Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 33 / 17 August 2017
 

Business Briefs: Olive oil a passion project for gay Sonoma couple

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

A bottle of Olive Queen extra virgin olive oil complements the offerings from Nightingale Breads. Photo: M.J. Wickham
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Launching their own brand of olive oil has been a labor of love the last 12 years for Sonoma County couple Rob Akins and Mark Berry.

After moving to Forestville from San Diego, where they first met 22 years ago, they planted 450 olive trees on their two-acre property they call Gopher Hill Farm. The trees, which replaced a failing apple orchard on the site, are a Spanish varietal mix of Arbequina and Arbosana.

"We had always dreamed of having an olive grove and doing something we could grow and nurture and be gentlemen farmers," said Akins, 60, who is the sales and marketing director at No. Eight Lighting in Cotati. "We knew eventually we wanted to create an olive oil company."

As Berry, 57, who co-owns with his husband the small marketing package design firm Akins Berry Creative , explained in an email to the Bay Area Reporter, "In selecting the type of olive trees we wanted, we consulted with an olive oil professional in Napa Valley and did olive oil tastings to determine what flavor profile we wanted our oil to have."

The varietal they chose, added Berry, produces olive oils with "a buttery, fresh fruit flavor profile with a peppery finish."

For the past 10 years they had been gifting small batches of olive oil to their friends, family, and neighbors who would join them annually for a harvest party. Four years ago, with the trees more mature, they started selling their olive oil to the owner of local bakery Nightingale Breads .

"Our soil is extremely good and faces south. We are also on a hillside and olives love hillsides," said Akins. "It is an optimum location for olives. And this climate we have, olives love."

Their olive grove, which can be seen from the windows of their house, is a daily part of their routine, said Akins.

"The olive trees are a part of our life," he said. "It is something that brings us a lot of joy just walking through the olive grove."

Their farm, on which they also grow vegetables and orange trees, is organic. Helping to maintain their olive trees are tiny frogs, no bigger than the size of a thumb, said Akins.

"They help eradicate pests from the grove and also sing to us at night, which we love," he said. "It is a very harmonious micro-farm we have."

After a bumper crop of olives last year, the couple teamed up with a local olive press to bottle four varieties of oils made from the fruit of their trees as well as from other nearby olive orchards. Within 24 hours of the olives being picked by a hired crew, the fruit had been pressed into oil. The next day the oil was moved to a wine cellar where it will remain until it is ready to be bottled and shipped to customers.

"We just kept putting it off and then, finally, we had a nice crop of olives for olive oil. We said we have to bite the bullet, create the logo, and launch the website," said Akins.

Their dream became a reality in December just prior to Christmas with the official launch of their Olive Queen brand of extra virgin olive oil. It is available for purchase online and at several shops in the North Bay, including at Mr. Trombly's Tea in Duncans Mill and at the gay-owned Big Bottom Market in Guerneville, where they will be taking part in a special ticketed event the night of February 16. (For details, see Big Bottom Market's Facebook page.)

The couple currently offers for sale a French blend, a Spanish blend, and an Italian blend of extra virgin olive oil, as well as an Estate Spanish Blend of extra virgin olive oil. The bottles come in three sizes – 250 ML, 500 ML,

Olive Queen owners Mark Berry, left, and Rob Akins walk through their olive grove in Forestville. Photo: Courtesy Olive Queen 
and 700 ML – and range in price from $20 to $35.

"We have been getting a phenomenal response," said Akins, who hopes to find a retail location in San Francisco willing to sell their olive oils "in the next few months."

They landed on the name for the business while driving down Highway 5 toward San Diego. After passing a motor home dubbed the Slumber Queen, Berry suggested the Olive Queen name, as olive trees since Roman times have been known as "the Queen of all Trees."

"We like to say olives are the queen of fruit. It is an ancient, ancient fruit," said Akins.

In honor of Valentine's Day, they are offering a 14 percent discount on all purchases made online through February 14.

To learn more about Olive Queen, or to buy its oil olives online, visit http://www.olivequeen.com/.

Guests are also welcome to stay at the couple's farm as they rent out a carriage house next to their home to travelers. They started doing so seven years ago and now offer free olive oil tastings for their guests, who are also welcomed in their room with a bottle of cuvee from Iron Horse Vineyards, as Berry redesigned the winery's packaging in 2004.

"We tell them to leave the kids and leave the dogs at home and bring your love – or someone you just met – and get away for a weekend," said Akins. "We are right in the middle of all the wineries, shops, and eateries here in Sonoma. Plus, we like to spoil our guests. It is a fun experience."

The average nightly rate to rent the carriage house, which sleeps two, is $300. It can be found on both VRBO – https://www.vrbo.com/327430 – and HomeAwayhttps://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p3002398.

 

Honor roll

Graton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris , a gay man who has overseen the development of the tribe's 254-acre Graton casino resort in Rohnert Park in Sonoma County, will be one of the guest speakers featured at the Golden Gate Business Association 's Power Lunch III event being held Tuesday, February 28 in San Francisco.

According to GGBA, it will mark the first time an LGBT chamber in the United States has acknowledged the accomplishments of an LGBT American Indian entrepreneur. Also speaking at the lunch will be Horizons Foundation President Roger Doughty.

For more details about the event, and to buy tickets, visit http://ggba.com/power-lunch-3.

GGBA is also hosting two get-togethers this month themed to Valentine's Day. The first Make Contact event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, February 14 at Covo, the co-working space at 981 Mission Street in San Francisco.

It is also hosting an East Bay Make Contact event from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, February 16 at Cooperative Federal Credit Union , located at 2001 Ashby Avenue in Berkeley.

For more information about either event, visit http://ggba.com.

 

Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:.






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