Dani McFarland has had her fingers and brain firmly planted in the food world for more than a decade, as a writer for the industry magazine Food Service News, and for Eater Twin Cities and now-defunct Minneapolis alt weekly City Pages. Along the way, she landed on the board of The Charlie Awards, an annual event for the Twin Cities akin to the national James Beard Awards; she also wrote scripts for the massive Charlie event, where she was mentored by its founder, the James Beard-winning writer Sue Zelickson.
But in the middle of the last decade, love came calling in the form of a Monterey man who wanted to be close to his son. After the launch of the long-distance relationship, McFarland, in 2017, moved to Monterey.
She knew she wanted to remain involved in the food world. Having planned events and done marketing for food businesses, she set out on that path. “I had a huge social network in Minneapolis and I was enjoying success with my career and then I moved here,” she says. “I went on a number of interviews and I was talking to a woman who looked at me and said, ‘You’re having a hard time getting in here, aren’t you?’ and she was the first to acknowledge that it was hard to get my foot in the door in my profession.”
Then came a pivot to law school, and then a year later, came another pivot, this time firmly away from law school.
“I had a come-to-Jesus moment,” she says. “I clicked my heels and went back to what I love, which is food and the food industry.”
Why not, she thought, start a company making and marketing a fresh product that complements regional cuisine and uses local ingredients? She launched Goddess of Monterey, a maker and seller of classic-with-a-twist Green Goddess dressing, just a few months before the pandemic. The dressing includes anchovy, garlic, mayonnaise and a bunch of herbs to give it that vibrant green color; McFarland sells it at a number of area farmers markets and shops.
Weekly: Green Goddess is a pretty niche product to manufacture and sell, so how did you get into it?
McFarland: I thought it would be everywhere here because it was invented in San Francisco, but I couldn’t find it. I wanted to carry on the legacy of the Palace Hotel, where a chef created it in 1923 in honor of an actor who was staying there while performing in the play The Green Goddess. The chef created it for him and when the play was over, he took it back with him to New York. So when I couldn’t find it, I thought, ‘OK, let’s carry on the legacy of San Francisco, but with a Monterey twist’ by sourcing seasonal ingredients. I’m in the Salad Bowl of the World, so why not make my own?
What makes Goddess of Monterey’s Green Goddess your own?
I called one of my best friends, who is a chef in Minneapolis, and said, ‘tarragon isn’t my favorite ingredient and I can’t figure this out.’ He said, then don’t use tarragon. He sent me his recipe, which he used in his restaurants pre-Covid, and I started playing with it as the base and tweaked and tweaked and tweaked.
You had started thinking about this idea before the pandemic, but you were fully into it by the time the pandemic ramped up. How did it impact your business?
Restaurants were shut down, but farmers markets were still considered essential, so I started looking for a commissary kitchen space where I could manufacture, and I couldn’t find one anywhere. One Sunday, I got a call from a sweet woman, Debbie Young, who saw my email and said she could sense my deflation. She said, I have a space that you couldn’t afford if we charged you the going rate, but we want to do this. I almost cried because she knew what I was up against. I contacted the Health Department, got my permit and started selling.
What do you hope happens with Goddess of Monterey?
I’ve gone back into R&D and I’d like to roll out soy-free Green Goddess and make my own mayo. I’m not trying to be big or to make a lot of money – I want it to reflect the community, to complement the regional cuisine.