By Laura Hazan, January 18, 2012
Kirkwood-Des Peres Area Chamber member Melissa Dodd-Ruesing is like a superhero.
By day she is a mild-mannered physical therapist assisting patients with their health and wellness. By night she becomes Chef Mel. She dons her Chef Mel shirt and apron and mixes up delicious concoctions in her kitchen bringing tasty goodness to the citizens of St. Louis. In other words, she’s determined and works hard both day and night to make her business a success.
It all started from a dream she had when she was five years old.
“I remember the dream so vividly. In it, I was going to grow up and own a restaurant with the best pasta sauce and grilled cheese,” Dodd-Ruesing said.
She doesn’t own a restaurant that sells grilled cheese but she does produce a line of very popular sauces.
Her business began simply enough: Co-workers, friends and family liked her sweet pasta sauce so much they wanted to buy it from her. She started making it in batches to sell one or two jars, then bigger batches to sell a case or two, and then she started attending craft shows and taking orders. In 2007, some friends finally convinced her to let them invest in her pasta sauce and by that point the salsa, and take it big time, mass production.
She wrote up a business plan, researched manufacturing, designed labels and a website. One of the hardest parts of taking the next step was translating her recipes.
“I had a recipe designed for a 24-quart pot, not a 55-gallon drum. I learned how to take my recipe and turn teaspoons of an ingredient into pounds of an ingredient while maintaining my original flavor,” Dodd-Ruesing explained.
Most steps completed, she was well on her way to launching her business when her investors backed out.
“I was too far down the business development plan to turn back. I took the leap on my own and I’m so glad I did,” Dodd-Ruesing said. And so are many happy customers.
This also explains why she maintains her day job. Launching a small business as she’s doing, in small steps, reinvesting profits into the business, requires her to still have income from somewhere.
“I’ve had plenty of times where I thought about walking away but I love that people love my stuff so I keep at it,” Dodd-Ruesing said.
Her “stuff”, manufactured by King’s Food Products in Illinois, is the Sweet Sicilian Style Pasta Sauce and the Salsa in mild, medium and hot. It’s available in close to 30 stores, including at Summit Farms in the Kirkwood Farmers’ Market and Straub’s. The brand name found in stores is called Chef Mel’s.
Her signature is sweetness. The pasta sauce is sweet with a nice spice combination and a hint of wine due to the Merlot in her recipe.
The sauce is versatile, great for dipping or homemade pizza night, or as suggested, on pasta. The salsa, the hot being my favorite, is also sweet. It’s an interesting sensation the sweetness with spiciness, and great straight from the jar. It would be perfect on tacos, nachos or mixed with some Velveeta and served as a queso dip.
What does this superhero have planned next? More delicious goodness with salad dressings and maybe another pasta sauce in the works, as well as more hard work and success. People love a superhero and a story about a dream fulfilled.