How much difference does the quality of olive oil make to the flavor of your food? A lot, according to Olive This Olive That co-owners and founders Janell Pekkain and Mary Kucel. In the summer of 2012, Pekkain opened an olive oil tasting bar in San Francisco to give people an opportunity to taste a wide variety of extra virgin olive oils and discover the difference in taste for themselves.
“Our business gets people really excited and knowledgeable about extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, pairings, and uses.” Pekkain explained. She finds the looks on people’s faces as they experience the tasting for the first time almost as rewarding as the sales that result.
Olive This Olive That is a boutique retailer with three part time employees that sells extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, hand-crafted pasta, and other fresh, food products. Pekkain prides herself on the customer service provided in her shop as well as the quality foodstuffs.
Pekkain’s background wasn’t in retail or food preparation, so starting a retail food business has provided her a seemingly never ending series of learning opportunities, from the importance of comfortable shoes to the challenges of managing staff and communicating with a partner.
Luckily, Pekkain wasn’t alone; she had the help of SCORE counselors and workshop teachers to guide her. Recommended by a friend, Pekkain began attending workshops ranging in topic from financial to marketing, and her partner, Kucel, took the six-week starting a business series. Mary also consulted with a business counselor who provided free one-on-one guidance. “Writing a business plan with the SCORE templates was challenging but fantastic. It's clear and logical. The financial reports are also very helpful. Although we ended up not needing a business plan for loan purposes, the process was very useful,” said Pekkain.
In addition, Pekkain availed herself of some of SCORE’s online learning tools, such as a social media webinar.
Pekkain also took advantage of another SBA sponsored resource, Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). She attended a payroll workshop and consulted with food specialist, Anni Manuzzi.
Building up a customer base is a challenge for any new business, regardless of industry. Pekkain and Mary came up with fun and creative ways to boost sales and word of mouth. Olive This Olive That hosts a regular BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread) event. The tongue-in-cheek event name came from Pekkain’s policy that “We don't usually offer bread when tasting during the week because we feel that bread distracts and detracts from noticing the nuances of the oils.” At the event, Pekkain prepares food featuring products and recipes and partner with other local businesses to create a theme for the night. In just over a year, the event has already built up a faithful following. The space also hosts book club meetings, private tastings, chef events, and industry events.
Still in the early phases of growth, Pekkain is optimistic about the future of her business. She hopes that a forthcoming website will help spread the word inside and outside of San Francisco. She’d love to see Olive This Olive That become a turnkey business with multiple locations.
Olive This Olive That is proud to be a 100% woman-owned general partnership. Like any good team, both members bring different skills to the partnership. Pekkain sums up the relationship nicely, “My partner is a true entrepreneur: she doesn't take no for an answer and relentlessly finds a way to make things work. If our business and relationship was a bicycle, I'm the front wheel driving sales, marketing, training, product and she's the back wheel, protecting quality and managing finances. You need both wheels to make the bike move forward.”