Our story begins in the small municipality of Wadenswil, Switzerland. Situated on the Zurich Lake in the district of Horgen, Martin Wyss (Jennie's father) began his apprenticeship to become a chef at age 16. As his career took off he accepted a position in Honolulu Hawaii as an executive chef of the Kahala Hilton. It was there, that Martin met his future wife Jeanie Fujii through her mother, who worked for Martin. They were married three years later and two daughters, Suzie and Jennie, soon followed. In 1982, after eighteen years of working at the Hilton, Martin and Jeanie, along with his sister-in-law Sharon, knew it was time to return to his Swiss roots and opened The Swiss Inn Restaurant in Niu Valley. Their goal was to provide authentic Swiss cuisine at a reasonable price with friendly and efficient service. The restaurant offered a variety of classic Swiss dishes like Emince de veau Zurichoise, Veal Florentine, and Weinershnitzel as well as featuring daily specials such as Osso Bucco and Sauerbraten. To maintain the goal of reasonably priced cuisine, soup and salad were included with every meal and the featured dressing was Martin's mother's family Swiss salad dressing. Made with seasonings imported directly from Switzerland the dressing is unlike any other found in the USA. Although the spices can be found on many tables throughout Switzerland it is a rare find in the United States. Customers loved its unique smoky, tangy flavor and asked if the Wyss' would consider selling it for them to enjoy at home. In the beginning Martin and Jeannie bottled the dressing in wine bottles and sold it exclusively at the restaurant. As the demand grew they transitioned to 12 oz bottles and called it Swiss Inn Salad Dressing. In 2000, after 18 years of hard work, Martin, Jeanie, and Sharon decided it was time to close the restaurant and retire. The restaurant's regular customers were anxious about not being able to purchase what had become too many, their favorite dressing. Martin promised them he would continue to produce this wonderful dressing despite the closing of the restaurant and for the past nine years it has been retailed in stores throughout Oahu. Since then the Wyss' enjoy retirement and have passed the business on to their nephew where it continues with its success.
By now you may be asking yourself "How does Portland, Oregon fit into this picture?" While Martin and Jeannie where flourishing in Hawaii their youngest daughter Jennie had moved to the mainland to attend nursing school. After graduation Jennie got a job with a local hospital. It was there that she met Dani Thiel, who later became her business partner, a health unit coordinator and their friendship began. After taking the dressing to work for a potluck the dressing began to gain popularity among a small group of coworkers. One had even gone to Hawaii and dined at the Swiss Inn. When she returned she asked if Jennie could learn to make the dressing and Martin was happy to pass on his family recipe to her. Together Jennie and Dani began to make the dressing for coworkers and friends, selling it for three dollars a bottle to cover the cost of ingredients. As word got out and more people tried it, the demand grew. It was clear that people really felt the dressing was something special. With the approval of Martin and Jeanie, Dani and Jennie decided they would take the plunge and start their own company producing and marketing the only Swiss dressing in Portland. Dani recalls Martin thinking she was crazy to quit her job at the hospital to embark on this journey and become a full-time Swiss salad dressing maker. "In honor of Martin we decided to name the company Martin's Swiss Dressing. It was risky but we took the plunge and by the end of our first year, 2008, twenty-five stores and two delis carry our product. This is truly amazing given the economy. It is a testimony to the quality and good flavor of our product."
Dani and Jennie pride themselves on making small batches to maintain the integrity and true Swiss flavor of the dressing. Many people along the way have helped their dream become a reality. The label created by a local artist, Rene Eisenbart, is an original water color of a hibiscus to honor the Hawaiian connection to the dressing. This and other services like usage of a commercial kitchen have been paid for with dressing, the new US currency. Each month Jennie and Dani demo at the stores that carry their product. It allows customers to try the dressing and experience its unique flavor. The dressing has moved beyond salad and customers use it on everything from meats to rice as a marinade and finishing sauce. Parents love it because their kids will actually eat their vegetables. Dani reflects, "We are not just demoing but sharing the roots of our product and creating a better understanding of Switzerland by way of the palate. We are happy that so many Portlanders and Oregonians in general love the dressing." Jennie continues, "It's been fun meeting so many wonderful people. We've met people from Switzerland, people from Hawaii, some who were customers at the restaurant. It is really amazing what a small world it is."
In July, Jennie, Dani, and friend
Shannon Ferguson launched the sale of their second product, Martin's Swiss Garlic
Butter. In February 2010, they'll be opening their own manufacturing kitchen and small retail space featuring Swiss cuisine with an island touch. Each dish will come with a toss side salad with Martin's Swiss Dressing on it. Look for the opening of Cafe Hibiscus.
"We strive to
continue to produce this incredible Swiss dressing that is unlike any other
dressing on the market and have enjoyed the learning process along the
way. We're proud to be able to provide a
quality product to our stores and share our Swiss beginnings with our
Dani and Jennie