The Tastiest Secret in the Midwest Comes in a Bottle
Not everyone can get to Nebraska in the course of a lifetime. As a native Nebraskan, I guess I can understand that, but there's a way to taste the essence of my home state: Get your hands on a bottle of Dorothy Lynch Home Style Salad Dressing.
It's hard to describe this small-batch, independent dressing that's been a fixture in Midwestern life since the 1940s without comparing it to its closest sister, French. However, where French dressing is oil-based, sticky and overly tangy, with a bright red color, Dorothy Lynch is a tangy, though milder dressing, tomato-based, and very sweet. It's delicious on salads and has a website devoted to other uses (some delicious and some very strange). "Picky eaters love it, dads love it," the company website crows, "and you'll love how many different ways it can come to the table."
I had to laugh at this description since, indeed, my dad did love Dorothy Lynch. His mother must have visited Nebraska sometime in the 1940s or '50s and developed a taste-alike version that she often mixed up for their household. But once my dad was firmly established in Omaha as an adult, he reached for the foundational Dorothy Lynch and never looked back.
Somehow, this made-with-love small-batch attitude was even better than anything we could make at home. We ate it on tomato slices, still warm from the summer sun, and on top of bagged salads. My dad loved it so much that when we moved to Pennsylvania in the early aughts (a state with no distribution network for the dressing), my father tracked down a service called "Dotty Direct" that shipped him a case of the stuff twice a year.
According to company lore, Dorothy Lynch was named after the woman who developed the recipe in the late 1940s. While working at a Legion Club in St. Paul, Nebraska, Dorothy and her husband mixed up the first batches of sweet, tomato-based dressing that drove Nebraskans to the club in droves. Gordon "Mac" Hull bought the patented recipe in 1964 and opened up the original factory in Columbus, Nebraska, where the corporate headquarters remain (the dressing is now manufactured in Duncan, Nebraska, pop. 351).
For this article, I reached out to Dorothy Lynch (to be clear, I called the corporate office and did not seance the spirit of its creator) for insight into current trends and was surprised to receive a call from the owner herself. Marilea Hull, Mac's daughter, took over the CEO role in 2021. She had formerly worked in the Chicago area in corporate finance but had fond memories of her father's hard work. Family vacations, she remembered, included many stops at grocery stores to connect with grocers, encouraging them to stock the product. After much thought, she moved to Columbus to take up the rein of "Dotty Lynch" upon her father's retirement to keep the company based in Columbus and keep the brand strong. When I asked her how the transition from Chicago to Columbus went, Marilea noted she loved that, true to small-town form, everybody knows everybody else. "And," she added, "you can get anywhere in 10 minutes."
This Midwestern, bright-side-ism completely aligns with the brand of Dorothy Lynch and the people who love it. Some may consider the sunny orange dressing a bit too sweet, but drizzled over spinach (or, Marilea promises, incorporated into wing sauce), showcases its flavor profile. Since taking the reins, Marilea has been awed by the devotion people feel to Dorothy Lynch. This past December, while working after hours, she fielded a call from someone whose family hadn't been together for Christmas in two years because of COVID. Though scattered throughout the country, the family wanted some Dorothy Lynch memorabilia – the dressing was a point of connection for all of them. Marilea sent them a box of shirts and related swag and got a note back about how amazed the family was and how much joy it brought them. On vacation herself (though not selling the product to stores like her father), she's run into fans of Dorothy Lynch in Hilton Head and Chicago who hear that she works for the company and can't help but describe their love for the dressing.
My father died two years ago, but I'll always think of him when I crack open a fresh bottle of Dorothy Lynch. It's one of the traditions I've passed down to my children, who lovingly call the dressing "Dotty," just as my father did. In every bottle of Dorothy Lynch is the hard work of family business and the invocation of hot Nebraska summer days, with a long highway before you and rows of corn on either side. Though you can order it from Amazon, you could do worse than to ask a Midwestern friend to ship you a bottle. And now you won't be surprised to hear that they are fans, too.