Wis. Mustard museum is spread thin

Minneapolis, MN 7/02/2003 Fourth of July graphic. Hot dog and mustard.

A Wisconsin museum dedicated to mustard — a quirky stop for road trips between the Twin Cities and Chicago — is feeling the squeeze.

The humble yellow condiment is plentiful at the National Mustard Museum, with more than 5,500 jars on display. But green to keep the place running is not.

“We’ve kind of dug ourselves into a hole,” said Barry Levenson, the museum’s founder, curator and self-proclaimed Chief Mustard Officer.

The attraction has been struggling financially since moving to bigger digs in Middleton, Wis., a suburb of Madison, in 2009.

Yet fans of odd food collections needn’t fret. Levenson has no plans to close the doors. Mustard’s his passion, after all, and the free museum still draws about 35,000 visitors annually.

Instead, they’ve opted to kick fundraising up a notch. (French’s and Grey Poupon are already supporters.) The county agreed to modify the terms of a loan that helped cover the museum’s move, and Levenson converted the museum into a nonprofit.

“All museums need help,” he said. “Maybe we’re not the Louvre, but the Louvre isn’t the National Mustard Museum, either.”

Donna Vogel, chairwoman of the county committee that cut the mustard museum some slack, said it’s quite the destination.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “You can’t imagine there’s enough bread” for all that mustard.

Levenson said he gets plenty of visitors from the Twin Cities. To him, the National Mustard Museum seems a natural pairing for fans of the southern Minnesota shrine to canned meat.

“Spam is palatable only when you have mustard on it,” Levenson said with a chuckle.

Might as well lay it on thick. □

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