Everything and the Kitchen Shrink: An ode to Paul Newman and his food philanthropy

Paul Newman was a Hollywood icon for 50 years

His recent passing has brought the nation to tears

Paul's striking looks and brilliant blue eyes lit up the big screen

While he blazed a trail on the philanthropy scene

His "Newman's Own" began as a lark

Now sales top the 250 million mark

Buy his "Virgin Lemonade," drink it in the sun or shade

Pasta "Sockarooni" sauce, popcorn, pretzels, salad dressings

Make his charities filled with blessings. . .

Here's the back-story behind the octogenarian hunk who pioneered a mega successful natural line of food products that is distributed in major supermarkets throughout the U.S. as well as Canada, Europe, Israel, Japan and Australia.

Paul and his author crony, A.E. Hotchner, had a holiday tradition of whipping up batches of their famous salad dressing in Paul's basement, and giving out old wine bottles filled with the stuff to their Westport, Conn., neighbors. This "limited edition" dressing became a coveted commodity especially among local gourmet shops. On a whim the pair thought of marketing the dressing, and invited their friends over to taste test various recipes and choose their fave. And the winner was…Olive Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing which became "Newman's Own" first product launched in 1982.

The quality product with all natural ingredients, and an impish sketch of his famous face on the label, practically made the bottles fly off grocery shelves. One product led to another and soon they added Caesar and Creamy Caesar, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Italian and Ranch dressings, seven varieties of pasta sauce, steak sauce, three strengths of Bandito salsa, Old Fashioned Lemonade and Picture Show popcorn to the product list. The witty and somewhat irreverent promotional copy on the labels was written by Newman and Hotchner themselves, like the "Virgin Lemonade" which was "made from lemons that have never been squeezed."

In six years the company was grossing a cool $36 million – 100 percent of the after-tax profits all being donated to assorted educational and charitable organizations. Newman also founded The Hole in the Wall Gang camps (named after the gang in his "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" film), in the United States and abroad, the latest one in Israel, providing lodging, medical care and recreation for seriously ill children.

In 1998, two "Newman's Own" cookbooks were published - "The Hole in the Wall Gang Cookbook: Kid-Friendly Recipes for Families to Make Together" and "Newman's Own Cookbook," containing recipes using "Newman's Own" products as well as celebrity contributions from his friends Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman and Julia Roberts. The proceeds of these successful books were donated to The Hole in the Wall Gang Fund. The following year the milestone of $100 million in charitable contributions was reached. Today, it exceeds $250 million benefitting over 2000 organizations worldwide.

Fifteen years ago, Newman's third daughter Nell convinced her dad to spin-off into the organic market with "Newman's Own Organics: The Second Generation." These "great products that just happen to be organic" include seven-grain pretzels, chocolate bars, fat-free Fig Newmans, Champion Chip Cookies, Newman-O's, Pop's Corn, Dried Fruit, Soy Crisps, Olive Oil and Balsamic Dressing, Mints, Coffee, Royal Tea and organic pet foods.

Over the years Paul Newman blended his business savvy, charisma, wry sense of humor, discriminating taste buds and philanthropic heart, making "Newman's Own" an international blockbuster - his movie career a hobby in the great scheme of things. Through his legacy, he will continue to please customers and their canines and felines with his divine products, and enrich the lives of so many through his charitable donations. In honor of this beloved humanitarian and actor, here's my recipe contribution, "The Color of Money" Spinach Salad tossed with a warm, "Newman's Own" Olive Oil and Balsamic dressing.

"The Color of Money" Spinach Salad

(where possible, use organics)

  • 1 package of fresh baby spinach
  • 3 ounces of pignolia (pine nuts) or slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup of "Newman's Own" Olive Oil and Balsamic Dressing
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

In a small saucepan, heat the dressing, sugar and mustard. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent. Pour the warm dressing over the spinach leaves. Toss well and sprinkle with the nuts. Enjoy immediately.

   
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