COMPANY Hanley’s Foods Inc.
WHAT THEY DO Create and sell original salad dressings
NEXT GOAL Transition from an all-handmade process to manufacturing
Richard Hanley has this advice for would-be entrepreneurs: “The best incentive I’ve had to pursue something is to put it in the calendar, a rock-solid date, and just do it.” The strategy has worked for him. In 2011 Hanley, a marketing professional, was mulling over the idea of making and selling a salad dressing made famous in Baton Rouge in the 1960s. Bob and Jake’s Restaurant and Club, on Government Street, had served a “Sensation Salad” its patrons loved. Since that eatery closed, so-called Sensation Salads have appeared on restaurant menus around town, but the dressing wasn’t sold in grocery stores. Hanley says, “Marketer that I am, I did a lot of research and figured out no one was doing this.” One night in September 2011, he gave himself a deadline: “I said a year from today I’m going to quit my job and I’m going to bring this salad dressing to market. A year later, I did just that.”
Hanley developed the recipe for Hanley’s Sensation Salad Dressing through hosting what he terms “salad parties.” He’d tweak the dressing for the events, adjusting the quantities of, say, olive oil or cheese. “I had people vote with their fork,” he says. With the recipe set, he incorporated Hanley’s Foods in July 2012, with a view to growing into the name. Initially, though, he says, “it was me, myself and I.” While he transitioned from a salaried position to freelance advertising work, his wife, Kate, formerly a stay-at-home mom, got a job. Then he took his idea to Edible Enterprises in Norco, a food incubator where Gaye Sandoz was working. “I call her ‘the shelf genie,'” says Hanley. “She helped me get my idea to the shelf in a matter of months.” Indeed, he threw a launch party for the dressing at Blend wine bar in September 2012 and had bottles of it in grocery stores the next month.
salad dressing by Hanley’s Foods Inc. now sells in some 80 stores, most in Louisiana. Whole Foods also carries the brand, but Associated Grocers is the company’s main distributor. How the dressing—40,000 bottles of it in 2013—gets to the AG warehouse reflects the commitment fueling this business. Hanley moved operations to LSU’s food incubator last fall, after Sandoz became the director there. He meets up weekly with a few family members and friends in Ingram Hall to produce a batch. In assembly-line fashion, they use the Food Science Department’s FDA-approved equipment to make dressing to fill 1,000 hand-labeled bottles. That night, a pickup carrying a pallet loaded with cases of the dressing pulls up to the wholesaler’s dock. Hanley sees the need for a “more efficient way” to make the product. “We can’t make as much as we sell,” he says. “We’re talking to several food manufacturers in the state.”
Hanley’s plans for growth extend beyond the logistics of production. “Our goal,” he says, “is to innovate.” No longer is he flying solo. He and his partners—including Kate, who is events coordinator—have been “very strategic” with their cash flow and are now netting a profit. The “team of six” gets together each week for a Google Hangout, to visit, analyze and brainstorm. For his part, Hanley oversees the marketing end of things, maintaining the company website as well as his own website, richardhanleyjr.com, on which he blogs and does a podcast featuring entrepreneurs. The 29-year-old Baton Rouge native intends to “pay it forward” even as he seeks to outpace his local competition. In March, Hanley’s Foods announced that its second, seasonal product, Louisiana Strawberry Vinaigrette, is on grocers’ shleves. A third dressing is in the works, to be announced by year’s end.