The Story of DD’s Dressing

By Marie McHugh / Photography By Thom Ciulla & Robert Nash | July 19, 2016
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The extended DD’s Dressing family at the 2016 3-K Dash for Dave. Seated: Kaitlyn Strong, Cathy Strong and Lindsay DeMaria Silvestro. Standing, from left: Al and Debbie DeMaria, Michelle Silvestro, Mary Silvestro, George Silvestro III, grandsons Alex and Justin Silvestro, George Silvestro Jr., Melanie DeMaria Strong and Nick Strong.

The Recipe that Fuels a Foundation

When you first meet Debbie DeMaria, founder and owner of DD’s Dressing, you’ll immediately be struck by her overwhelmingly upbeat, caring, and enthusiastic nature. It’s like you’re meeting your second mom for the first time. The day I met her she was manning her booth, which was adorned with a bright yellow banner proudly bearing the name DD’s Dressing. As I got closer, a petite lady walked up to the table and announced in an enthusiastic voice, “DD’s Dressing is the best salad dressing in the world. I must buy a bottle a week.” And as I watched, the dressing bottles flew off the table, some in quick transactions and others after a recipe discussion.

I found out by listening that DD’s Dressing was an old family recipe simply made of lemons, oil, and a few herbs and spices. It’s primarily used as a salad dressing but it can also be used as a marinade and a general-purpose condiment. One buyer remarked that his kids liked to use it on their rice and veggies! Yet another talked about grilling ears of corn basted with DD’s. I’ve heard people say that New Englanders consume more ice cream per capita than anywhere else, but here it seemed that salad reigned supreme. I got to know DeMaria that day at the market, and after hearing about her nonprofit foundation and why she was selling salad dressing, I went to work for her.

DeMaria’s outlook and spirit are so positive that you would never guess that she has experienced one of life’s cruelest blows: the loss of a child. In 2006 DeMaria’s son, David, while playing in a collegiate baseball game, was struck in the face by a baseball. This accident led to his unexpected death just ten days after he graduated from Suffolk University.

DeMaria recounts that for three years afterward, life was really bad for her family. She focused on holding up her husband and two daughters as they grieved, but out of the grief came the idea to establish a nonprofit foundation in David’s memory. DeMaria worked for Delta Air Lines for 30 years, and a good portion of her time had involved working with non-profits. This corporate experience helped her implement the David A. DeMaria Foundation. The family knew David as not only the epitome of hard work, but also a lover of family and a believer in education. With this in mind the 501(c)(3) foundation would carry on his values by awarding grants to less fortunate children for education and athletics.

Although sales of DD’s Dressing currently help fund the foundation, this wasn’t always the case. Because David loved golfing with his dad, fundraising was initially accomplished with an annual golf tournament. With the assistance of family, neighbors, and Suffolk University friends, these tournaments got the foundation on its feet.

In 2009 that changed. That year, attendees of the tournament received a four-ounce bottle of David’s favorite homemade lemon salad dressing, presented in a glass bottle shaped like a baseball. Compliments on the dressing were so plentiful DeMaria decided to sell it for the foundation. Making the dressing at home was one thing, reproducing it for sale was an entirely different enterprise. So she and her brother Bill squeezed lemons, minced garlic, sliced onions, and added spices until they were convinced they could reproduce their grandmother’s hundred-year-old original recipe in a big batch.

Growing up in Falmouth, DeMaria learned to cook from her mother Polly in a kitchen suffused with savory aromas. Every dinner featured a salad dressed by the family favorite, which was a recipe passed along by her grandmother, Sithy, who’d been born in Lebanon. DeMaria was always fascinated by the sight of her mother rolling lemons by hand in order to loosen the pith. This daily ritual allowed more juice to be extracted for the evening’s salad dressing. In the kitchen nothing was ever measured and the dressing came out wonderfully every time. DeMaria’s children, in turn, would become entranced by the family recipe, and they too would become lovers of the lemon.

The family decided that the dressing would be called DD’s Dressing, using DeMaria’s initials, and in 2012, DD’s was offered at the (now defunct) Mid Cape Hyannis Farmers’ Market for the first time. Before each market day DeMaria arrived at her Yarmouth home with gallons of olive oil, cartons of lemons, and lots of bottles in order to make the product fresh.

