DUNCAN — Dave Heineman uses it on his salads at the Governor’s Mansion.
Astronaut Clayton Anderson buys it from the Kroger store near his home in Houston.
The tomato-based dressing, which he likes to use as a marinade for chicken, is “out of this world,” the Ashland native said.
For the past 50 years, Columbus-based Tasty-Toppings, Inc. has cranked out bottles of what has become a truly Nebraska product — something thousands of people who’ve called the state home simply can’t live, or at least dine, without.
But Dorothy Lynch Home Style Dressing actually has rural Nebraska roots that go back further than May 6, 1964, when Gordon “Mac” Hull incorporated the local business after purchasing the recipe from Dorothy Lynch herself.
The sweet and spicy condiment was first served inside the St. Paul American Legion Club, which Dorothy and her husband Art managed beginning in the late 1940s.
“My mother was really never satisfied with the dressing when they took over,” explained Sally Santin, the daughter of Dorothy Lynch, who died in June 1975.
Santin said her mother experimented with a few different recipes before finding a formula that quickly became a local favorite.
“I think everyone in town was a taste tester when Dorothy was trying to create the recipe,” said Cheri Schrader, executive director of the Platte County Historical Society Museum.
Schrader’s grandparents, Clem and Margaret Suchanek, lived in St. Paul and were close friends with Dorothy and Art Lynch.
It was customary to head down to the Legion Club for dinner on Saturday nights before shopping at the local stores, Schrader recalled from her visits as a young girl.
Art bartended at the Legion Club and made “red drinks” for the children, who played games while the adults conversed.
“Later on I found out it was 7UP with red food coloring in it, but it made a little kid feel really special,” Schrader said.
But it was Dorothy’s famous dressing that really stole the show.
“As soon as I started eating salads, I was probably eating Dorothy Lynch on my salad,” said Schrader.
The dressing was so popular that containers began disappearing from the tables.
“My folks talked it over and decided if people were going to steal it, maybe they’d just sell it to them,” said Santin, who resides in Grand Island now.
So the family started producing the salad dressing in bulk, first in the Legion Club, then the basement of their house, before moving the operation to a small building where both Dorothy and her daughter would run a beauty salon. That building — Dorothy Lynch’s Red Carpet Salon — still stands in St. Paul today.
The product was patented in 1951 and Dorothy Lynch’s dressing began hitting the grocery store shelves.
Over the years, though, the Lynches couldn’t keep up with the high demand, which led to the 1964 sale to Hull, who opened his first plant that year near Columbus Municipal Airport.
Today, millions of bottles of Dorothy Lynch Home Style Dressing and a fat-free version introduced in 1993 are produced each year at a 65,000-square-foot plant on the east edge of Duncan.
The operation moved there in 1979 to allow for expansion and provide access to the nearby railroad line used to deliver sugar.
One current employee, Dave Korger, has worked at both locations — and even he doesn’t know the special Dorothy Lynch recipe that drives customers’ taste buds crazy.
“It’s pretty secret,” said Kim Bean, chief operating officer for Tasty-Toppings, Inc., which is headquartered in the Dusters Restaurant building on 13th Street in Columbus.
Bean remembers eating Dorothy Lynch dressing as a child growing up in Nebraska and Iowa and she’s proud to work for the company producing it now.
Although there are fewer employees than during the early days — when cans were opened by hand and automation was nonexistent — Bean said the work force has remained committed to the company. More than 25 percent of the employees have been with Tasty-Toppings at least 30 years.
The company employs less than 50 people, including truck drivers and remote sales staff.
But that hasn’t slowed the product’s expansion across the U.S.
Dorothy Lynch can be purchased in 36 states, including locations on both the East and West coasts. Die-hard fans can also buy the dressing online — at www.dorothylynch.com — and have it shipped to their home.
And there’s no shortage of stories from the loyal consumer base, whether it’s a woman willing to pay $100 in fees to ship a case of dressing to Israel or passengers stashing bottles in their luggage before boarding a plane.
People are willing to do just about anything for their Dorothy Lynch.
“We find that they view Dorothy as a person,” said Bean. “They view our product as a person. And they’re protective of the product.”
There have, however, been some changes over the years.
In 2010, the company switched from its longtime glass vinegar-style bottle to an hourglass-style plastic bottle and the recipe was altered slightly last year to make it gluten-free.
One thing has remained the same over the years, according to Bean. Dorothy Lynch dressing is always produced to order and never stored in a warehouse.
“We want the product to be as fresh as it can be when it hits the shelves,” she said. “Everything tastes better when it’s just made.”
And that taste has been winning over Nebraskans for more than five decades.
Just ask former NFL fullback and Husker great Cory Schlesinger, who takes Dorothy Lynch dressing back to Michigan when he’s home for a visit.
“It’s a childhood memory,” Bean said. “It was on grandma’s table.”