Oh, those fateful summer jobs—you know, the ones that alter the course of our lives forever (for better or worse). If you’re as lucky as Pam Powell, your summer job helped you find your calling. Powell’s stint more than 40 years ago at Madden’s Pine Beach Lodge on Gull Lake in northern Minnesota set her on the path to become Salad Girl, purveyor of natural gourmet salad dressings. “It was like summer camp, only I was getting paid,” says Powell, a Willernie resident. She began as a dishwasher, but always coveted the salad job. “The salad girl had the best job. She got to stand in the walk-in cooler.” When the salad girl left, Powell took over her job. She was 15.
Powell was astounded by the abundance of fresh food that the lodge served. Growing up, she only knew canned vegetables, iceberg lettuce and bright orange “French” dressing. “They’d bring in fresh-grown blueberries from the farm for jam, which was really eye-opening for a 15-year-old,” she says. “I couldn’t believe someone grew them. And to this day, salad is my go-to thing.”
Powell set everything into motion and incorporated Salad Girl in 2007. Shortly thereafter, she worked with organic/local food champion Brenda Langton at her Café Kardamena, and Langton helped her land a spot at the vaunted Mill City farmers’ market. After her first year there, Powell got requests from 30 stores, earning enough money to put a deposit on a commercial kitchen. She took out a home equity loan and enrolled in a business class at St. Thomas to learn more about running a small business.
Fate was once again on her side. As an interior design painter (Salad Girl was still solely a side gig), Powell was working on a faux wall at the Kowalskis’ house—yes, the Kowalski’s Markets family—when they took note of her culinary side project. “While she was working she’d always talk about her ‘concoctions’—as soon as we heard about it we thought, ‘Yup, that’s the kind of product we want on our shelves,’ ” says Kris Kowalski-Christiansen, company COO. “We supported her while [she was] bottling and advised her about getting her company up to code with food regulations.”
Today, Salad Girl keeps a staff of 15 busy creating snappy dressings that keep folks clamoring for more. There are currently six on the market: curry and fig, crisp apple maple, lemony herb, pomegranate pear, honey and ginger, and blueberry basil; all reflect Powell’s love of the combination of sweet and savory flavors, and her desire to keep testing the waters. “I like reading about new chefs and ingredients,” Powell says. “I hope to make chili and limone this summer, and am looking for a partnership so I can make a creamy ranch dressing.”
As far as she’s come, she is still humble about all she’s accomplished since she was that 15-year-old girl in Brainerd. “My goal was to put a product on every table, like ketchup,” Powell says. “It’s getting there. When someone comes to a demo with a grocery list that includes Salad Girl, I start crying. It’s surreal.”
Asian Summer Slaw with Honey Ginger Vinaigrette
½ head red cabbage
½ head green cabbage
8 ripe crimson-fleshed plums (elephant heart, Santa Rosa or pluot)
½ cup scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp. toasted black sesame seeds
Salad Girl Honey & Ginger Dressing
Gently wash the plums and cut from the stone; slice into 8–10 wedges and set aside. Wash and dry the red and green cabbage. Cut into half-inch bite-sized pieces. Rinse scallions and slice finely on the diagonal. Assemble salad Place salad ingredients (except plums) in a large mixing bowl. Add the dressing and gently toss. Make sure sesame seeds and scallion greens are evenly distributed. Fold in the plum wedges just before serving.