Faces: Q&A with Natalie Jaeger, owner of the Olive Grove in Mendota Heights

Kathie Jenkins, Pioneer Press. Updated: 11/11/2009 03:27:22 PM CST


Owner of the Olive Grove, 720 Main St. (corner of Minnesota 110 and Dodd Road), Mendota Heights; 651-686-4710; theolivegroveoliveoil.com

Age: 30

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A counselor. I went to grad school for that. I did do some counseling and realized what my parents told me my whole life was true: Counselors do a great job, but they don’t make a lot of money. Right after grad school, I moved to downtown Chicago and could not pay my bills, and that was sort of a problem.

What was your first job in food?

I waited tables all through high school and in college. I’ve always been into food and cooking and watching food channels.

What exactly is the Olive Grove?

An olive oil and balsamic vinegar bar. Everything is available for sampling before buying. And it’s bottled to order so it’s as fresh as it can be. It’s a European concept. I have 35 oils and vinegars on tap in stainless-steel containers.

How did you come up with the idea for the business?

I had been in a store like mine in Appleton, Wis., and I talked to the owner about how well he was being received in the community. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought two books: “Business Plans for Dummies” and “Retail Business for Dummies.” After reading both, I worked day and night for six weeks on my business plan. I pitched it to my husband, and he liked it and said I had to pitch it to the bank. Everyone was on board, and here I am!

Why should people buy their olive oil at your store rather than the supermarket?

My stuff is so fresh, and fresh equals flavor and health benefits. Customers get to sample everything so they know they’re going home with something they like at a very comparable price. My extra virgins range from $14.50 to $15.50 for a 12.7-ounce bottle.

How did you pick your current location?

When I was looking at another retail space in St. Paul, the owner said I should really look at his property in Mendota Heights. So, we looked at it, and it was beautiful and it had a lot of good synergy.

If I were to buy only one bottle of olive oil at your store, what would you recommend?

A good all-purpose oil, either Castile Extra Virgin from Spain, my all-time favorite, or another all-purpose oil, the Picual Extra Virgin from Spain.

What’s something few people know about your store?

That we exist. We’ve been open only a few weeks — our grand opening is Saturday. Everyone who comes in says they’ve never seen a store like this, and that it’s soooo cool. Who doesn’t like getting to sample everything before buying? And people are amazed they can get an 18-year-old balsamic for $18.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

W.A. Frost, for the atmosphere and because the food is really, really good. The lamb is awesome. Forepaugh’s is pretty darned good, too.

What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

What comes to mind is alligator, but is that weird?

What’s next?

I want to have one store that is really successful. I don’t want to expand and spread myself thin. People want to come in and talk to the owner. Besides, I don’t know if I have the energy to run another store.