“Learn about one of the greatest business opportunities ever offered to the American public,” the ad said. “Your cost is dinner at Mr. Steer.”

So I went to Mr. Steer, at Belmont and Lincoln, to find out what the great business opportunity was. There, at a table near the rear, was Marcia Dalenberg. She lives a few blocks away and is a tax accountant and consultant by trade. Her head was tilted to one side and she looked a little forlorn. No one else had shown up. She looked like she’d been startled out of a daydream when I told her I’d come to find out about one of the greatest business opportunities ever offered to the American public.

Dalenberg had already ordered–catfish lemon pepper style–so I just ordered the salad bar and an Old Style.

“Separate checks?” the waitress asked.

Dalenberg said yes before the waitress even got both words out. Then she said to me, “You should try the prime rib dinner here on Friday night. It’s really good and not expensive.”

Except for some construction workers arguing noisily a few tables away, the restaurant was basically empty. When one of them walked out, cursing, it became totally quiet.

Then, over Marcia’s catfish and my salad bar melange, Dalenberg told me what the business opportunity was.

Chinese herbal concentrates.

“Everyone’s into herbs today,” said Dalenberg. “They’re popular and chic. They help you stop craving the wrong foods. I go to a lot of business meetings with my clients and look at a lot of their business papers–and I have quite an educated opinion about these things.”

The Chinese herbal concentrates Dalenberg was talking about–in the hopes I’d want to sell them too, and become a rich woman–undergo processing that leaves their “synergistic structure intact.”

Dalenberg said that a while back a friend had called her and asked her how she felt. “I felt terrible, I said. My health was terrible. I had high blood pressure and asthma and arthritis.” So the friend hooked her up with an opera singer who, with his pianist wife, was selling Chinese herbal concentrates. They had gotten into the business through the pianist at the Chicago Symphony.

Dalenberg said she started using a hundred dollars’ worth of Chinese herbal concentrates every week– concoctions and capsules with names like Nuplus, Calli, and Quinary. After a year, she figured, why pay retail? For $35, she got a Chinese-herbal-concentrate business of her own. She became a pusher–and now she gets the company rebate for products she buys herself and for sales to other people–and for sales to people they sell to, etc. She said she has indirectly brought 287 people into the business.

She said she makes about $1,000 per month. “I played it smart,” she said.

“Do you know anything about multilevel marketing?” she asked me. “Everyone looks down on a pyramid. But the government’s a pyramid. There’s the president, the senators, the congressmen, and the citizens. And mainstream business is a pyramid. There’s the CEO [and management] and workers. And all retailing is a pyramid. Everything is a pyramid.”

Marcia had a big white pad on which she had outlined all this information–much of it highlighted in red pyramids. She kept turning pages, creating a swirl or words, numbers, dollar signs, and percentages.

I ordered another Old Style.

Dalenberg said her business was a legal pyramid, unlike an illegal one, which requires front-loading–spending thousands of dollars up front for products that are often impossible to sell and end up cluttering up garages and basements.

Dalenberg said her company, which is run by a Taiwanese doctor of traditional medicine who lives in Torrance, California, only requires a small monthly outlay for products, which can be used by the salesperson or sold to other customers who have discovered the benefits of Chinese herbal concentrates.

“We’re told not to sell the product if you’re not eating it yourself. How can you tell someone what it does if you’re not doing it yourself? [The founder] is very particular about that. When he came here in the 70s, he knew no English. He couldn’t even make a phone call. Now he has a degree in pharmacology and is a research biochemist,even though his syntax still isn’t any good.”

Dalenberg turned a page to a listing of every level in the pyramid. It’s possible at one level to earn anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 per month, she claimed, pointing to the chart. The company generates over $300 million every year. “There’s a lot put into research and development,” Dalenberg said.

“J. Paul Getty said he’d rather have 100 people working for him–rather than 100 percent of himself working for him. If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot.”

She pointed out that salespeople in the Orient, at some levels, do better with sales and recruits than their American counterparts. “There is a tremendous demand for the products in Cambodia,” she explained. “But the products aren’t allowed in Cambodia, which makes the people there crave them even more. So they are smuggled through Thailand.”

Then she pointed out that the American tae kwon do team, devoted users of the products, beat the Korean team in the Olympics. “And it is their Korean national sport!

“These herbs are prized all over the world,” she said. Hawaii, Canada, Germany, Australia–even at an Oriental restaurant on Belmont near Dalenberg’s house. “The owners are my customers,” she said.

“Nothing is ever sprayed on the herbs. If anything ever was, and our founder found out about it, he’d turn them back, or destroy them. At the pharmaceutical factory in Taiwan, where the herbs are processed, the water coming out of the factory is cleaner than the water that goes in. Of course, the water that comes out from the toilets is kept separate, you understand.”

Dalenberg said that she was ready to go for the big time. She wants to build her customer base, and increase the number of people she has selling under her. She wants to make $50,000 to $100,000 a year if she can–and qualify for the car- and home-ownership bonus.

She got Jell-O and bread pudding with a pink coating for dessert. She gave me a bunch of pamphlets that explain the product lines, forms for signing up in the business, and audio and video tapes that motivate people to sell and recruit. She also gave me samples–tea that runs about $1.44 per gallon if you steep it right and an herbal powder to mix with applesauce.

She also pointed out that there’s one facial mask that her customers love the taste of. “But the FDA hasn’t approved it for human consumption. We like it anyway.”

I told Dalenberg that I might write about the business.

“You want to write about it?” she said, mildly flattered and slightly apprehensive. “Don’t mention the name of the company in your article. We have to get permission to use the name in print. I could get in trouble–and so could you.

“But,” she confided, perking up considerably, “there’s much more interesting things to write about me than this. If you want to write about something, I’ll tell you about dowsing. I’m a dowser.”

She said she can take a little pendulum to the store and hold it over, for instance, 30 peaches at Jewel that are on sale for 59 cents a pound. And depending on the direction the little pendulum moves, she can pick out the only six with any food value.

Another great business opportunity, I thought to myself.