Phil Wojtalewicz remembers eating Dorothy Lynch salad dressing as a kid in South Omaha.

He remembers his late grandmother telling him stories about making the orange dressing in the factory in St. Paul, Nebraska, the town where the sweet-and-tangy condiment came into existence.

And he remembers craving a side of Dorothy when he found himself halfway around the world.

“When I went to Iraq, from July 2007 to July 2008, my wife sent me bottles,” Wojtalewicz, 51, said. “I would get a bottle and put it in my side cargo pocket and walk to the mess facility.”

Wojtalewicz, who now lives in Kansas City, said he got lots of his Army buddies turned on to the Midwestern dressing. If they weren’t from the area, they’d never met Dorothy or her signature flavor. He said they ate it on salads and as a dip with cut vegetables.

“I had people who came up to me and asked if they could borrow my bottle of salad dressing,” he said. “Sure, I let them use it.”

Later, Wojtalewicz sent more Dorothy across the world when his nephew, also in the Army, was deployed to Afghanistan.

The story is a familiar one. Nebraskans will do almost anything to get their hands on Dorothy Lynch. Now they have a big reason to celebrate their fellow Nebraska native, because she’s observing 50 years.

For the next year, Tasty-Toppings, the Nebraska-based company that bought the brand 50 years ago, will turn out commemorative bottle designs, run giveaways, sponsor a rib festival and a recipe contest, and hold a special celebration this fall at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

“When we do research on the product, we find that customers view the product almost like a person,” said Kim Bean, the chief operating officer of Dorothy Lynch. “They associate it with home.”

Bean said shipping the dressing around the country and world is a regular practice, and though it’s now distributed in 36 states, most people associate Dorothy with Nebraska.

At Petrow’s Restaurant in midtown Omaha, Dorothy Lynch is on the menu. Manager Krikor Missak said that many customers ask for the dressing by name. Others will ask what the restaurant serves for its French dressing.

“If it’s not Dorothy, they are not going to eat it,” he said. “It’s pretty much Dorothy or die.”

Bean said that although Dorothy will always be a staple on salads, fans of the dressing take it way beyond lettuce.

They use it in barbecue sauce. As a dipping sauce for chicken nuggets. As a substitute for mayonnaise in pasta or potato salads. They use it on hamburgers and hot dogs, on tacos and nachos and some even use it as a substitute for syrup on pancakes.

“The craziest recipe is one for an orange mandarin bundt cake, which came to us from the Iowa State Fair,” Bean said. “I actually thought it was a joke, so I had to try it. It is so good.”

For the record, there was a real woman named Dorothy Lynch. In the late 1940s, she and her husband ran the Legion Club in St. Paul. That’s where she invented the dressing recipe. Tasty-Toppings bought the brand a half-century ago and kept it in Nebraska — the company’s headquarters are in Columbus and its factory is in Duncan.

In 1993, it introduced a fat-free version, and in 2010, the company switched from its classic glass vinegar-style bottle to an hourglass shaped plastic bottle, which makes shipping easier. The latest development to Dorothy came in 2013, when the company changed the formula of the dressing to make it gluten-free.

Wojtalewicz doesn’t need a reason, though, to celebrate his love for Dorothy. He said he feels lucky that he can find it in grocery stores near where he lives in Kansas City, and though he hasn’t been back to St. Paul since he left Nebraska in 1977, he still feels tied to it.

“Like I have always jokingly said, Johnny Sortino’s Pizza is a food group and Dorothy Lynch is a food group, too.”

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