Mel Gancsos, a machinist who parlayed a kitchen hobby into the award-winning Fairfield-based condiment company Mel’s Hellish Relish, passed away at the age of 79.
Gancsos graduated from Fairfield’s Andrew Warde High School and went to work as a tool and die maker at Park City Manufacturing, a company owned by his father. Later in his career, he worked as an inspector at Avco Lycoming and a specialty machinist at Sikorsky Aircraft, retiring from the latter company in 2007. During his years at Sikorsky, Gancsos would bring his co-workers homemade relish made with hot and sweet peppers, onions and spices. His colleagues encouraged him to enter his recipe in the Scovie Awards, a competition for fiery foods, and he won second prize in the amateur competition.
Gancsos launched his company Mel’s Hellish Relish in 2003 from his home, using a photo of himself in a Halloween devil’s costume on the product’s label. He kept Mel’s Hellish Relish as a side-business until he was confident that it could generate a revenue stream to financially support him.
“There are tens of thousands of independent food companies trying to make it in the specialty food business,” he said in a 2006 interview with ILoveFC.com. “For every success story there are probably twenty or thirty companies that didn’t make it. I tell people that until they’re making a profit, don’t give up their day job.”
Gancsos would win additional Scovie Awards as his product line expanded to accommodate mild, medium and hot levels of relish plus a line of bottled pickles. Gancsos’ products became a staple in Connecticut’s specialty food retail stores and was sold at the Connecticut pavilion at the Big E in Massachusetts and county fairs around the state. The company rated mention in “The Food Lovers Guide to Connecticut” with Gancsos being cited for his “incendiary business” while the Chowhound blog happily warned its readers “This is not something for the timid – it’s hot.”
“Anybody can make anything hot,” Gancsos said in a 2008 interview with the Hartford Courant. “The thing I’ve always tried to do is make something that people enjoy.”