RICHWOOD — Veronica Stover couldn’t stand to see her favorite salad dressing just disappear.
For years, Veronica and her husband, Greg, had enjoyed a Wilted Lettuce Salad Dressing — made in Sandyville by the West Virginia-based company, Appalachian Mountain Specialty Foods.
But one trip to get some more of their favorite dressing in 2013 changed everything.
“I went to get a bottle of Wilted Lettuce and the owners said, ‘This is it. This is the last bottle you’re going to get. We’re moving to Florida,’ ” Veronica Stover said. “I texted my husband and said ‘We need to talk tonight.’ ”
That night, Veronica pitched her idea to Greg: She wanted to purchase the company.
Greg agreed, and the rest is now history.
Today, the Stovers own and operate Appalachian Mountain Specialty Foods from a 30-by-60-foot facility in their hometown of Spencer.
They produce several sauces, a Bloody Mary mix, glazes, a pickling brine and salad dressings — including the original Wilted Lettuce Salad Dressing. They have since kept the original products and have added a few of their own to grow the Appalachian Mountain Specialty Foods brand.
Saturday the couple made the trip to Richwood for the city’s annual Feast of the Ramson. There they sold several of their products — showcasing their special Uncle Roy’s Old Fashioned Ramp Dressing.
Every one of the Stover’s products has a story behind it.
The ramp dressing is named after Greg’s 94-year-old uncle, Roy Bazzarre, who first introduced him to ramps and the ramp festival. Greg attended his first ramp festival in 1972 with his uncle and said the dressing is a tribute to his uncle’s love for the West Virginia delicacy.
But that’s not the couple’s only tie to Richwood and the town’s famous ramps.
For more than 60 years, Veronica’s family has owned a 100-acre farm in Richwood, where they grow and forage for ramps to make the dressing.
Appalachian Mountain Specialty Foods introduced the new dressing two years ago at the festival in Richwood, where it has continued to be a top seller.
Several guests in line Saturday were eager to purchase the dressing, remembering it from the previous year.
“I thought, what a better place to introduce it than the ramp festival?” Greg said, standing next to a printed sign advertising the dressing.
“It’s special coming here to the ramp capital of the world and be able to sell ramp dressing.”
The dressing is more of a “ramp Italian.” Because ramps are known for their strong oniony flavor and scent, the Stovers said it was important to them to make the ramp dressing mild.
“It has the flavor of ramps. It’s not overbearing, so you can taste it and not wear it,” Greg said. “It’s made with West Virginia ramps by West Virginians.”
Appalachian Mountain Food Service’s Old Fashioned Wilted Lettuce Salad Dressing is also a testament to an Appalachian tradition.
The Stovers are both West Virginia natives who grew up eating salad with wilted lettuce dressing. The dressing typically calls for bacon grease — however, their recipe uses canola oil instead, as a healthier option. They kept the recipe from the company’s original owners as a testament.
They also sell an Orange-Berry Basil Salad Dressing, a Zest Sauce marinade, a Real McCoy Mustard Sauce, a Mason-Dixon Mix’N Glaze, an Old Fashioned Pickling Brine and Veronica’s own award-winning Bloody Mary Mix.
The Copperhead Bloody Mary Mix also has a family back story.
Veronica’s son, Skyler Powell, was bitten by a copperhead snake a few years ago. After four days in the hospital, he was able to return home healthy. But the name of the native West Virginia snake stood out to them.
“[Veronica] would always take a brand-name Bloody Mary mix and add something to it because she wanted a bite,” Greg said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we make our own?’ So this is her recipe. She wanted to name it something with a bite and I said, ‘Well, what about a copperhead? Skyler got bit by a copperhead. There’s your bite.’ ”
The mix is a blend of tomato and lime juices, red wine vinegar and their own spice blend with an added kick of horseradish to give it a “bite.”
The mix has become so popular it’s served in bars and restaurants across the state, including The Greenbrier resort.
Appalachian Mountain Specialty Foods products can be found in nearly 80 stores in five states and online.
Products are served and can be purchased in several resorts, restaurants and gift shops — including Stonewall Resort, Tamarack and the Yeager Airport gift shop.
They’re also available at Harding’s Family Restaurant, Fireside Grille in Hurricane, Capitol Market, the Shape Shop and dozens of other locations throughout the state.
The Stovers have shipped products to 48 states and places as far away as St. Thomas and Australia.
Jimmy Seabolt, an assistant manager at Harding’s, said the restaurant has sold the Wilted Lettuce Dressing for as long as he can remember.
“We’ve used it since I’ve worked here, which is 12-plus years. We’ve used it for as long as I can remember,” he said. “It’s a staple on our menu.”
Seabolt said the restaurant has tried several other products from the company, but consistently sells the Wilted Lettuce Dessing. The dressing is also available in 12 and 24-ounce bottles in the restaurant’s gift shop.
For the Stovers, making their products has become a family affair.
Greg and Veronica work in the kitchen creating each of the recipes. They each had two children from previous marriages and have enlisted their children for help. Veronica’s mother hand-labels every bottle they create. They rely on family, friends and their kids to help pick the ramps, hand-bottle each batch they make and even help out with deliveries.
Veronica said that because they are family-owned, she and Greg like to make the deliveries to stores, restaurants and resorts themselves — giving their business a “personal touch.”
Even Uncle Roy, a World War II veteran who is currently 94 years old, has been known to make an appearance and help sell their products at various festivals and events.
“We like to keep that connection,” Veronica said. “We want to make sure when Stonewall Resort, or the Wheeling Artisan center, or there’s places in Charles Town, Bluefield, Huntington, when they call, we’ll be right there. We deliver the product so we can still be that face to the product.”
Even though it’s a lot of hard work to cook, bottle and deliver each of their products, as West Virginia natives, Greg said that’s just how they were raised.
“First and foremost, we’re proud West Virginians,” he said. “We have many influences.”
For information or to purchase Appalachian Mountain Specialty Foods’ products, visit www.zestsauce.com.