Eventually, he left Alaska and migrated south with his wife, Gayle, and the couple purchased a 120-acre ranch near Santa Barbara, California. They changed its name from Sweetwater Ranch to Hidden Valley Guest Ranch and began hosting tourists, who took in the natural beauty of the Santa Ynez mountains, rode horses, and ate plenty of Henson's unique buttermilk dressing made from a dry mix of garlic, onions, herbs, spices, and a bit of mayonnaise. The reaction? Guests were in love -- not with just the scenery, but also the salad. (Though the drinks may have helped. Rumor has it things got pretty wild back in the day at Hidden Valley Guest Ranch.)
It was tradition for Henson to send visitors home with a souvenir jar of dressing. Guests would frequently order even more dry seasoning packets via mail and demand became so large that in 1964, Henson began putting the packets on sale at Kelly’s Korner, a grocery store in Santa Barbara. It quickly flew off the shelves, and it was obvious that ranch was a hit. Soon after that, the Hensons gave up the dude ranch business and dove into making the dressing full-time.
In 1972, Henson unloaded his cash cow by selling the rights to the brand and product to Clorox for a cool $8 million. It was the bleach company's idea to transform the dressing mix into a shelf-stable bottle of creamy dressing in 1983, launching a flavor revolution throughout the country. From there, it was a quick slide into crazy popularity, becoming a dip in the late ‘80s, and then, in 1992, overtaking Italian as the country’s most popular salad dressing (where, according to consumer market information company NDP, it remains).
Henson, who died in 2007, was smart enough to trademark the “Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing” name, but failed to coin “ranch dressing." Oops. A number of forward-thinking companies glommed onto the phrase and started cashing in on the new star of the salad world. The combination of tangy buttermilk, herby dill, zesty alliums, and mustard became extremely profitable for everyone -- especially the snack industry. In 1986, only three years after the bottled dressing launched, Doritos released its iconic Cool Ranch flavor.