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Horseradish business anything but bitter

The Gold family members in the company's warehouse:

The Gold family members in the company's warehouse: From left, Marc, Neil, Melissa, Howard and Steve Gold with cases of the various condiments produced in Hempstead. Marc and Melissa hold the horseradish roots, which produce pungent vapors when ground. (March 22, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

In high gear, the horseradish grinding room is a place of tears, the vapors permeating the Hempstead Village plant of Gold Pure Food Products Co.

These days, the penny-pinching economy has given the family-owned condiments maker a little zip.

Sales of Gold's Horseradish have grown by about 7 percent in the past five years, said Marc Gold, the eldest of co-owners brother Steven and cousins Neil and Howard.

"It'll make an inexpensive piece of meat taste better," the eldest said. "It's a very cheap way of making something taste different or interesting."

In fact, in the Great Depression year of 1932, jobless grandparents Hyman and Tillie Gold began grinding horseradish in their Brooklyn home. Hyman pedaled a bike cart of bottles to stores and found his product was as hot as it tasted.

The horseradish is still the life and soul among 70 or so varieties of Gold condiments -- if you've had hot dogs with mustard at Mets baseball games in recent years, or at Nathan's, you've tasted Gold. Bins holding 1,800 pounds of the horseradish root, mostly from Midwestern farms, are stacked to the ceiling at the 70,000-square-foot plant. With salt and vinegar, Gold's all natural formula forms the base for several horseradish varieties.

About 56,000 bottles of horseradish roll off the lines daily, bound for stores and restaurants in this country, Venezuela, Mexico and Canada.

This makes the company of about 70 employees the nation's top producer of horseradish, beating giant Kraft Foods, Gold said. Over the years, he said, the Goliath has offered to buy its David competitor.

"We've discussed it, but we're supporting a lot of families at Gold's," the eldest Gold said. "There's my son, he's interested, and my niece has been here for 10 years. Of course, if it's the right offer, I would think we would take it. It gets tougher and tougher dealing with the business."

Take supermarkets, Gold's top customers. They've been merging, closing or going bankrupt. This has led to fewer distributors, who order on a larger scale to cover the stores, Gold said, and that causes a headache. Put too much in one store, and the preservative-free horseradish starts losing flavor after six months, damaging Gold's reputation, he said.

"The main distributors are so huge that they won't micromanage as much as we'd like them to," the co-owner said. "You fight with the distributor. You don't want bad stuff to be sold. If a store has five cases left, we'll take it back."

But perhaps a bigger job is getting younger generations hooked on horseradish. The unsung root is barely known outside Bloody Mary drinks, roast beef, Passover and Easter.

"It's so off the wall," Gold said. "So many people only have it a couple times a year that they don't realize all the advantages of it."

To hear the grandsons of the founders talk, horseradish is good in salsa, with bread and butter, meatloaf and practically everything but morning coffee. Some in the medical and natural remedy fields laud it as fighting urinary tract infections, cancer and more.

But in an age of Facebook and pop-up online ads, the company uses all-news AM radio to spread the word. Kraft, by comparison, has a YouTube cooking channel.

"We didn't go to horseradish school," Gold said. "It's all from experience. Maybe we're not as smart as people in the conglomerates, and that's a problem, keeping up with the world out there."

For the Gold family, that's not enough to cry over. But when their eyes grow moist in the grinding room, Marc Gold said, "it's good tears."
 

 

Facts about Gold Pure Food Products

 

Horseradish varieties: White, Red (with beets), Hot and Extra Sweet

Jars off the line: 56,000 daily

Biggest competitor: Kraft Foods

Company basics: Started in 1932 by owners' grandparents Hyman and Tillie Gold from their Brooklyn home. Moved to Hempstead Village in 1994.

Employees: 70

Factory funny line: "What's the matter?" to those with eyes teary from the horseradish

Failure: Horseradish potato chips

Also made by Gold: Nathan's condiments; Chef Allen's brand; salsa; relish; duck sauce; wasabi sauce.

Company lore: Hyman Gold's cousin ground horseradish for sale in rented space in front of a Brooklyn market. After a rent dispute with the landlord sent him to jail, the cousin abandoned his trade and left the grinder to Hyman. Soon after in the Great Depression, Hyman lost his insurance sales job. His wife Tillie began grinding horseradish out of their Brooklyn home in 1932, sticking her head out the window frequently for a break from the pungent vapors. Hyman rode his bike and bike cart with jars of horseradish to sell to stores.

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