"That's f---ing disgusting!"
That was the first thing Dom Detore's wife, Janine Detore, said when she taste-tested the food product her husband had sunk $20,000 into — Just Add Lettuce, a salad dressing that's ready-made with ingredients like olives and cheese (so you just add lettuce). It had a rough start. But with Detore's help, the dressing has raked in over $280,000 in sales.
The product was featured on the premiere of CNBC's Wednesday-night prime time show, "Staten Island Hustle," which follows Detore and four of his Staten Island entrepreneur friends as they dream up new ways to make extra cash.
"When I have a [new] product or service, I use my family as guinea pigs, because I know that they're going to be honest," Detore, who's a contractor by day and a serial side hustler, tells CNBC Make It. "If I can't sell it to my own family, how am I going to sell it to everybody else?"
Despite the family's reaction (daughter Jeannie said "It smells like tomato sauce from like a school" on the episode), Detore was convinced Just Add Salad was a great idea.
"If you want an Italian salad, a real Italian salad, you have to buy the cheeses, the olives — all the ingredients that go into it and it costs a lot of money," Detore explains to CNBC. "What this enables you to do, is just open up your lettuce, pour it on top, spin it, and within a minute you have a fresh salad."
Aside from taste (Janine was biased because she hates the flavor of oregano), the family had concerns about the product's original slogan, "the world's first 3-D salad dressing," which referred to the chunky produce and cheese in the dressing.
"When you think of 3-D, you think of going into a movie theater and putting on a pair of glasses, you don't think of salad," Janine says on "Staten Island Hustle."
After his family's negative reaction to Just Add Lettuce, Detore drove from Staten Island up to Hurleyville, New York, to see Anthony Mongiello, the owner of Italian cheese manufacturer Formaggio Cheese. The dressing started as an idea in Formaggio's test kitchen.
"The sales are flat," Mongiello tells Detore on the show. "They're just not where I thought that they would be."
Detore decided to take samples of the dressing to a local Staten Island grocer, Family Fruit, to crowd source ideas for improving the product.
"I need to get some real feedback from real customers to see what needs to be changed," Detore says on the show.
Shoppers in Family Fruit overwhelmingly agreed on the taste: "This is actually really, really good," one customer said, with another adding, "I'd buy it."
But Janine was right, the "3-D" part of the messaging did confuse the shoppers.
"People do not understand it," Detore says after the test. "[T]he marketing should change somewhat."
Detore and Mongiello changed the labeling and tweaked the ingredients, Detore tells CNBC.
"It is now one of the best salad dressings on the market," Detore says.
Today, a four-flavor pack (including Italian, with provolone and olives; Greek, with feta and red onion; Spanish, with spicy banana pepper and cilantro; and bleu cheese with cranberries) sells for $29.99 on the brand's website. In total, Just Add Lettuce has brought in $280,000 worth of sales, Detore says, selling not only in New York at Family Fruit, but through grocery wholesalers like Brookshire Brothers to even reach Louisiana stores like Robert Fresh Market and Alexander's Highland Market. In October, Just Add Lettuce was on QVC.
Detore says his family's painful but honest was input was priceless, as usual.
"I think about it and I say, 'Okay, I see your point of view," he tells CNBC Make It. "You take that back to the drawing board."
Janine says she isn't shy about giving critical feedback to Detore, because she has his best interests at heart.
"It is important to be honest with somebody, especially with your mate, because if he can't trust my opinion, who could he trust really?" Janine says to CNBC Make It. "So I'm brutally honest."
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