TDS 17 Sarah Bisignano: Beyond Vinegar and Oil, A Legacy Story

Sarah Bisignano in front of bottles of Bisignano’s Italian Salad Dressing

Sarah Bisignano in front of bottles of Bisignano’s Italian Salad Dressing

I realize now that I was a bit giddy when I spoke with Sarah Bisignano about Bisignano’s Italian Salad Dressing & Marinade for The Delicious Story. In short, I’m a fan. It is a delicious salad dressing thanks to its tangy flavor with just the right mix of other seasonings to create a festive and zippy salad. My husband David and I have been buying Bisignano’s for years, of which my only lament had been the size of the bottle (a bit smaller than I’d like). But I paid a premium because it is just so good!

Recently I spotted an article about Sarah and Bisignano’s Salad Dressing featured in a Des Moines Register article. She has rebranded the bottle (changed its size, too!) and is working with a distributor. The article had me wondering anew why I don’t see any marketing for the dressing. It’s in my local Hy-Vee, but there is no website and sparse internet content other than the recent article. I did find mention of Bisignano’s by popular food blogger Iowa Girl Eats, and if she’s talking about it you know the dressing is wonderful…but that’s all you find.

Given that this is The Delicious Story, I decided it was a journalistic imperative to get the backstory on the dressing—and, as fan, I also wanted to know more. It’s sort of funny (and hopefully not creepy) as to how I got in touch with Sarah. With a quick Facebook search I discovered that we share the same hairdresser. I figured a message from a stranger would probably be ignored, and so asked our hairdresser to make an introduction. I think this roundabout way of contact only heightened the celebrity feel of talking with Sarah. She was generous (and I mean beyond generous) in sharing her time to tell the story of the dressing, her venture as a business owner, and touching stories of family for this episode of The Delicious Story.


You’ll want to hear straight from Sarah about how this popular dressing was first created and came to be a beloved product for Des Moines residents, and later Iowans and beyond. The story has wonderful components including a family with strong traditions making for a significant cast that each became local personalities in the restaurant business.

For one, there was Babe Bisignano, who owned the once hugely popular Babe’s in downtown Des Moines for 50 years. It was an institution with an exciting backstory involving bootlegging, gambling and a larger-than-life personality of Babe himself. That the restaurant served great food was an added bonus to its history. I found some wonderful information about Babe in my research, including oral histories donated by Babe and Chuck Opphenburger to the Des Moines Public Library. Far less noteworthy, but an interesting tidbit nonetheless was that I worked a few days at Babe’s before he saw me in action as a waitress and promptly fired me.

In 1956, Chuck Bisignano (Babe’s brother) and his wife Elizabeth launched Chuck’s on the North Side of Des Moines in the Highland Park area. Today, it is still a popular and favorite restaurant that was recently sold for good money. Chuck’s has a long history (since 1992) of supporting the community every Thanksgiving by facilitating and working with volunteers to prepare and deliver meals. And it is also where Bisignano’s Italian Salad Dressing & Marinade was first created. Next up, the evolution of the dressing from house dressing at Chuck’s to product marketed outside of the restaurant is something you’ll surely find inspiring.

Sarah Bisignano has been involved in working for years at Chuck’s along with her Aunt Linda, who eventually took over ownership and ran the restaurant. About five years ago, decisions had to be made about the restaurant and the salad dressing when Linda’s health declined. You’ll want to hear the touching story about how Linda passed on the legacy to Sarah.


I tell you straight up that The Delicious Story is truly a labor of love, and I’ve got the audio editing chops to prove it! Each week I must cut out some of my own peculiar speech habits to make the podcast “listenable.” I tend to repeat myself, repeat myself and say “wow” far too many times. But then there are the other snafus that I mercifully cut out when I make edits. This week, my enthusiasm got the best of me, and I revealed that I’m directionally challenged. One does not tell a North-sider that they are an East-sider or vice versa. (I’m terribly embarrassed in that part of the interview, see if you can hear it.)

I mention this as a segue into explaining the significance of the North side of Des Moines. Established in the 1880s, the business district looks like a little town on its own. Located at 6th and Euclid, many of the buildings are original to when the community was first developed. Chuck’s is housed in one of those buildings, and has been a significant fixture there for years.


Sarah was the epitome of the patient guest on The Delicious Story. She gently corrected me about directions but also about emulsification, too. See, my only issue with Bisignano’s Italian Salad Dressing & Marinade is the fact that I can’t get it on my salad fast enough.

The oil (you’ll be surprised by the oil used for the dressing) and vinegar along with all the other tasty ingredients are not emulsified in Bisignano’s dressing, so you need to be the one to do this before each pour. I usually don’t shake long enough, which makes my first pour lopsided.

Sarah explained that with just a few more seconds effort to really shake up the ingredients I will enjoy a much tastier result. For more about the science behind emulsification, check out this post over at Food52. All the other ingredients in the dressing—with a good robust shaking—will create Bisignano’s dressing nirvana.

Next, Sarah’s lovely story of a memorable meal is a treat for the ears. You can just imagine this family gathering where huge trays of Pastachina are served. The dish sounds marvelous—warm and flavorful, the kind of casserole that sticks to your ribs for an eternity. My only problem here was that I couldn’t find out more about the name of the casserole or the history behind it. If you, dear listener, know of something, please share! In the meantime, here is a recipe found over at Good Food.

Doesn’t everyone have a go-to casserole that serves as the absolute comfort food? Sarah shares a touching story of her mom and tuna noodle casserole. I can relate to this dish being a favorite of mine, too.

The thing with tuna noodle casserole is that the elements pulled together are each so unassuming—tuna, egg noodles, a can of mushroom soup and the crunchy bits of cracker or breadcrumb sprinkled on the top—but combine in one dish in a blanket of love. And, in my opinion, every casserole of this sort is best served with applesauce on the side.


But as I digress to casseroles, we do come back to talking about Sarah and the dressing. Currently, you can find Bisignano’s Italian Salad Dressing & Marinade on shelves at Hy-Vee and Fareway. Sarah explains that the recent repackaging project and her work with a distributor will soon mean online ordering and other locations for store-bought bottles in the future.

As for me, I’ll be marinating vegetables in it this weekend and grilling them, all ready for a kick of Bisignano’s dressing. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Knowing the history and how local this dressing is just adds to the delicious nature of it.