The Business

How to Succeed in the Olive Oil Business (Without Really Trying)

I never really wanted to be in business, especially anything that had to do with selling. I pretty much fell into the olive oil biz to supply my own habit.

We took our first trip to Italy several years ago because my wife, Judith, is Italian-American. We loved the countryside, the food, and especially the people. And I had my olive oil epiphany. Most Americans never taste the kind of olive oil that really makes Italian food what it is.

I realized that the best olive oil is rarely exported. It’s not really economical since the good stuff is mainly produced in small quantities and can’t supply the demand of a mass market like the entire US. I knew I couldn’t go back to supermarket extra virgin, so I carried home several liters, planning to hoard it until we could afford to go back to Italy.

We did make it back, and in 1999 we were driving from Sicily to Rome to catch a plane home. We had to spend the night someplace, and even though the restaurant was closed that particular night, we stayed at Don Alfonso. The next day Ernesto Iaccarino, son of chef and owner Alfonso, showed us around the family farm, and we left with olive oil, pasta, tomato sauce, and the killer Don Alfonso limoncello.

We had to rush off because the road down to Sorrento was under construction and would be closed for the afternoon. In the car, my wife turned to me and said, “Jim, you should import that olive oil.” So I am.

On our most recent trip I met Marco Bettini in Umbria, and decided to offer his family’s incredible olive oil. I was also able to finally start importing Olio Novo from Chianni, the little town in Tuscany where we stayed on our first trip. The Sicilian oil has special meaning for us, since Leonforte is just a few miles from Cerami, the tiny village where Judith’s grandmother was born in 1887.

My business plan is simple:

- Don’t lose any money.
- Have plenty of good olive oil in my kitchen.
- Go to Italy more often.

And introduce my friends to real good olive oil.

Jim