That first season she shared a tent at the Hyannis market with Janice Burling and Penny Lewis, founders of Cape Cod Saltworks Sea Salt. The summer flew by and as the new small business owners shared information and marketing tips, the response to DD’s Dressing was overwhelmingly positive. Bottles sold so fast that she was soon able to get her own booth. The old family recipe was really beginning to help the foundation and increase its granting ability, just as DeMaria had hoped. In September, just four months after her launch, a phone call came from Pat Ring of Ring Brothers Market in Dennis. He’d like to carry her dressing, and oh, by the way, could he have five cases, please?

As the first retailer to carry DD’s Dressing, Ring was a great mentor to the foundation. His help allowed the foundation to bring the recipe to a wider audience, but now the challenge was how to keep up with the increased demand. DeMaria couldn’t do it alone anymore. Enter Project Triangle of Malden. Established in 1971 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities achieve employment opportunities, Project Triangle fulfilled DeMaria’s desire to make DD’s Dressing a product of purpose. DeMaria joined forces with this group and hired two employees to help out. In a shared commercial kitchen with twenty other cooks, she and her new crew went to work filling orders. Business continued to grow and DeMaria once again needed to increase her production output.

As 2014 approached and more people came to love the dressing, the time had come to find a manufacturer. After much research, DeMaria found a family-run bottling manufacturer in Connecticut. When DeMaria got to see her grandmother’s hundred-year-old recipe on a production line being poured into bottles that got wrapped and automatically packed into boxes, she had to pinch herself in amazement. Now rather than personally making the dressing herself DeMaria could concentrate on locating new accounts. She joined the Massachusetts Specialty Foods Association and continued to bring the dressing to even more farmers’ markets. Then Whole Foods Market on Prospect Street in Cambridge invited her to be a vendor. Soon an additional twelve Whole Foods Markets joined the DD’s Dressing family. This was just the break the foundation needed. It even became the signature dressing at the historic Pearl Street Station Restaurant in Malden.

With the dressing being bottled for her, and the foundation reaching an ever-growing market, DeMaria decided to branch out into publishing as a way of reaching children. This new venture would spread the word about the foundation and the product as well as promote healthy eating. DeMaria commissioned Kidz b Kidz founders Nancy Corderman and Jan Weinshanker to host an art party. Through Kidz b Kidz and the tremendous encouragement they offer children as they draw, DeMaria was able to involve a hundred third graders, from the Linden STEAM Academy in Malden, to create pictures for her book, DD Makes a Salad, a children’s book about the benefits of eating salad.

This year the golf tournament morphed into a road race with the first Dash for Dave, a 3K event along Malden’s portion of the Bike to Sea Trail. Participants aged three months to 84 years and even some four-legged dashers enthusiastically raised money for the David A. DeMaria Foundation. And later this year, to coincide with DD’s fourth anniversary, a new book, DD Goes to A Farmer’s Market, illustrated by students of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, is expected to go to print.

With the ability to award more funds, the grant list has become quite impressive. Recipients are organizations such as the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, for their Rise and Shine mentoring program for youth at risk; the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and Massachusetts General Hospital Oncology Department.

As DeMaria has said, “The use of my grandmother’s salad dressing recipe melded with memories of my son, and his appetite for healthy eating became the healing mechanism that my family and I focused on to overcome our grief. When life gave me lemons, I made DD’s Dressing.” She states that her story is not about sadness, but about inspiration. Every time she sells another bottle of DD’s Dressing, or meets with a new retailer, she knows that she is actively doing something for her son and through this work she feels David’s legacy lives on through the children who are supported by his foundation.

Where to Find DD's Dressing on the Cape

Barnstable Market
Bradford 141 Natural Market, Provincetown
Cape Abilities Farm To Table (Brewster, Chatham, Dennis)
Cape Codder Seafood Market, West Yarmouth
Chatham Fish & Lobster
Cotuit Fresh Market
Delicious Living Nutrition, Sandwich
Fancy’s Market, Osterville
Jack in the Beanstalk, Falmouth
Peterson’s Market, Yarmouth
Ring Bros., Dennis
Salty’s Market, Truro
Sam’s Deli, North Eastham
Satucket Farm Stand, Brewster
The Brewster Store
Whole Foods Market, Hyannis
Windfall Market, Falmouth
ddsdressing.com

Article from Edible Cape Cod at http://ediblecapecod.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/story-dd-s-dressing
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