Europe

A New Generation Leads Laconiko to Excellence

The Pierrakos family has lifted a farm in Greece from a workaday livelihood to an inspired enterprise that produces award-winning oils infused with their vision, passion and purpose

Elias Zarkadoulas (top left), Diamantis Pierrakos and Dino Pierrakos
Mar. 27, 2018
By Andrea Adleman
Elias Zarkadoulas (top left), Diamantis Pierrakos and Dino Pierrakos

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“Mark my words, you’ll regret this,” admon­ished their late father every time Diamantis and Dino Pierrakos schemed another rad­i­cal change.

Good thing the ambi­tious sons didn’t listen.

We were seen as crazy. We were going against tra­di­tion.- Dino Pierrakos, Laconiko

The Pierrakos broth­ers co-own the Laconiko olive oil com­pany together with their two sis­ters and mother. They grow Koroneiki olives on a coastal estate in south­ern Greece that their family has owned for four gen­er­a­tions. They bottle and retail their oil exclu­sively in the U.S.

While their mother and sis­ters work mostly behind the scenes, Diamantis and Dino are the public faces of the oper­a­tion, which has trans­formed from a source of worka­day liveli­hood into an inspired enter­prise that pro­duces award-win­ning oils infused with the family’s vision, mis­sion, pas­sion and pur­pose.

The broth­ers shared their vision at a Smithsonian Institution sem­i­nar in Washington, D.C., in February. Curtis Cord, the pub­lisher of Olive Oil Times, led the sem­i­nar and guided tast­ing to teach par­tic­i­pants how to rec­og­nize and eval­u­ate high-qual­ity olive oil. Together with their busi­ness part­ner and brother-in-law, Elias Zarkadoulas, the Pierrakos broth­ers were guest speak­ers at the sem­i­nar.

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To con­tex­tu­al­ize the prized oil guests tasted ear­lier in the after­noon, the broth­ers told the story of their whirl­wind jour­ney that began during the 2008 har­vest.

Elias Zarkadoulas (top left), Diamantis Pierrakos and Dino Pierrakos

Mrs. Pierrakos and her four chil­dren immi­grated to the U.S. in 1989, while the family patri­arch, Vasilios, remained in Greece. At least one brother would return to help their father with the annual har­vest. As was cus­tom­ary in their vil­lage, they sold their fruit to mills that exported to Italy.

That piv­otal year, Diamantis sensed that some­thing was trou­bling his father. With Vasilios near­ing retire­ment, the Pierrakos’ had to make a life-alter­ing deci­sion about the land and the 5,000 olive trees that were con­sid­ered part of the family.

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One option was to sell the estate and reunite Vasilios with the family in the U.S. That would mean let­ting go of fer­tile land their ances­tors had cul­ti­vated since the late 1800s.

Koroneiki olives at Laconiko

Unwilling to relin­quish the roots of the family legacy, Diamantis floated the idea that had recurred through the years: to pro­duce their own, single-estate oil under the family name.

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“We decided either we are going to be the best or we’re not going to do it at all,” said Diamantis. “We poured all our love, pas­sion, tra­di­tion, heart and soul into it.”

The broth­ers con­vinced their father to allow them to har­vest a small quan­tity of olives early. They asked family and friends to taste their exper­i­men­tal oil and the feed­back was pos­i­tive. In 2009, they began small-scale sales of their own branded oil in the U.S.

They con­tin­ued to make fun­da­men­tal changes to their pro­duc­tion process, over­com­ing oppo­si­tion within their family and com­mu­nity. Ever the tra­di­tion­al­ist, Vasilios was skep­ti­cal of his sons’ ambi­tion, repeat­ing his warn­ing that their plan was mis­guided.

“We were seen as crazy,” said Dino. “Our father was con­ser­v­a­tive and accus­tomed to the stan­dard prac­tices. We were going against tra­di­tion.”

Working from their Virginia home, they con­tin­ued to grow the busi­ness in the U.S. and improve the pro­duc­tion process in Greece. If a retailer agreed to a demon­stra­tion, the broth­ers would drive to the store, no matter the dis­tance. They’d meet briefly with the retailer, only to turn around and drive back home, some­times log­ging hun­dreds of miles in a day.

When they entered com­pe­ti­tions, they asked to see the judges’ notes to learn how their oil was eval­u­ated. They scru­ti­nized their pro­duc­tion process to iden­tify where the defi­cien­cies were occur­ring and they made more changes.

“When we started chang­ing our pro­duc­tion and putting qual­ity before yield, it was a time when few Greek pro­duc­ers were win­ning awards,” said Diamantis. “We wanted to rep­re­sent Greece and show the poten­tial of Greek oil to com­pete with the best in the world.”

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In 2014, they won a silver medal at the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. As they con­tin­ued to win major awards annu­ally, their father’s resis­tance qui­eted. The broth­ers felt vin­di­cated and con­fi­dent that their risk was paying off. They went on to win awards in New York.

Tragedy struck in December 2016, when their father died during the har­vest.

“He lived to see many of our suc­cesses and wit­ness our hopes and dreams come to fruition,” said Diamantis. “He was proud of us and he died doing what he loved. We know that the best way to honor him is to con­duct busi­ness with the same values, sin­cer­ity and pas­sion that our father instilled in us.”

Laconiko oper­ates a tast­ing room in Manassas, Va., open to the trade by appoint­ment only.