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Where the Buffalo Roam

In Cody, Wyoming, where crisp skies and snow-peaked mountains are always in view and Wrangler jeans are standard wear, Caitlyn Dallinger, BBA ’93, has carved a successful business into the landscape of a rugged western town.

From her love of outdoor living and her passion for cooking grew her company, Wild West Spices. Started in 1995 by Dallinger and her mother, the company manufactures and sells “Rocky Mountain inspired spice blends.” Names like Wyoming Steak Rub, Campfire Game Rub, and Buckin’ Horseradish Dip top the list of her creative spice products.

This 30-year-old New England native first visited Cody as a worker on a guest ranch during her college summers as a GW business student. She loved it so much that she moved to Cody right after graduation.

“The natural lifestyle appealed to me. It’s a real tight, embracing community,” she says. On her way to work, she waves to everyone on the highway because she only passes about 10 cars in 30 minutes.

Yet Cody also is a major tourist area just outside the doorsteps of Yellowstone National Park. “It’s all mountains and pine trees and elk. This spring we had grizzly and black bears about 25 feet from our office door.”

Her first jobs in Cody were as a cook on organized outdoor tours on horseback. (She wasn’t experienced enough to be hired as a horseback riding guide.) During these camp trips, she and a group of campers or hunters would ride horseback for several hours into the woods, and set up camps and an outdoor kitchen. They would ride and move their camps every couple of days through the park.

Her idea for the spice company came from wanting to have better food for the hunters. Dallinger worked with a company to help create her product line and used her business training to start. At GW, she had concentrated in small business entrepreneurship, taking classes from Professors Charles Toftoy and Lois Graff.

“I had always wanted to start something on my own, but I really didn’t have something real specific in mind. And you kind of have to be a jack of all trades out here—I tried to find a regular job, but it’s almost all seasonal work. I knew that if I wanted to stay here, I was going to have to make my own job.”

About a hundred specialty stores nationwide now sell Wild West Spices products. While most are kitchen or gourmet gift stores, sporting goods stores have started to sell the products in their hunting sections. She also has an active telephone sales business based on her mail catalog.

Dallinger just launched an Internet site (wildwestspices.com). She also sells her popular products from booths at various festivals and holiday food shows. “Wyoming steak rub is our top selling blend by far,” she says. “It’s spicy with crushed red pepper and garlic—this is beef country.”

It’s also hunting country—and Dallinger herself has taken up hunting. “Our seasonings are really popular in this area because they’re great on wild game.” There are nonmeat seasonings, too, like the one for potatoes that she derived from her hunting camp recipes, as well as dip and salsa mixes.

“This has been a dream business,” she says. “It’s been hard at times, but it also allows me flexibility. If I worked last weekend, and Wednesday’s a gorgeous day, I just take my horse and go riding. Or I can go move cattle with a friend of mine who has a ranch nearby.”

Riding, cooking, hunting, ranching—and there’s more. Dallinger also is a volunteer firefighter and an active member of Cody’s chamber of commerce, through which she helps to organize the area’s prestigious Buffalo Bill Art Show. She’s even a fashion model for the Western Design Conference that draws designers from across the nation and from Canada.

In keeping with her entrepreneurial spirit, Dallinger is about to embark on another big project—marriage, in June 2002, and a move to Helena, Mont., where her future husband has a job. Dallinger just put Wild West Spices up for sale and hopes to find a good owner and home for the company. She’ll be starting all over again in a new community, bringing her entrepreneurial spirit with her.

—Heather O. Milke