Paul Sturkey is standing in the midst of chaos.

Chaos being defined as the city's newest and largest Kroger superstore, the mammoth grocery anchoring And-erson Towne Centre on the city's east side. At this moment, Sturkey is fending off his fans, lined up six and seven deep in front of the curtained display table, where the Cincinnati chef is supposed to be tossing up samples of his famed salads and accompanying bottled dressings.

Instead, the man can barely get a word "” or a toss "” in edgewise, as eager shoppers jostle each other for a position to chat with the chef they've come to know via his local and national television appearances, his citywide chain of independent restaurants, and "” yes "” his now nearly ubiquitous line of salad dressings.

As the melee continues, Sturkey shrugs. "It's simply part of the job," he notes. "The job" being to pitch the line of bottled salad dressings that he and his wife, Pam Sturkey, are unleashing on a hefty portion of the country via the Kroger chain.

"It's been fun," Paul says. "We've become the couple on the bottle."

Both Sturkeys are graduates of the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y. After working in Akron at Tangier restaurant, they opened Sturkey's Restaurant in the posh neighborhood of Wyoming about six years ago. The fare is upscale and contemporary, as opposed to the other Sturkey restaurants in the market, an empire of Encore Cafes that stretch from West Chester to Springboro, serving casual meals.

If his face seems familiar, it ought to be. Paul Sturkey is seen Sunday mornings on Channel 9 WCPO, on Jay Shatz's Around the House program. He's also a regular on the DIY network, and has even been asked to be a guest on Good Morning America. He was recently named by Ebony magazine as one of the country's top African-American chefs.

And then there are those bottles of the Sturkeys' famous salad dressing. Paul and Pam appear, decked out in chef's apparel, on every label of Sturkey's Gourmet House Dressing and Sturkey's Gourmet Lite House Dressing. "One woman told me she turns the bottles around inside her fridge, because otherwise we're staring at her when she opens the door," laughs Paul.

How Paul and Pam Sturkey became the Cincinnati equivalent of Paul Newman and Newman's Own is a tale of eager customers and unintended consequences. The pair say they certainly never imagined a factory churning out thousands of bottles for markets that stretch from Akron to Atlanta.

The rollout is picking up speed. Hundreds of cases of the bottled dressings are making their way into bigg's, Meijer, and Kroger stores across the region, as well as such specialty independents as Jungle Jim's grocery and the Party Source gourmet food aisles. At $3.99 a bottle, that's a whole lot of product "” and profit.

The creamy balsamic dressing, along with a companion "lite" version, is a bit different from most bottled balsamics, Paul explains. There are no preservatives, and the recipe includes the proverbial "secret" spices (or as secret as the FDA will let you be these days on the nutritional label).

"This dressing was our house dressing when we opened Sturkey's in 1998," he adds. "My wife and I didn't want the normal oil and vinegar. So we whipped it up into a creamy mix. A little of it goes a long way on a salad." And a little salad dressing translates into fewer calories, fewer carbs.

As patrons of the restaurant began asking for the house concoction, the menu's other dressings dropped by the wayside. "People were asking if we could box an extra serving of the dressing to go. After a while, I said to myself, 'Self, what a marketing opportunity we have here. Let's bottle it.' "

The Paul Sturkey Bottling Co. officially began production at the Rea-ding facility in October 2003. A thousand cases every couple of months, tens of thousands of bottles. "It's been fun to watch it grow. ... I'm addicted to it. It's been huge."

Plans call for an entire line of gourmet products: There's already the bottled spice (recommended on popcorn and in soups) and the new lite version of the dressing, with a sesame ginger sauce in the offing. Expect next some sweet entries from Pam, who has long made her mark as a pastry chef (her Bailey's Chocolate Cheese-cake Cake is on USA Today's short list of "Best Restaurant Desserts in America"). "I am working on ice cream and dessert toppings such as chocolate caramel, chocolate raspberry, and caramel cashew. It's always possible the Chocolate Bailey's Cheesecake Cake could be produced in the future. I'll never say never about that."

The online portion of the business (www.sturkeys.com) is busier than expected as well, Paul Sturkey says. "Apparently, people visit here, try the dressing at our restaurants, then get back to their [states] and find they're hooked."

The Sturkeys are trying their best not to let this lucrative sideline hurt the franchise itself, the restaurants. Sturkey is painfully aware that his industry is changing fast. "There's a whole lot more chain restaurants coming to Cincinnati. The independent restaurateur is really challenged and must listen to his customers.

"We're a guest-first company that weighs the customer's opinion against our current business practices." He also employs "secret shoppers" to implement his "Inspect What I Expect" policy in the restaurant chain.

Back at the Kroger superstore, Chef Paul is still doling out salad samples three hours after he's begun. "They love to meet me," he says of his constituency. "They taste the dressing and fall in love with it. They end up buying every bottle in the store.

"I think I am just going to ride it out, take it one day at a time, one product at a time. This will get the kids through college. Our 7-year-old and 5-year-old thank you."