By Jennifer Smith
For many, it was love at first bite. Then not once, but twice, that love went away.
But Den is back and people can’t get enough of the tangy, sweet orange dressing.
“Erie’s love affair with Den dressing dates back to at least the 1950s,” Billy Lewis, owner of The Skunk & Goat Tavern, said, who for the second time in his career is returning the popular product to the table. “It’s exciting to bring Den back to our community.”
The connections to Erie and North East run deep with Den.
The Den Restaurant, which was originally located near Eighth and Peach streets in downtown Erie, was known as one of the area’s most popular restaurants in 1956.
Signature dishes included chicken fricassee, tenderloin steak, seafood and, of course, Den dressing, the unique sauce that was used to top salads, sandwiches and even steak.
As demand for the sauce increased, the Den Restaurant began to sell it by the bottle both in house and at local grocery stores.
But by the 1980s, the restaurant was closed and Den was no longer being made.
That’s when Lewis became an entrepreneur, launching North Coast Processing to produce Den again. Over the next 20 years, Den would become a regional hit with sales expanding to grocery stores in Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Lewis retired from the business in 2015. And by 2018, Den was no longer being produced.
So this spring, after purchasing the brand back from Tree House Foods, Lewis went back to the kitchen, pulled out the original recipe from 1989 and made a batch of Den dressing. It met his family’s approval and the decision was made to craft it in small batches to sell at The Skunk & Goat Tavern.
“The response that first week was incredible,” Annē Lewis, director of marketing for Red Letter Hospitality, the parent company of The Skunk & Goat, said.
“Thank God, I couldn’t live without it,” posted a fan on Facebook.
And she wasn’t the only one. Since the first batch was made on May 28, orders have been coming in from all over Erie and across the United States.
Lewis said while The Skunk & Goat offers cobb salad, taco salad, chicken speidie sandwiches and other special menu items to showcase Den, they are set up to handle online and walk-in orders just for the sauce.
Den Dressing is made fresh in limited quantities and sold in 12-ounce containers only at The Skunk & Goat Tavern.
“It’s hard to say how long each batch will last before selling out,” Annē Lewis said. “After all, love can be unpredictable.”