By Jess Fleming
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
Pam Powell of Willernie, who owns the Salad Girl line of organic salad dressings with her husband, talked with us about how she got her start, what she’s up to now and what’s in the works.
Question: How did your company get its start?
A: We got our start at Mill City Farmers’ Market in Minneapolis in 2007.
Question: What inspired you to start it?
A: The economy. Both my husband and I were in the painting industry. I’m a decorative painter; my husband is an interior and exterior painter. Our business was drying up. I always had a dream to bring salad dressings to market. We had run a natural-foods catering company in college in the 1980s, when we were first married.
The company we worked for entertained people in town every other weekend, and we prepared all the food.
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I always loved making the salads and salad dressings.
Question: Tell me about your dressings.
A: We are certified organic, which is really important to us. We have seven flavors right now, and they taste really good, which is also important to us. They’re interesting flavors, things you probably wouldn’t make on your own, like Curry and Fig.
We’ve found that women on the go want something healthy and safe for their families. All of our dressings are made fresh and kept refrigerated. We don’t cook them — they’re made from fresh fruit juices, organic honey, fresh herbs. We put our dressings in small, 8-ounce bottles. I want something people could use up and go back and get more when they need it. Soon, we’ll be coming out with a good, healthy ranch.
Question: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: An artist, a chef and a dancer. Dancer didn’t work out because I cannot remember dance steps.
Question: What’s your first food memory?
A: Eating bacon up at the lake with Grandma, Grandpa and my mom. I was a vegetarian for a while, and bacon was something I really missed. Now, I can get such healthy, good bacon I don’t skip it.
Question: What was your first job in food?
A: I was a dishwasher at Madden’s on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minn., and during my breaks, I helped the salad girl. I’d peel carrots. I was a high school girl and she was a college girl, and she taught me everything. She went back to school before I did, so I got her job. Hence the name Salad Girl. It was my first real taste of fresh veggies from the garden. It was the first time I ever saw spinach picked from the garden.
Question: What’s your favorite Salad Girl dressing?
A: I’m a seasonal eater, so definitely the Crisp Apple Maple right now. I love it with a lovely local blue cheese, like Shepherd’s Way, and good fresh apples from Hoch Organic Apple Orchard in La Crescent, Minn.
Question: What’s something few people know about you?
A: I’m sober. I’ve been sober for 20 years. I’m also a new potter. It has been an interesting adventure, making pottery.
Question: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: I love Brasa and neighborhood restaurants like Cafe Latte, both in St. Paul.
Question: If someone were to play you in a movie, who should it be?
A: Amy Adams, because my husband loves her. I used to have red hair, so she could be a young me.
Question: What’s next?
A: We’re working on getting into food service. We’re working on packaging the dressings in gallon containers with pumps and hopefully sustainable packets to bring Salad Girl into food service for colleges, grade schools, high schools.
We’re also a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards. If we win, we get a cash prize and marketing tools.