Her recipe for success relies on Lambs Farm
July 12th, 2016
Meg Dhamer, once a caterer to high-end residents of the North Shore, is finding new success in the salad dressing business.
She’s owner and creator of Pigtale Twist, a company named after a fairytale told by her grandmother about a pig who worked in the French countryside.
Pigtale Twist produces dressings and sauces with whimsical names like “Beets All Ranch” and “The Real McCoy Creamy Garlic.” Dhamer says the dressings are gluten free, non-GMO and a third the calories.
They’re her own recipes, crafted after years in the business. The products are made by residents and employees at Lambs Farm, the nonprofit residential and vocational community for adults with developmental disabilities.
“I love working with all the people there,” she told me. “They’ve brought a meaning to my life that I had no right to expect.”
Dhamer, 55, got her start cooking when she was just 8 years old.
“My mom was a terrible cook. She doesn’t mind me saying,” Dhamer acknowledges. “I couldn’t take any more TV dinners and Twinkies, so I started cooking and she played more tennis.”
It was the beginning of a long career in the food business.
After high school, she started her own small catering company–the original Pigtale Twist. Dhamer worked for a select group of clients, mostly North Shore residents who loved to entertain. Among them was the late Waldo Allen, who with his wife, Mary, regularly hosted notable names at their Lake Forest home, Dhamer remembers. She served cold avocado and vodka soup and “scratch Sidecars straight up.” Other notable clients included the late Max Wildman, a trial attorney, and auto dealer Bill Knauz.
The business worked well as Dhamer, then in her 20s, was newly married and starting a family.
After a divorce in her 30s, she juggled different jobs–including as a pastry chef–to help put her children through college.
“You find courage inside yourself when you have to do something because you have no choice,” she says of becoming a single parent.
When her children were on their own, Dhamer enrolled in a journalism course at the French Culinary Institute of New York. She thought she’d make a career of writing about food. She found a mentor in Alan Richman, the famous food critic.
“I thought I’d start writing for Bon Appetit (magazine),” she says. Instead, she wrote about pet shops for a local lifestyle publication.
It was through that assignment that she met the folks at Lambs Farm, which has a pet shop along with a notable bakery and small store. The nonprofit also teams up with small businesses that hire residents to do some of their production work.
Dhamer talked about her dream of producing healthy salad dressings and other food products and soon a business relationship was born.
Her Pigtale Twist is the largest employer of Lambs Farm, working with more than 15 residents. They produce her recipes, label jars and oversee the packaging.
Dhamer has cleared $1 million over the past eight years. Her dressings are sold in 90 grocery stores throughout the Midwest, and she’s looking to expand to the East or West coast.
The salaries and job-training are a win for Lambs Farm, too, says president and CEO Dianne Yaconetti. The nonprofit has an annual budget of $12 million.
“Anything that’s going to give productive jobs for our residents and teaches them to grow and learn new skills is a benefit for us,” she said.