A Clown School Graduate Peddles Upscale Marshmallows
When I learned about MitchMallows, a gourmet marshmallow company in Long Island City, I had two questions. The first was a cynical one: How gourmet can these marshmallows be? (Blame bodega culture for conditioning me to be suspicious of anything that bills itself as “gourmet.”) The second was a pragmatic one: How do you sustain an artisanal marshmallow business?
The answers were: “extremely gourmet” and “incredibly carefully.”
The MitchMallows website reveals a funky brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously—magenta and lime green marshmallows with smiley faces beam at one another from the site’s margins as you scroll through mouthwatering Banana Split, Apple Pie and Blueberries and Cream marshmallows. If you’re not already sold by the time you reach the MitchMallows story, the clincher is the revelation that Mitch Greenberg, the “marshtermind” behind the operation, was a graduate of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.
He’s Willy Wonka IRL.
Talking with Greenberg can feel more like gaining an education than having a conversation. Mitch loves marshmallows: He is well-versed in their history (the first reference to a s’more was in a Girl Scout handbook), the science behind his elevated take on them (gelatin in lieu of eggs) and even the medicinal properties of Althaea officinalis (the mallow plant).
“It’s a scientific process that happens to make a marshmallow,” he said, a certain serious tone shift in his voice. “You start with a bowl of sugar and some liquid, and heat the sugar to a very specific temperature,” describing the marshmallow process down to a molecular level.
This attention to detail shows in the result, an elevated take on a classic with a sense of humor. The MitchMallow consistency feels gourmet. Unlike the supermarket Jet-Puffed that you chew for hours before swallowing whole because it simply will not disintegrate, you bite clean through a MitchMallow.
It takes about half an hour to make a batch, and eight hours to set before they can be carved. “Aging like a fine wine,” as Mitch described it. Sometimes literally—Greenberg does, after all, offer wine and cheese and Merlot-flavored marshmallows. The marshmallows are fat and gluten-free (for the most part—the Pretzels and Beer mallow is an exception). “I suppose there could be a mallow diet,” Greenberg joked.
There are no bad ideas when brainstorming fresh flavors: “In the beginning, there were epic fails. There were no limits. I tried a chicken soup mallow—it was terrible. The onion ring marshmallow, not so good.”
But the same “why not?” attitude that dreamed up MitchMallows in the first place ensured some sweet results ranging from Churro and Tootie Frootie (featuring a liberal heap of sanding sugar) to kookier concepts such as Maple Syrup Pancake, Fluffernutter, Key Lime Pie, Pink Lemonade, Creamsicle and Ginger Wasabi.
2010 was a concept year; Greenberg was two years into MitchMallows before the business was sustainable. He was pulling double duty between set design, raising capital for MitchMallows and borrowing a little money from friends, all while operating out of his apartment. “I still do a couple design jobs a year,” he admitted, “but marshmallows … they’re my life.” When MitchMallows officially launched in 2011, Greenberg became a tenant at Entrepreneur Space, an incubator for culinary start-ups. The space features a commercial kitchen with a walk-in freezer room, and has allowed Greenberg to produce many more mallows. It was a game changer for the business: He was able to hire four employees (lovingly referred to as his “mallow maniacs”) to meet demand.
Beyond partnerships (MitchMallows supplies marshmallows to 5 Napkin Burger for their S’mores Milkshake) and online retail sales, Greenberg’s husband owns a catering company, which gave MitchMallows a foray into the catering world. The marshmallow catering business has been booming, especially since introducing his new twist on another marshmallow-centric classic: the s’more. These are, of course, not the s’mores of yesteryear, with offerings ranging from the relatively tame S’moreo to the BLT&M S’more (it’s exactly what you think it is) and the roque MonS’more (vanilla marshmallow and Nutella grilled inside Hawaiian bread).
MitchMallows caters corporate events, holiday parties, weddings (why not send your guests away with monogrammed mallow party favors?) and more. S’moreMasters can even be hired to prepare and serve on-site. Each S’moreMaster is a Magna Cum MitchMallows graduate of the prestigious S’more University.
With business profits cutting approximately 60/40 between sales and catering, MitchMallows’ future is colorful. “The search for new flavors always continues. After all, it’s marshmallows. There has to be some silliness; you can’t take it too seriously.” It’s tough to tell what he’ll dream up next, and nobody’s looking forward to finding out more than Greenberg himself.
A video on the MitchMallows website shows Greenberg dreaming of marshmallow schematics and tinkering with a frenzy of ingredients. He peers at a classic vanilla mallow with his magnifying glass before adding novel flavors to the mix, concocting his newest crazy confection.
I was wrong. Mitch Greenberg isn’t Willy Wonka. He’s Bill Nye with a sweet tooth.