Cool Hand with the Salad Dressing

The death of Paul Newman on Friday has brought forth an outpouring of appreciations of his acting career. But as writer Linda Giuca reminds us, to a younger generation, Newman was perhaps better known as the face on the salad dressing.

The actor started Newman’s Own food company in 1982 with his business partner A.E. Hotchner, after the two stirred up a batch of salad dressing in the basement of a barn using a vat and a canoe paddle. The company went on to create popcorn, pretzels, pasta sauce, cookies, coffee, lemonade, pet food, and more. Newman’s daughter Nell founded Newman’s Own Organics in 1993, convincing her father that the organic trend had a future by cooking an all-organic Thanksgiving dinner.

Both companies donate all proceeds to charities and have been hailed as pioneers in “cause marketing.” The Newman’s Own motto is “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good.” Newman himself joked to the New York Times that he just wanted “to be able to give away more than Dick Cheney got in tax relief.”

Newman’s sense of humor extended to his food creations. He named his Thousand Island dressing Two Thousand Island dressing, so his brand would have more islands. He once noted that once you’ve seen your face on a bottle of salad dressing, it’s hard to take yourself too seriously.

Many of us will continue to take Newman’s Own seriously, however, as a source for great-tasting food and feel-good purchases. In a dedication page on its website, the company promises to honor Newman’s vision for the common good by perpetuating his philanthropic legacy, saying, “Paul wouldn’t have it any other way.”