Best Dressed Associates, Inc.
Spring 2016 Catalyst
If you grew up in central Pennsylvania, chances are you’re familiar with Gazebo Room Dressing and Marinade (and the accompanying radio jingle). The Gekas family first started crafting the renowned dressing in 1959, at the former Ranch Restaurant on Second and Locust Streets in Harrisburg. Patriarch George Gekas — no affiliation with the former Congressman — perfected the recipe as an accompaniment for cold-cut submarine sandwiches. It later became the house dressing at the Locust Street Café at the same location, and later at the famed Gazebo Room restaurant, where its popularity soared.
“We sold the dressing in recycled liquor bottles from the restaurant in 1973 until our first official packaging in August 1989. The popularity of the dressing, whether at the restaurant our off the shelves, has been a blessing that happens only in America,” recalls Nick Gekas, owner of Best Dressed Associates, Inc. — the company that manufactures the dressing today.
Nick and his brother, Steven, incorporated Best Dressed Associates when the Gazebo Room was still in operation. When the restaurant closed its doors after decades of success, an exciting new era in the family business was born when Best Dressed began trading with its first major distributor — Super Rite Foods, Inc. in Harrisburg. By 1994, the business was relocated to a 5,000 square foot facility in Mechanicsburg that housed the tools for a larger scale production.
Fast forward to today, and Best Dressed is staffed by 11 employees that are housed in a 70,000 square foot facility in Lewisberry, PA. This enormous space is necessary to meet the ever-growing demand for the original dressing, along with a light version and a Balsamic Vinaigrette that has also been flying off the shelves.
“Our products are found in every supermarket in central Pennsylvania,” Gekas says. “We have a very strong and growing presence in the Mid-Atlantic region. Most recently, we’ve expanded our footprint through Walmart distribution centers from New York to South Carolina and by contracting with large distributorships in Illinois and Texas, which is giving us a growing presence in the Midwest.”
The company is currently developing new products in the hope that it will give them the added legitimacy to expand into new markets, while strengthening their presence in existing markets. A future goal is to grow southward, and introduce their dressings into the larger supermarket chains that dominate the southeast.
Even as the brand grows, Best Dressed intends to stay right here in Pennsylvania. Nick Gekas says they have always felt fortunate that the area is home to many large grocers and retailers. In the early days, this enabled them to grow through word of mouth recommendation and invest hard-earned dollars upgrading systems, automation and efficiency. “We are truly grateful for our loyal customers who have brought our products into their homes and made us a part of their family,” Gekas said. “We love living in an area where we have so much face to face interaction with the consumer. Not a week goes by where either Steven or I will meet a regular user of the products and they’re so anxious to tell us how long they’ve been a customer whether at the restaurant or with the dressings, their favorite dressing recipe or how they ship it across the country. They sometimes even ask about our parents.”
As far as challenges, Best Dressed has had to find efficiencies on the production side and commodity purchasing, as they’re not always able to acquire the ingredients they need at competitive pricing. They address these issues by reinforcing a commitment to quality products and meeting their retail goals without passing costs down to the customer. They’ve also been able to get out in front of issues that could pose problems in the future. For instance, an anticipated wave of Food Safety Regulation has led Best Dressed to engage a third party auditing system to document all food safety practices. As new regulations are sure to emerge over time, the company is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the curve and comply.
“The recipe [for our dressing] is easy,” Gekas concludes. “When you make a product with a commitment to quality, the only additional ingredient needed is hard work.”