Four years ago, Sandy Mongelli made her first batch of soap in a pot on her kitchen stove. Last year, under the Greencastle Soap label, she turned out about 15,000 bars.
“I made my first batch in self-defense, because regular soap is so harsh,” said Mongelli, who still laughs about her attempt to render meat scraps from the local butcher for tallow.
“The whole house reeked. It smelled horrible. My daughter came home from school, looked in the pot, and went white.”
Mongelli assured her daughter that the concoction wasn’t dinner.
The basic ingredients of a quality soap are tallow, coconut oil, and olive oil, said Mongelli. Olive oil keeps the mixture from being too drying. These days, she said, it’s almost impossible to find a commercial soap made with olive oil.
Greencastle goes through 18 gallons a week.
Mongelli shared a few bars from that first batch with friends. They soon came back for more. And more. And more.
She developed variations on plain soap. Oatmeal-clove was both soothing and scratchy, the perfect combination for her father’s psoriasis.
Spearmint proved refreshing in hot weather. Lemon-chamomile was popular, but the all-time favorite is huckleberry. She picks the berries herself.
For three years, Mongelli kept her job at a Coeur d’Alene glass shop and made soap on the side.
“It was wonderful. I worked 40 hours a week with a 100-mile-a-day commute, came home and made 72 bars of soap every night, and went to shows on the weekend. I didn’t think about it while I was doing it. I didn’t dare.”
Friends on the show circuit taught her to market her product at events like Lewiston’s Dogwood Festival and Moscow’s Renaissance Fair. Her mail order business grew, and she developed a host of wholesale accounts.
The name Greencastle was inspired by the view from her front porch. “With all the treecovered hills, it’s like living in a big, green castle,” she said.
A year ago, Mongelli rented a workroom off an alley in downtown Wallace, and began brewing her soap in large food service kettles salvaged from an old ship. Then she quit her job at the glass shop and added her first employee.
“When I first came here I was like a bride with her first apartment. I couldn’t have been happier,” said Mongelli, nodding at her spartan studio. “Now I’m about to outgrow it.”
Last week, she received a telephone call that felt like a milemarker. It came from the buyer at Lotions and Potions, a bath and skin care products store, who said seven people in a week had asked why the shops didn’t carry Greencastle Soap.
“I thought I’d better call and see what this is all about,” the buyer said.
Mongelli is gratified to add Lotions and Potions’ Spokane and Coeur d’Alene stores to her wholesale account list. But she isn’t surprised.
“There’s a demand for natural skin care products at a reasonable cost,” she said. Her soap sells for $2.50 a bar.
“Some of my ingredients are a little fancier, but basically I make my soap the same way your grandmother did.”
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