Maroon on … Salad Dressing, Sophia, That Is
By March 9, 2022 One Comment 570•
The girl who grew up on P Street eating salads tossed with her mother’s homemade dressing never dreamed she would one day be selling it in bottles by the hundreds of thousands to stores nationwide.
For Sophia Maroon, whose late father Fred Maroon famously photographed the neighborhood for his book “Maroon on Georgetown,” it took the urging of her brother, a bit of luck and a lot of hard work to bring Dress It Up Dressing to the marketplace.
“The idea of starting the salad dressing business had been floating around for years,” Maroon said recently. “It was actually my brother’s idea.” The dressing, a red wine vinaigrette her mother made without sugar for their prediabetic father, had been a daily staple in their home. The simple ingredients consisted of vinegar (a natural preservative), olive oil, mustard, garlic and salt. Maroon even made huge batches in college that “would last a month,” she said.
But it wasn’t until 10 years ago, after the birth of her third child, that she decided to turn her brother’s idea into action, and began distributing jars to friends. Orders poured in, and Dress It Up Dressing was born.
One April day at Whole Foods, where Maroon had been picking up wooden crates to use in her deliveries, an employee asked how she used them. Upon hearing the answer, he insisted that she bring samples in for the store team to try. By November, the product appeared on shelves in the Friendship Heights store. By March, it was in 14 stores.
In the months in between, Maroon faced the question of how to fulfill the Whole Foods order. Fortunately, a friend connected her to a facility in Pennsylvania that could produce the dressing, and Maroon began spending countless hours there, overseeing the production.
“I basically got a six-month PhD in how to make a salad dressing company,” she said with a laugh.
During the company’s launch, Maroon was in middle of a divorce and looked to close friends for initial funding. As the company grew, that circle expanded to include friends and neighbors (this writer included).
Through the years, her business has steadily grown, along with the accolades and recognition. In 2018, she launched new bottles, added new flavors, and with her Sesame Tahini dressing, quickly won two of the biggest awards in the food industry. Maroon recently received an award from Pepsi as one of 15 female founders who pivoted during Covid. The award recognized their work with DC Public Schools and World Central Kitchen, feeding children, the elderly and first responders. Last year, Bon Appetit magazine featured her in a series on women entrepreneurs, which raised the company’s profile even further. And maybe most impressive of all, last year the company doubled its sales, reaching $500,000, and tripled its stores, including all Giant Foods.
Alongside Maroon for the last four years has stood another Georgetowner, Hannah Isles, the company’s director of sales. After meeting her as a fellow parent at St. John’s Preschool, Isles began accompanying Maroon on trips to food shows and eventually joined the team. She said one of the keys to the company’s success is Maroon herself. “Sophia’s got on permanent rose-colored glasses,” Isles said. “We’ll be in a meeting, and afterward I’ll say, ‘Oh, it was lukewarm.’ But she’ll say, ‘That was the best meeting ever.’ A lot of her success is due to her charm, her passion for her product and her pathological optimism.”
One of the more distinctive features of the dressing is its label, drawn by yet another Georgetown native, Inslee Farris, who grew up on 30th street. The drawings feature what Maroon calls “the girls” and shows each sporting ingredients specific to the flavor. The photographs of the vegetables are from the cookbook her father collaborated on with Jean-Louis Palladin, the former Watergate chef.
And what of the family matriarch? What does Mrs. Maroon think of her daughter’s success in offering this beloved homemade recipe to the masses? “It was just an absolutely basic vinaigrette in any cookbook you could find,” said Suzy Maroon, who still lives in the same house on P street. “But [Sophia] filled a big void on the shelves of the supermarket. You look at any bottle and the first ingredient is water. No one puts water on their salad!”