I am a native Washingtonian and this is our story:
It was a cold Sunday afternoon in February 2011. I was sitting in our sun room relaxing and contemplating life. My thoughts were taking me back to 2008 when Mary, my wife, and I traveled to Umbria, Italy and spent a spectacular week at an Italian farm house. This farm house sat on the top of a hill, amidst an ancient olive grove overlooking both a green valley and a Medieval village. We were the first paying customers of Francesco and Francesca, who just entered retirement after working for an agency of the United Nations. It was clear, the renovated farm house was Francesco’s passion. It also was clear, as the Rooster crowed each morning, that if there were heaven on earth, we were not too far from it. Little did we know, this trip represented not only a well deserved vacation, but also marked the beginning of our own individual journey into “olive.”
As the afternoon shadows danced across the floor, I also was thinking about what was in store for Mary and I as we entered the next phase of our life. Mary, a former ballroom dancer and New York native, gave up that promising career to raise our family, while I supported the family with the busy practice of trademark law. While our four children are now grown, Mary and I are still way too young to retire. There is no doubt, that while my daily practice of “K” street law continues to present its daily and intriguing challenges, we cannot deny that the entrepreneurial spirit Mary and I both share, still had not yet been satiated.
Throughout the past 30 years, that spirit always prompted us to consider a side business — a business that would embrace our passion for the “Mediterranean life style” of good food, family and friends, and a lifestyle that is adorned with the beauty of art and antiques. We both knew that any business we started, needed to be unique and exceptional in every way. With those goals always in mind, we gave serious consideration about producing a gourmet salsa product, an eggplant tapenade, as well as a line of organic bath and beauty products. Opening an art gallery and antique shop crossed our minds. Nor were we opposed to the idea of a bed and breakfast, a gourmet food store or a store specializing in the sale of imported Italian pottery. Yet notwithstanding our research into each of these potential businesses, something was still missing — an assurance we all seek with a new venture.
It was at his moment, that little voice many of us often hear, whispered: “olive oil, olive oil.” It was the same trusted voice that prompted me to enter the practice of law thirty-five years earlier and the same voice that has successfully guided us in life ever since. It was now clearly forging, with assurance, the path ahead. So excited about the revelation, I ran upstairs to Mary to proclaim our entry into the olive oil business — the only business concept she has fully embraced.
Being in our mid-50s, we both knew that it was now or never. While I had stumbled upon an olive oil and vinegar store while walking the side streets of Scottsdale, Arizona the November before, I didn’t think much about it. Now, however, the beauty of the concept quickly unfolded. It embraced almost everything Mary and I are passionate about: art work, gourmet food products, bath and beauty products, antiques, and most of all the “Mediterranean life style.”
Looking back, there is little question that life prepared us for this next step — a step that was easy as it was natural for us to take.
Mary and I quickly went into research mode. We started to read everything we could about olive oils and vinegars, and the specialty food retail business. The more we read, the more passionate we became. At the very early outset, we made the strategic decision to initially offer only the extra virgin and flavored olive oils produced exclusively in California. It became evident that the California olive oil industry, was not unlike what the California wine industry was thirty years ago. It is a new and growing industry with exceptional products and, if we may say, an interesting cast of characters — all of whom we have grown to love.
In May 2011, Mary and I spent two and a half weeks meeting with various producers and retailers throughout California. We visited olive groves and mills. We visited retail operations that were independent, part of established distribution networks, as well as franchise systems.
We were amazed to find how many people were new to the industry, and who had walked another path before “olive,” many of whom are now forging the foundation to this new industry with an unparallel passion and zeal. Our travels introduced us to the prominent surgeon and his wife, who when not producing oil and pruning the trees themselves, donate much of their medical time and expertise to those less fortunate in third world countries. There is Richard, a former drummer from Brooklyn who is now producing award winning extra virgin oil, and Pat, who reared over 500 thoroughbred race horses, to now settle with a grove of young olive trees. There is Kyle, a fifth generation California farmer and his extended family, who, with a recent acquisition, is breathing new life into a well-known olive oil brand with one award after another. Honorable mention, of course, goes to Craig and Cari, who after retiring as a respiratory therapist and a milliner, respectively, decided to buy a farm in 2008 and raise organic vegetables. As life would have it, they are now producing award-winning vinegars and California balsamic. When we first visited their small farm, Craig greeted us in a pair of overalls, a straw hat, and a shot gun. But for those pesky gofers, he claimed in exasperation, life would be great.
When we returned home, we signed the lease for our first store and the symbolic lease for our new life. We opened on October 15, 2011, and as they say in the industry, we caught the “bug” and “found olive.”
Barth and Mary deRosa