you happy.”
What is it like to work with your sister?
When Gail and Juli started the Mustard Seed, Jenny was small. The sisters are 13 years apart, so everybody always thought Jenny was Juli’s child.
Juli said, “I still call her “My Jenny. We’re just ecstatic! Today, we say ‘She’s the green to my red!’”
Jenny added, “It’s been a very good partnership, and it’s going to evolve into even more!”
The Mustard Seed opened their new storefront and proudly debuted their new bee logo the day before Small Business Saturday. They both said it was perfect timing and the deadline made them ‘bust their butts’ to get ready to open. The response they have received from people in the community and other business owners have been absolutely fantastic.
Why Little Falls?
To Juli, it just feels like home. “We’ve done business here for so many years. When we were still dating, my husband and I took a motorcycle ride down to Benton’s Landing. That’s where he told me he loved me for the first time. Little Falls is just a special place to me and feels like home.”
To Jenny, it’s the community. “I have lived all over, for me it’s definitely the sense of community. It sounds cheesy but it’s so true. I grew up here not really wanting to stay. I moved to New York City and it turns out I didn’t like the city because I didn’t know anybody. No one knew me when I went to the store or the pharmacy. Not like here where they know you by name. That’s what I came back here for. For my kids. My husband loves it and we like knowing everyone on the street and having that small-town life. I love the community of Little Falls.”
Stop by and visit Juli and Jenny at the Mustard Seed’s new storefront at 407 Canal Place and if you talk to them long enough, you’re bound to hear that infectious giggle from either one of them. You can find their updated winter hours at www.TheMustardSeedShop.com
Katie Drake moved to Little Falls in 2003 and fell in love with this city. She says she isn’t really a writer, but a storyteller.
The opportunity to highlight the great people of Little Falls, share her personal perspectives and some humor from time to time piqued her interest and here we are.
Just ask her, and she’ll tell you that after growing up in Millers Mills, population 25+ (according to the sign), Little Falls was just the right size. Katie is the oldest of her two brothers and five sisters.
In 2020 Katie and her best friend Chris began their greatest adventure yet in 2020, with the birth of their sweet and sassy son Nolan who makes them laugh every day.
In her free time, Katie loves to snowmobile, golf, hike, and travel.
If you have feedback on one of her articles or an idea for a story, please feel free to reach out to Katie at KatherineDrakeLF@gmail.com, she would love to hear from you.
If this article leaves you wanting more, or you are just bored out of your mind, feel free to check out other articles she has contributed by visiting Katie Drake Archives – My Little Falls.