St. Paul Villager

The Olive Grove, an ‘ultra-premium’ purveyor

Natalie Jaeger opened her gourmet olive oil shop in the Village at Mendota Heights in 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession. She now says that she’s glad that the Olive Grove had nowhere to go but up.

“We didn’t have to experience looking at down sales, a down year, and having to learn how to make adjustments for that,” Jaeger said. “This is all we’ve known. Every year things just keep getting better and better.”

The Olive Grove sells extra virgin olive oils, flavored olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars, giving customers the opportunity to taste each flavor and take home only the oils and vinegars they already know they like.

“It can be a very interactive experience for the customer,” said Jaeger, who employs seven people to assist customers in choosing flavors and bottling their choices from shiny metal dispensers. “You come in with a recipe that you’re doing, and based on the flavors that are going to be in there, we can help you pick out a product that will complement it best.”

The Olive Grove is bucking the trend of selling olive oil mixed with inferior oils or artificial colors and labeling it “extra virgin,” Jaeger said. Instead, it offers “ultra-premium” extra virgin olive oil, which must meet higher standards of production, storage, transportation, testing and chemistry than the oils sold on the mass market.

“This is going to be huge for the olive oil industry and for stores like my own that are trying to compete against all of the other gourmet olive oil stores that are opening up,” Jaeger said.

Customers should not expect to find the same oils in the store year-round. Just as the growing season in olive-producing countries differs, so does the availability of olive oils. The Olive Grove’s oils come from all of the countries in the Mediterranean region, plus Australia, Chile, Tunisia and the United States—specifically, California.

“In the spring and summer, we’re mostly going to carry Northern Hemisphere oils because those olives are produced and crushed in November and December and hit the United States the beginning part of the following year,” Jaeger said. “At the end of the year, when people are buying holiday gifts, you want to make sure you’re buying a Southern Hemisphere olive oil. Those are going to be the freshest. Those are crushed in May and June and they get to us at the end of summer.”

Region is not the only thing that makes these oils stand out. Flavor does, too. The Olive Grove carries oils infused with garlic, basil, Tuscan herbs, blood orange, lemon, Persian lime, cilantro, roasted onion, chipotle peppers, harissa hot chili sauce, wild mushrooms, sage and a blend called Milanese gremolata, an Italian herb condiment made of parsley, minced garlic, lemon zest and mint.

The shop’s balsamic vinegars are produced and aged in Modena, Italy, and contain only 1 percent wine vinegar, unlike supermarket brands that may contain much more and are not as sweet. Some of the shop’s vinegars also contain natural flavors such as strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. The Olive Grove also carries sauces, pastas, mustards, stuffed olives, spreads, jams, seasonings, sea salts, bath and beauty products, kitchen accessories and gift baskets, both premade and custom-made.

Given the economic struggles of the past four years, Jaeger said her store has enjoyed “amazing” success. The store’s high-quality oils and vinegars make it stand out from others and will help position it for the coming years, according to Jaeger.

The quality of the products, the warm and inviting atmosphere and the level of service create a unique experience for the customer, Jaeger said. She is grateful for the store’s success but does not take full credit for it.

“We pay a lot of attention to what our customers like, what their feedback is, and we look at how we can broaden our appeal to the public,” she said. “I have been very fortunate to have an amazing staff. Without them I wouldn’t have the success that I’ve had so far.”

The Olive Grove
720 Main St., Suite 105, Mendota Heights
The Village at Mendota Heights

Article was originally published in The St. Paul Villager, on July 31, 2013

The Olive Grove proprietor Natalie Jaeger in her Mendota Heights shop.