Newman's Own is now a major brand in supermarkets, with sales exceeding $100 million annually and profits of more than $12 million. Since its start in 1982, Newman's Own has given all its profits--more than $137 million--to charity and established the Hole in the Wall Gang camps for kids with serious diseases. But its humble beginnings offer lessons for any entrepreneur. Like many rookie proprietors, actor Paul Newman and his sidekick, the writer A.E. Hotchner, had a good product (the actor's homemade salad dressing) but lacked the experience to launch it in the hotly contested world of packaged goods. In this excerpt from the forthcoming Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; $22.95), the two recount their experiences in trying to get a business off the ground.
It is December 1980, a week before Christmas, Westport, Connecticut. Paul Newman, known to his friends as ol' PL or Calezzo de Wesso (Bonehead), had asked his buddy A.E. Hotchner (Hotch), sometimes called Sawtooth, to help him with a Christmas project that he was assembling in this basement, which wasn't a basement in the usual sense. There were crusty stones, a dirt floor, crumbling cement, and overhead timbers covered with active cobwebs. Also three long since vacated horse stalls, but the unmistakable aroma of horses remained. A very picturesque place in which to mix salad dressing.
The project was to mix up a batch of PL's salad dressing in the washtub and fill old wine bottles using the assembled funnels and corks and labels, and on Christmas Eve our collective families would go around the neighborhood singing carols and distributing these gift bottles of PL's dressing. PL was very proud of his salad dressing, and this was the apotheosis of his salad days. Over the years, even in four-star restaurants, PL had been rejecting the house dressings and concocting his own. Captains, maitre d's, and sometimes the restaurant owner would scurry around to assemble Paul's ingredients while neighboring diners gawked in disbelief.
At that time, almost all dressings, especially the mass-market ones, contained sugar, artificial coloring, chemical preservatives, gums, and God knows what. So Paul really started to make his own dressing not just as a taste preference, but also as a defense against those insufferable artificial additives.
The precise number of giveaway bottles were lined up on the dirt floor like a battalion of infantry soldiers, but there was still a quantity of dressing left in the tub. That's when it occurred to Paul that we could bottle the rest, hustle them into some upscale local food stores, make a buck, and go fishing. And that is how our baby got started--not in a manger, but in a tub--not a wise man in sight, a fading movie star and a cantankerous writer, but that was it.
IF WE EVER HAVE A PLAN, WE'RE SCREWED!