` Brooklyn’s New Olive Oil Destination - Olive Oil Times

Brooklyn’s New Olive Oil Destination

Mar. 11, 2013
Michael Goodwin

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Greg Bernarducci, along with his wife, Elizabeth Weiss, is the owner of O Live Brooklyn, the borough’s first spe­cialty olive oil shop. Carrying nearly a dozen vari­etals of olive oil and bal­samic vine­gar, the South Williamsburg store opened last fall to great buzz among New York food blog­gers and olive oil enthu­si­asts. I sat down with Greg in his shop to dis­cuss O Live’s mis­sion, and its recep­tion in Brooklyn.

Michael Goodwin: Tell me a bit about how you became inter­ested in olive oil and came to open O Live Brooklyn.

Greg Bernarducci: I was in the tele­vi­sion busi­ness for over 25 years. I wanted to get out of that busi­ness. I was look­ing for a retail oppor­tu­nity. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but my wife and I have always been into eat­ing organic, eat­ing healthy foods, espe­cially when we had our daugh­ter. We belong to a CSA (com­mu­nity sup­ported agri­cul­ture) and start­ing every spring, through the fall, we get pro­duce from an upstate farmer, who is organic. We were out at a wed­ding in Berkeley, California in 2011 and we walked by a store like this, and I thought, Wow, an olive oil store – only in California!” I went into the store and I tasted their olive oil and I couldn’t believe it. I grew up Italian; I thought I knew olive oil, as I had been eat­ing it my whole life. When I tasted this olive oil it was com­pletely for­eign. It really spoke to me. When we got back, I started doing some research, and it turned out that it was the flag­ship store of Veronica Foods, my sup­plier. They had been sup­ply­ing stores for many years, but that shop had only been open for 6 months. So, we started look­ing at other stores in this area. There are sev­eral in New York and New Jersey who also buy from Veronica. Olive oil is a prod­uct that I believe in. It is a great prod­uct; I don’t feel like I’m sell­ing some­thing that’s bad. I don’t have to con­vince peo­ple. Once they taste these olive oils, it’s another world. I decided to open a shop and my wife was behind it, a huge ben­e­fit, and we looked for spaces and focused on Williamsburg because of the good food tra­di­tion here. People are into healthy eat­ing, and they care about high qual­ity. The south side of Williamsburg is start­ing to blos­som, and we are hop­ing to ride that.

MG: What does the aver­age Brooklynite” who comes into the shop know about olive oil?

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GB: Not much. They are like I used to be. They walk in and say, Why are there 10 dif­fer­ent vari­etals of olive oil? What’s the dif­fer­ence?” When they start tast­ing, they real­ize. We’re car­ry­ing 10 vari­etals right now. Starting next week, we’ll have 16. I tell them that the oils range in inten­sity, from mild to robust, from fruity, to pep­pery, to bit­ter. When peo­ple taste, they real­ize that there are great fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics in these oils. Depending on what they want to use it for, or their own palates, peo­ple can choose what they like. People have responded well. I know that Brooklyn tends to be snarky, but when peo­ple come into the store they really love it.

MG: Aside from being in Brooklyn, what is unique about your store? How does it dif­fer­en­ti­ate itself from other places where olive oil is sold?

GB: Everything here is on tap. You can taste every­thing in the store. This is impor­tant, com­pared to a super­mar­ket where oils often sit out in bowls all day, and the qual­ity degrades. Other shops may also sup­ply bread. We do not use bread, as it masks some of the fla­vors of the oil and we want peo­ple to get the full expe­ri­ence. People need to exper­i­ment with the dif­fer­ent oils and decide which they like best. I pre­fer the more robust oils, and I use them on every­thing, but my taste buds aren’t too sen­si­tive. Other peo­ple have a more sen­si­tive palate and want some­thing more herbal or fruity. People can choose here. Nothing is bot­tled yet. Our oil is always pro­tected in an air­tight con­tainer, a fusti, and then we dis­pense it when cus­tomers decide what they like.

MG: Aside from first-time cus­tomers not know­ing much about the diver­sity in fla­vors, what are the com­mon mis­con­cep­tions that peo­ple have about olive oil?

GB: The biggest mis­con­cep­tion is that you can’t cook with olive oil. This is what every­body says. Some peo­ple think it’s just used for salad. It’s a big mis­nomer. The rea­son is that if you’re buy­ing olive oil from a super­mar­ket, it might not be real olive oil, or it might be old. In this case, it’s lost all of the good­ness and fresh­ness in it. The fresher the olive oil is, the bet­ter it is for cook­ing. We put the chem­i­cal analy­sis of our oils right on the fusti: the polyphe­nols, the oleic acids, the free fatty acids, and the per­ox­ide val­ues, to see if the oil has been exposed to too much ran­cid­ity. It’s true that you don’t want to cook it at too high of a heat, because it will break down, but these oils can be used up to 450 degrees.

MG: Do you a have a favorite oil? Is there one coun­try gen­er­at­ing a lot of excite­ment in terms of new products?

GB: No, I don’t. There are good oils and bad oils com­ing from every coun­try that sup­plies, includ­ing the US. California is hav­ing a prob­lem with grow­ing olive trees too close together. It makes farm­ing eas­ier, but is tak­ing away some of the qual­ity from the prod­uct. It’s a big con­tro­versy out in California, which has an olive oil coun­cil. I had Mediterranean oils when we opened (last year), but now I have south­ern-hemi­sphere oils. We con­stantly switch with the sea­sons. There is great diver­sity in the south­ern oils. Australian olive oil is on the milder, fruity side while Chilean oil is more robust. The European oils are com­ing in next week. From what I hear, they’re some of the best Veronica Foods has ever had.

MG: Is busi­ness what you expected it to be? Where do you think the indus­try is headed? Do you envi­sion, in time, that shops like this will be the places where every­one buys their oil?

GB: I would hope so. I think that espe­cially in a neigh­bor­hood like this, where peo­ple like spe­cialty stores, peo­ple might start buy­ing all of their oil here. I’m not sure how well the shop would do in other parts of Brooklyn, but it might do well in Astoria (Queens). There is room for expan­sion here, though I’m not ready to start it yet, as we’ve only been open for 6 months. We had a great Christmas sea­son. That was encour­ag­ing. Now we’re get­ting return cus­tomers, which is very pos­i­tive. People come back with their bot­tles and want them refilled, or peo­ple who have bought gifts for friends or fam­ily are com­ing back for oil for them­selves. I now have a few reg­u­lars who come in each few weeks, which has also been encour­ag­ing. I started an Olive Oil 101” class through Groupon and sold out within the first week. I couldn’t believe it. People are really look­ing for this! People hear about how healthy olive oil is, but peo­ple don’t real­ize that if they buy from the super­mar­ket, the qual­ity might not be what is expected. The oil might not be real olive oil, or might be processed, or refined. Some com­pa­nies have been chem­i­cally tested and even include olive pomace oil. People also buy big tins that sit in their cab­i­nets for a long time, 6 or 8 months, and it’s smarter to buy smaller con­tain­ers. There is a lot to learn about olive oil, and peo­ple seem eager to learn.

MG: Do you have any secret uses for olive oil, per­haps a quirky recipe?

GB: I don’t, but my wife takes a shot every morn­ing. She says it’s been great for her diges­tion. I’m not going to claim any health ben­e­fits for it, as I’m not a doc­tor or biol­o­gist, but I can tell you that I haven’t been sick since I started the store! I just use it on everything!

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