Published: August 29, 2023 | Updated: August 24, 2023

Ranch revitalization

Dan Stephens, or Uncle Dan, decided to be a millionaire by May 8, 1971. He wrote it down, started Uncle Dan's Salad Dressings, Dips and Seasonings.

Dan Stephens, or Uncle Dan, decided to be a millionaire by May 8, 1971. He wrote it down, started Uncle Dan's Salad Dressings, Dips and Seasonings.

COEUR d'ALENE — Dan Stephens was at the crux of a whirlwind of life-changing opportunities in the winter of 1966. He had a baby due in a matter of weeks, he had a tasty flavor profile on his mind from a dinner party, and a Dale Carnegie traveling salesman had made him a pitch at the front door. The salesman sold Stephens a book for $1: “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. It would forever change the course of Stephens' life.

“My dad goes and he gets his hands on as much of the product that Linda served at a dinner party in 1964, and he takes it to an agronomist in Seattle,” Chris Stephens said.

His father took a recipe breakdown from the agronomist and tweaked the flavor profile.

“Bang, Uncle Dan’s Original Southern Salad Dressing was born in April of 1966,” Chris Stephens said.

And so was he, just a few months earlier.

The elder Stephens decided he would make his first million by May 8, 1971, wrote it in a letter to himself, and achieved that goal within months of his target.

“He chose to feed people, and I don’t think there's really anything better we can do,” Chris Stephens said.

Uncle Dan’s is a dry mix, dip and seasoning manufacturer, and Chris Stephens is the president.

“Everything we do is a dry powder,” Chris Stephens said. “There are no preservatives in our products so our manufacturing process is much cleaner. Uncle Dan’s just makes anything taste better, it makes anything easier.”

By about 1974, Uncle Dan’s had reached eight western states before pulling back from California and Arizona.

Dan Stephens didn’t want to go fully national at the time, with the expense to expand and the potential loss of independence.

“When I started this company the idea was to keep it super simple,” Dan Stephens said. “I didn’t want to have any more employees than was absolutely necessary.”

When Chris Stephens joined the company in 2013, he began to steer Uncle Dan’s to prioritize manufacturing.

“The last 10 years that I’ve been on board has been all about revitalization of the brand,” Chris Stephens said.

Uncle Dan’s bought land in Hayden and built the manufacturing plant in 2018. The company went through the dramatic learning curve of starting production and quickly spread across Canada, jus as COVID-19 hit.

But the company weathered those storms, like many others over the last 50 years.

“Now what Chris has done is taken it a couple of steps further,” Dan Stephens said. “He talked us into getting into the packaging business. And things have been going smoothly.”

Now Uncle Dan’s seasoning is being sold in over 55 Walmart stores, without compromising the integrity of real ingredients.

“That’s a core value,” Chris Stephens said. “Our customers are crazy loyal to our brand. We should’ve been bought out a long time ago, but there’s such a good love for the product from the consumer level.”

Chris Stephens wants to expand his father's company to be so large that he’s fielding ridiculous offers to buy it - offers he will reject.

“I don’t want to sell this company,” he said. “My goal for Uncle Dan’s in the next 15 to 20 years is that we will turn this into a $100 million company.”

Chris Stephens may decide to move the manufacturing plant from Hayden to Post Falls, with some friction he’s been up against in city hall, but he still plans to stay local to North Idaho and grow. He’ll continue to bring millions of dollars in tax revenue and industry jobs to the region.

“I never got into this business to build a legacy, but as a result of the business there is a legacy in it,” Dan Stephens said.

Stephens wants to build on what his father has accomplished, with his own flair and vision of the future.

“My Dad … made a great name for himself, was rocking and rolling, he was a rock star,” Chris Stephens said. “You wanted to be part of Dan’s team, you wanted to be part of his entourage. If you were making him dimes, he was giving you dollars.”

Dan Stephens will meet his friend Linda of over 60 years in Sun Valley next month for a memorial service. She was the woman who introduced him to the original spice mix that inspired Uncle Dan’s and helped him choose the original flavor sample that would become Uncle Dan’s original recipe. He’ll serve her Uncle Dan’s on the salad at her son’s memorial.

“Our product is made popular by word of mouth,” Dan Stephens said. “The loyalty is from the fact that it’s a really good product.”

Dan Stephens was a community figure who brought Uncle Dan’s to every table in the Panhandle region before ranch was even a thing, and Chris Stephens wants to add to that legacy.

“I don’t think you could build the business the way that he did, anymore,” he said.


Photo courtesy of CHRIS STEPHENS

Chris Stephens, now president of Uncle Dan's Salad Dressings, Dips and Seasonings, will lead the company to be a $100 million company, he said, controlling more of production and distribution in house in Hayden.


Photo courtesy of CHRIS STEPHENS

A letter Dan Stephens wrote to himself committing to being a millionaire by May 8, 1971. He reached his goal within months of that date.