Entrepreneur expands tasteful enterprise with relish

Lee Mathis has cooked up a variation on chow-chow in combining the sweet flavoring of the Southern relish with the heat of peppers. Mathis recently added chow-chow to the products sold through his Grand Valley company, Decadence Gourmet. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Lee Mathis has cooked up a variation on chow-chow in combining the sweet flavoring of the Southern relish with the heat of peppers. Mathis recently added chow-chow to the products sold through his Grand Valley company, Decadence Gourmet. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

As difficult as it is for him to believe, Lee Mathis acknowledges reluctantly that not everyone likes cheesecake.

That’s why Mathis continues to expand the product line of his operation beyond the decadent gourmet cheesecakes for which his company initially was named. First it was savory appetizer cheesecake spreads. Now it’s a variation on chow-chow, the Southern relish. If the Grand Valley entrepreneur has his way, hot mustard and spicy salsa won’t be far behind.

“I want everyone to be able to enjoy some of my products,” Mathis said.

In addition to catering to a broader customer base, there are other advantages to developing new products — in particular the ability to ship shelf-stable products without the packaging required for frozen cheesecakes.

The excitement that comes with innovation doesn’t hurt, either. “You’ve got to stay creative. You’ve got to stay fresh,” said Mathis, owner of Decadence Gourmet.

In creating his version of chow-chow, Mathis started with the traditional pickled relish featuring cabbage, green tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and spices. But he said he tweaked the recipe “Colorado style” by adding a variety of hot peppers, including habanero, jalapeno and serrano peppers as well as ghost peppers and Trinidad scorpion peppers.

The combination of sweet and heat has proved popular, he said. “Everybody who tries it can’t believe the combination.”

Chow-chow traditionally serves as a topping on white beans, Mathis said. But the versatile relish can be used in a variety of other ways in adding flavor to everything from chicken salad to scrambled eggs.

Decadence Gourmet chow-chow is available in 3.5-ounce jars in the Grand Valley at the C&F Food Store and Talon Wineries in Palisade and Country Cupboard and newly opened Grand Valley Magazine catalog store in Grand Junction.  Chow-chow also can be ordered online.

Mathis said he expects to increase distribution through local retailers. He said he’s also approached such national chains as Sprouts and Trader Joe’s about carrying the products.

While Mathis said he was required to complete additional training in food processing as well as obtain additional licensing, Decadence Gourmet now has the ability to process and sell shelf-stable products like chow-chow. Those products require far less packaging to ship than the frozen cheesecakes the company long has sold.

Moreover, the move clears the way for the other shelf-stable products Mathis has in mind, including a German-style hot mustard; a hot salsa made with ghost peppers; and kimchi, the spicy Korean dish.

The new products constitute the latest evolution for Decadence Gourmet, which Mathis founded in 2004 to sell cheesecakes.  He subsequently developed a product called cheesecakes in a jar that offer all the flavor of full-sized cheesecakes packed into individual serving-sized glass containers. He later created savory cheesecake spreads featuring such ingredients as bacon, blue cheese and roasted garlic.

Mathis expanded his operation geographically in opening a second production facility in Virginia with closer proximity to Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and other metropolitan areas with millions of potential customers.

Cheesecakes remain a mainstay, Mathis said. But he wants to make sure that those who might not like cheesecake have other options from which to choose.

For more information about products and services from Decadence Gourmet, call 256-4688 or visit the Web site at www.DecadenceCheesecakes.com.