Sitting among the offhand hipsterdom of Fox in the Snow Café, Dara Schwartz, in her brilliant pink and orange, is a shiny flamingo in a sea of monochromatic tones and black skinny jeans. Matching the newly hatched spring weather, her brightness and enthusiasm is just as intoxicating…especially when she is talking dips.
Schwartz is the entrepreneurial mind behind the flamboyant Darista Dips, the Ohio-proud line of healthy condiments that has added a rainbow of deliciousness to local shelves. As colorful as their maker, the deeply-hued concoctions take the go-to snack and turn it into an almost hallucinatory experience. From the bright fuchsia of the Step It Up A Beet hummus to the sunset hues of the Morockin’ Carrot dip, these are spreads that spark conversation.
A former advertising and marketing creative director, Schwartz has always been interested in foods.
“Especially when I travel, I like to immerse myself in the culture through the lens of food,” the Chicago-native said. “There’s something magical about meeting some locals and then being invited to their home for dinner…it moved my world.”
In 2006, a trip to Thailand proved to be the defining moment in her relationship with cuisine. She had a Thai “mom” and they would sit and talk for hours about life and food and faith and friendship. “I had this other, I don’t know how to describe it, this cosmic experience when I was visiting a monastery. There was a dying monk who was said to have reached the highest level of enlightenment and I was invited to pray for him, which was an incredible intimate and private moment.”
“And I thought, how can I tell this story? Something about it changed me life, I don’t what,” she mused. “How can I put these intimate stories on the plate, not the actual experience, but the inspiration, the enriching flavors.”
The telling of the story began when Schwartz realized that she couldn’t just dream about creating with food anymore; that it was “go time.” To immerse herself in the world of food, she stayed at the agency and worked evenings as a barista at Stauf’s. “I would be doing strategy and creating branding for multi-million dollar corporations and then go to Stauf’s,” she said, “and Stauf’s became the job I liked best…I could drop my junk on the floor and just go to work and get geeked out because a couple from Italy would point at me and say, ‘I want her to make my espresso shot.’”
From there it was off to the line at Barcelona. Throughout the journey, Schwartz was picking up knowledge and mentors. “Barcelona took a chance on me, I walked in there—I hadn’t gone to culinary school or anything—and said I love to cook and I am a fast learner.”
To honor the German Village restaurant’s faith in her, the latest Darista Dip is ¡Que Bueno! Piquillo roasted red pepper hummus, an ode to her former employer. “My favorite is the Morockin’ Carrot,” she said wistfully. “But lately, I’ve been secretly obsessed with the Que Bueno…I feel like I am cheating.”
Following Barcelona, Schwartz decided to hang her own menu and “popped up” regularly at the Hill’s Market Worthington.
Nowadays, however, it’s wholesale or bust for the growing company. Starting with three flavors in four stores and growing to five flavors in 19 stores, including many of the independent grocery stores such as Weiland’s, Hill’s, and Huffman’s, the co-ops in Bexley and Clintonville, and recently all local Giant Eagle Market Districts, Schwartz houses her operation at the OSU Food Manufacturing Plant. Inside, it’s edible paintball with a pop soundtrack. “Music is definitely key,” she laughed. “Someone yells, ‘Give me a beat!’ and here comes Janet Jackson—our aprons are covered in all the different colors of the dips…we look like art!”
Coming up with the flavor combinations is a matter of dipping into her own taste memories and working out the flavor combinations. She is obsessed with spice, in love with lemongrass and coconut milk, and inspired by pomegranate molasses. “Cumin is my main squeeze,” she said with a laugh.
“I am not the most usual person, and people would say, ‘why in the world are you launching with these crazy flavors?’ Well, this is me, this is my brand. It wouldn’t be my story—my story is fusion and worldly ingredients, I want people to engage and learn more—What is harissa? In Morocco, they use it like ketchup.”
Celebrating the company’s first anniversary, Schwartz has words of praise for everyone who has contributed to her success, but especially the local markets.
“I couldn’t have done this without the support of the small local stores, they take the risk,” she said. “These stores are the catalyst to any local growth. If we go regional, it’s because of the partnerships with the local stores. I am super thrilled and grateful for all the growth this first year,” she said, her words and smile as dazzling as the colors of the rainbow. “I love it here; I can’t imagine myself outside Columbus.”