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Jul 27, 2015 11:47 AM ET

Archived: Heather – Olive & Marlowe: Provide my customers with the best olive oils from small, domestic-only producers and pass on knowledge from annual olive oil sensory courses at UC Davis’ Olive Center

iCrowdNewswire - Jul 27, 2015
Personal Story

The history-rich area of Frederick, Maryland, provided the backdrop for my childhood, with plenty of biking and hiking trips to Harpers Ferry, WV, and portions of the Appalachian Trail. My dad was an adventurous biologist with a deep love of the outdoors, and my mother an artist and crafter who worked in the cartography lab at National Geographic, and both of them imprinted their passions on me when I was very young. The oldest of three, then four (after my parents adopted a Russian orphan when I was in college) children, I enjoyed a happy and calm childhood.

Having supportive parents has always been one of my greatest advantages. Both encouraged me to pursue a degree in fine art, despite that being a field that does not guarantee anything resembling a return on investment. I attended the oldest art school in the country, Maryland Institute, College of Art, where I first majored in illustration, then drawing, then finally graduated with a BFA in general fine art where I specialized in portraiture. My sister, 2.5 years my junior, pursued the same degree path, but chose to go out of state, to Carnegie Mellon University. I used to visit her often when I still lived in Maryland, and fell in love with the city of Pittsburgh, nearly moving there twice. Instead, I took a job in rural Maine, teaching art and music (my other love) at a school on a coastal Indian reservation. It was in Maine that I met my husband, Rob. We married and had our first child, Olive, but knew that we didn’t want to raise our family in such a remote, isolated part of the country. The third time was a charm and we relocated to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2010. I had no idea I’d soon be plunging head-first into the olive oil business the following year.

Business Description

I started in 2010 at a little stall in the Pittsburgh Public Market selling olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was the perfect part-time gig for a mom with a baby; I could work when my husband wasn’t, or bring Olive to work with me on my back when necessary. My business did so well there that I was able to, after the birth of our second daughter, Marlowe, open up a storefront in East Liberty, a neighborhood rife with excellent restaurants and residents who know and love great food. Having a brick-and-mortar shop also made it easier for me to have my children at work with me, so I could enjoy the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom and simultaneously work full-time and grow the business I’d been in since its infancy.

Each spring for the past four years I’ve traveled to California to attend olive oil sensory courses at UC Davis’ Olive Center where I learn how to differentiate between olive varietals, detect defects, and myriad facts about chemistry makeup, nutrients and health benefits, effects of different storage conditions, and how to best enjoy different oils with foods. My goal is to provide my customers not only with the best olive oils I can get from small, domestic-only producers, but to give them a quality education about the product I carry. My greatest obstacle has been competition with large olive oil and vinegar franchises that are cropping up all over the Pittsburgh area. Having a small, independent business sets me apart from the bigger chains, most of which lack a distinct flavor of their own but instead mimic similar stores that can be found across the country. The flip side of this is that it has pushed me to strive to better my company and to put an even greater emphasis on my customers. They have been an inspiringly loyal lot, and have gone to great lengths to expose my products to their friends and families, realizing that word-of-mouth is perhaps the most valuable form of advertisement.

I’m extraordinarily proud of the immense growth I’ve seen in the past year and the connections I’ve made with others in the Pittsburgh food industry, but I owe a great deal of that success to some of the people I’ve had working for me. Having customers that have become friends and then part-time employees has been a joy. Some of these people have grown to be as close as family to my family and me, and it’s likely that we wouldn’t have them in our lives if not for this business.

What is the purpose of this loan?

Two years ago I was not at all prepared for the post-Thanksgiving rush. By the second week of December I was completely out of olive oil – my primary product. Concerned customers were asking me if I was closing. Last year was much better, but still not at the level where I’d like to be during the busiest time of year for retail businesses. I’d like to be able to purchase large quantities of oil and balsamic and have it bottled and ready well before things pick up. I also need to have plenty of empty bottles on hand – especially the little ones that go into my sampler sets, my most popular seller during the holidays – and the handmade wooden boxes I get from a local woodworker friend. A $10,000 loan would cover much of these costs, and anything left over would go toward my November rent for my seasonal kiosk at Ross Park Mall. Last year I wasn’t ready to pay the rent by the first of the month and had to move in two weeks after the start of my lease; I lost two weeks’ worth of business because of not being financially prepared.

My family would benefit immensely from this Kiva Zip loan because I’d be relieved of much of the stress that has set in in the past two Decembers. Since I was operating on a shoestring budget – an ink cartridge and bottle order here, a shipment of olive oil there, I didn’t always have what I needed when I needed it. I’m sure that a $10,000 loan would streamline my ordering process and would allow me to get what I need before traffic picks up substantially and I’m clambering to keep up with demand.

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