Want Dressing Like Mom Used to Make?
You Ought to Know Ott’s
CARTHAGE, MO — In the mid 1940’s, Walter Ott, a petroleum engineer by trade, realized his dream of going into the restaurant business, and with his wife, Ruby, opened a café in Carthage, Missouri, at the junction of U.S. 71 and Route 66 — the “Crossroads of America”.
Walter wanted to serve a salad dressing like the ruby-red blend his mother used to make, but he didn’t have the recipe. Armed with his chemistry know-how, his innate perfectionism, and his neighbors’ taste buds, he finally succeeded in matching that unique blend and began serving it on the café’s salads.
The dressing was different from the usual restaurant selection of oily, mayonnaise-laden or runny, bland preparations and customers soon assigned a mystique to its distinctive flavor — what were those little white specks that were so important to the flavor? Walter certainly wasn’t about to tell his secret recipe, and although several aficionados guessed the specks to be Roquefort cheese, they were wrong. Mystery specks and all, locals and travelers loved the dressing and began asking if they could take some home.
The businessman in Walter was quick to fulfill these requests. Soon, he and Ott’s only employee, Allene Wilson, were hand mixing three-gallon batches of the dressing and pouring it out of a pitcher into eight-ounce bottles. They glued on labels and Ott’s Famous Salad Dressing was born.
A Restaurant Closes, A Manufacturer Starts Up
Travelers through Carthage from across the country were attracted to the café by “word-of-mouth” descriptions of the flavorful dressing. Even celebrities like Clark Gable and Gene Autry went out of their way to stop by the restaurant and buy bottles “to go”. People sent letters from across the country and all over the world requesting the dressing — some by the cases. So many bottles were requested that Walter Ott opted to quit the restaurant business in 1948 and began to concentrate solely on the salad dressing business.
He white-washed a nearby garage inside and out. Purchasing a 50-gallon mixer, a mechanical filling machine, and a mechanical cap tightener, Walter, Ruby, and Allene went to work mixing, bottling, and labeling. Allene was happy that she didn’t have to hand mix the dressing and perform as a one-woman assembly line.
Orders Pour In and Walter Pours Out
The company received its first 25-case order from Aurora Grocery and the little company’s orders kept on growing. In 1954, Ott moved the operation to its present larger location at 705 West Fairview.
He decided to diversify and develop a barbecue sauce as unique in flavor as his salad dressing. He began by tasting other sauces on the market, using his knack for distinguishing individual ingredients by taste. Again his chemistry background helped him in product development, causing him to wear out three slide rules figuring the secret proportions that went into his sauce. Neighbors, employees and kids were the “guinea pigs” for tasting the sauce-in-development. Walter thought kids gave the most honest opinions, and if kids like the sauce, it was good. He also believed a taster’s ability to distinguish flavors was worn out after a couple of spoonfuls, so sampling had to be conducted over a long period of time.
The process of trial and error, taste testing and slide ruling finally paid off when Walter settled on his concoction of perfectly blended natural ingredients. It became Ott’s Barbecue Sauce.