The Sensation Salad holds a special place in the hearts of those who live in Baton Rouge. Popularized by the now-closed Government Street restaurant Bob and Jake’s, this simple salad is served with a zesty dressing made with oil, lemon juice, garlic, and Romano cheese. And while it is a Red Stick signature, there was a time not all that long ago when Sensation Salad devotees could find the beloved dressing only at restaurants. Today, Sensation dressing is on hundreds of shelves throughout the Southeast thanks to Baton Rouge native Richard Hanley, who started Hanley’s Foods with his wife, Kate, in 2012.
“I was going to the store, and I was questioning why you could never buy a bottle of Sensation,” Richard says. “It’s this delicious dressing that’s found in all these restaurants, and everyone talks about it, but you can never get a bottle. And so, my wife and I had the idea of, hey, why don’t we just make a version of it?”
The couple began hosting what they call “salad parties,” where they would make a few variations and invite friends over to have them vote on which recipe they liked best. Once they settled on their winning recipe, they bottled it up and brought it to the Red Stick Farmers Market in downtown Baton Rouge, where they sold out in just two hours.
After that initial success, Richard and Kate decided to quit their day jobs and formed Hanley’s Foods. They later teamed up with the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator program, which offers startup food companies the resources and tools to grow and bring their products to market. Hanley’s still makes their products at the Food Incubator, with the help of food science students, and they hope to grow to where they can build their own facility one day.
In addition to its flagship Sensation Dressing, Hanley’s offers six other bottled dressings, which include Avocado, Sweet Créole Mustard, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette, Strawberry Vinaigrette, and Créole Ranch. The company makes everything from scratch, including the bases for the dressings. For example, they ferment mustard seeds for 48 hours to make their own mustard for the Sweet Créole Mustard, and they make their own pepper jelly for the Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette. They also produce dressings in large quantities for local restaurants and other food service customers.
In addition to salad dressings, Hanley’s has ventured into producing salad toppers, including Sensation Po-Boy Croutons and Bacom Bits (faux bacon bits made from mushrooms, spices, and oil). Richard and Kate got the idea for Bacom Bits after accidentally burning a batch of mushrooms.
Since the early days selling Sensation Dressing at the Red Stick Farmers Market, Hanley’s has expanded and is now sold at nearly 1,000 grocery stores and online, bringing a taste of Baton Rouge to customers all over.
- 2 romaine hearts, halved lengthwise, rinsed, and patted dry
- 24 peeled and deveined large fresh shrimp
- ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup Hanley’s Sensation Dressing
- Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly spray with cooking spray. Working in batches, placeromaine halves, cut side down, onto grill pan. Cook until grill marks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
- Working in batches, add shrimp to grill pan, and cook until pink and firm, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
- Place romaine, grilled side up, on a serving platter. Top with shrimp, tomatoes, onion, and parsley. Drizzle with dressing. Serve immediately.