PHOTOS BY BETTY LIU
Rita Brown was chef Nick Faucher’s grandmother, his Mémé. She was a matriarch who personified hospitality. “Mémé was a very good cook who always put people at ease,” Faucher said. “I learned from her how to make simple ingredients come together and taste good.”
A favorite among Mémé’s recipes was a salad dressing, “very simple, but so delicious,” Faucher says. “She got it from a friend in Indianapolis and brought it home to Charlton, Massachusetts. From then on, we had that salad dressing at every family occasion.”
Years later, when Faucher was persuaded to launch a salad dressing business based on his grandmother’s recipe, it was only fitting that he name it for her. The Rita Brown Company was incorporated in 2015 and its first product is Mémé’s White French Dressing.
It’s a simple, understated dressing that’s both creamy and light at the same time, designed to complement rather than overwhelm salad greens. The label lists 10 ingredients starting with olive oil and including onions sourced from Stillman Farms in New Braintree. Other ingredients are: vinegar, celery seed, sugar, salt, fresh garlic, mustard powder, water and xanthan gum, a plant-based thickener and emulsifier.
“We recognize it’s more expensive to use a local ingredient like onions, but we want to support local agriculture where we can,” Faucher says. “We are not trying to represent this as 100% local; that would make the cost prohibitive. But if you have fresh, local salad greens, wouldn’t you rather have a dressing that supports local farms?”
Marketing the salad dressing through local farm stores has been a crucial and natural first step for the company. Family friend Jack Hurst encouraged Faucher to break into retail sales and provided a link to agricultural sales outlets in the Northeast.
Hurst’s family-owned company, The Rite Package Company, LLC, produces clear bags for produce. He introduced the salad dressing to his packaging clients who also operate farm stores. The Rita Brown salad dressing now sells at 29 of them throughout Massachusetts and in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and New York.
“Jack had been at many of our family get-togethers and one day after he tried the salad dressing he told me, ‘You really have something here,’” Faucher said. “Jack was the catalyst in getting this business off the ground.”
Hurst introduced Faucher to the Stillmans. Today, Stillman Farm is both a supplier and a retail outlet, selling bottles of the salad dressing at their stand in the Boston Public Market.
The Rita Brown salad dressing also is sold at Birch Tree Bakery in Worcester, Sturbridge Seafood Restaurant and Max Bibo’s delicatessen in Wethersfield, CT. Birch Tree features it as one of the dressings on salads served in its café.
“It’s important to me that a chef I hold in such high esteem as Rob Fecteau likes my salad dressing enough to put it on his menu,” Faucher said.
Faucher’s esteem for Fecteau dates back to his formative years in the food industry. Although he now is head chef at Cedar Street Grille in Sturbridge, Faucher originally had no plans to work in a kitchen as a career. After attending classes at several area colleges, he got a job delivering catering orders for Max Bibo’s delicatessen. Later, he was hired by the Table Three Group in Sturbridge and became a sous chef under Fecteau, who, at the time, was head chef at Duck restaurant in Sturbridge.
“Working for Rob, I couldn’t have been any greener, but he recognized that I was eager to learn,” Faucher says. “I owe all my culinary knowledge to him. He made me realize I enjoyed both cooking and managing people, both skills you need as a chef.”For the time being Nick continues as head chef at Cedar Street Grille while Rita Brown gets up and running.
For now, it’s a family operation, according to Faucher. His dad, Joe Faucher, designed the salad dressing label and logo and handles a lot of the day-to-day operations of the business. Nick’s brother Jonah, a carpenter, built display shelves for some of their retail customers. His sister Jamie is in charge of social media and a cousin, Dan Faucher, does graphic design for the company website. “No one is getting a paycheck at this point,” Faucher said.
Rita Brown’s White French Dressing is made at Chubby’s Sauces in the western Massachusetts town of Bernardston. The company supplements its own line of barbecue sauces by providing kitchen and production facilities for small companies like Faucher’s. The salad dressing is made in a 100-gallon mixer that whips it at 36 revolutions per minute.
“Our plan is to scale up to multiple batches of 100 gallons instead of increasing the size of individual batches,” Faucher said. Scaling up to production of 100 gallons was one of the major challenges in getting the business off the ground. “We had to dump a few batches before we got things right,” Faucher says.
In between his duties as a chef and responsibilities as a business owner, Faucher squeezes in online courses in marketing from the University of Massachusetts. “I’m really seeing the value of a hands-on education,” he says. “One of my first assignments was to develop a marketing plan. My approach to classes has taken on a new importance.”
MARGARET LEROUX is a regular contributor to Edible Boston who writes about local food and the people who grow, prepare and appreciate it.