Keeping it in the family

Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2012

Three siblings decided it was time to stop making their grandmother’s popular salad dressing recipe in their kitchens and start bottling it professionally.

Lisa Steffen, who’s a laboratory technician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and who lives in Forest City, Iowa, started a company with her siblings, J.D. White of Omaha, Neb., and Lori Kruger of Bloomington.

They’d been making their grandmother’s secret recipe for an oil and vinegar based salad dressing for friends and other family members for years, but thought they should try to make a go of selling it professionally to stores and restaurants.

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“We’d talked about doing something with the recipe,” Steffens said. “There’s nothing like it on the market.”

They started the complicated process of finding a bottler, a label-maker, a lawyer to help with trademarks and a business plan and a laboratory to analyze the product and create a nutritional information label. Finally they had a product — Gramma Amber’s Salad Dressing.

After all that, the hard part began. Steffen has been going to restaurants, grocery stores and boutiques in southern Minnesota and Iowa to see if they’d be interested in carrying the dressing — and she’s been successful.

Hy-Vee and Nelson’s Market Place in Albert Lea have the product on the shelves, and Wedgewood Cove Golf Club will have the dressing available for customers. Other grocery stores like one in Lake Mills and around Iowa have also been selling the product. Boutiques like the Barn Boutique at the Top of Iowa Welcome Center in Northwood, Iowa, and Lake Coffee & Ice Cream in Clear Lake, Iowa, also sell it.

“It’s just been really fun,” Steffen said.

She enjoys the part of her job where she visits with people at restaurants and stores. Her brother and sister have taken different tactics with the dressing. They’re working with distributors, which many larger grocery store chains and restaurants prefer to buy from.

“It takes longer in bigger cities,” Steffen said. “But we’re not in any big rush.”

The business just started last fall, and the first batch was bottled was in January. Since then they’ve done two more batches and have been selling cases of it.

Steffen said an interested selling point has been that the dressing is free of gluten. Since most dressings contain gluten, some restaurants and stores have purchased Gramma Amber’s Salad Dressing to be able to offer a gluten-free option.

The 16-ounce bottle sells for around $4, depending on the retailer. More information can be found at their website,

Steffen said she and her siblings expect there will be difficulties with running their own business, but that so far it’s been a fun learning experience.

“The support of our family and friends has been important,” Steffen said.