‘Dip lady’ stirs up success at home

07/08/2010 12:00 AM |


Being a stay-at-home mom isn’t easy, and most families know it. With new jobs hard to find and the American economy just barely recovering from a debilitating recession, many Long Island couples find it next to impossible to support a family with mom still at home.

At least one mother is changing the norm.

Meet Melissa Dunstatter, owner of Sweet Melissa Dips and Gourmet Catering in Rocky Point, a unique, homegrown company that sells over 450 different kinds of dips, rubs and marinades to families across eastern Long Island.

Ms. Dunstatter launched her business in 2005 with the belief that women shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice time with family to pay the bills. Five years later, her home-based dip business is growing like wildfire.

“Everybody knows me as the dip lady,” Ms. Dunstatter said. “People love the names, they love the flavors and they love how healthy the dips are … and I get to do it all at home with my husband and 5-year-old son.”

Every weekend, Ms. Dunstatter takes her dips and spreads to fairs across eastern Long Island, like Greenport’s annual Arts and Crafts Fair and Riverhead’s annual Country Fair. At each event, she sets up a small booth complete with tasting stations and a whole selection of dips for people to purchase. During the week, she stays at home with her son, Devin, combining different varieties of herbs to create new flavors and keep her customers hungry for more.

“Some people come to my booth, they look around and they say something like ‘Cilantro? I hate cilantro!’ But then they try my cilantro dip and they end up walking away with $20 worth of dips,” Ms. Dunstatter said. “Every year I try to come up with something different, and in all honesty, the business is taking off more and more. It’s never had a setback.”

Ms. Dunstatter creates all her dips from dehydrated herbs and vegetables grown mostly by local farmers and gardeners, including herself. She cultivates a small herb garden on her one-acre property and dries the herbs by hanging them upside down on racks. Once dehydrated, the herbs crumble into the dried spices commonly kept in pantries and kitchen cabinets. Ms. Dunstatter, however, takes the process one step further. She combines different varieties of herbs and sells the unique mixes for $4 a packet. Just mix the packaged herbs with sour cream or yogurt and you’ve got a mouth-watering dip ready to serve.

“People use the dips for everything,” she said. “Once you have the bases, you can play around and make different creations, and it can just go on and on and on … and anybody can plant herbs — a little bit of water, a little bit of sun, and you’re good to go.”

Ms. Dunstatter began toying with the idea of starting her own business in 2005, when she met a young woman selling homemade sauces at a craft fair in Syosset. She was pregnant with Devin at the time, and pursuing a career in criminal law, but something told her she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

“I said to myself, ‘I should be doing something with food, too. I love food!’â” Ms. Dunstatter said. “And after that, it just took off.”

Today, she has expanded the Sweet Melissa line to include drinks, soups and hundreds of different kinds of rubs and marinades for grilling fish, steak or chicken. Her lifelong dream is to open a hot wing business in her hometown of Rocky Point, where she would use her special flavors and dips to create hundreds of different hot wings. Until then, she’s happy staying at home with her husband and son, mixing new varieties of herbs and inspiring other moms in the region to follow their dreams.

“There’s a lot of women nowadays who need that extra inspiration,” she said. “They need that little nudge that says, ‘You can be a stay-at-home mom and you can have that business. You can follow your dreams and you can be successful.’ It’s so much more rewarding when you do something that you actually like and it works.”

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