New York, Where Dreams are made of…

New York Times Square

A wise man once said, “New York, These streets will make you feel brand new;
Big lights will inspire you”

Well June was a crazy month!  Two days after I returned from our trip to Australia Julie and I left with my parents to the Big Apple.  At one point there were six suitcases of dirty clothes on my bedroom floor without any time to address them.  The 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show, North America’s largest food and beverage specialty food show, showcased over 180,000 different products from the Javits Center in New York.  I was attending with my wife and parents to work our Calivirgin booth in this massive trade spectacle.  We usually go to the west coast Fancy Food Show held in January in San Francisco but this show was easily 1/3 larger in spectators and exhibits.

Let me apologize in advance for the photos.  Julie’s camera was lost on this trip (either lost or stolen) so the only photos I have are limited to what was taken with my phone.

Summer Fancy Food Show New York

Julie holding down the fort!

This was my second time to New York and a first trip for the rest of the family.  This was also Calivirgin’s first appearance at the New York Summer Fancy Food Show.  Last time I was in New York it was pre-9/11 and in the dead of winter so the city was quite different than my first experience.  On the first day we setup and constructed our booth.  Our 10’x10’ nook is quite simple compared to some of the corporate companies that hire construction crews to set up their 600 sq.ft. spaces filled with LED lights and Plasma TV’s or fully constructed supermarket shelves and display cases.  The show looks overwhelming; actually it is overwhelming but you don’t need to be a multimillion-dollar conglomerate to have a presence there.   With the amount of retailers, wholesalers, press, restaurateurs and culinary foodies walking this show all you need is a great product that looks as good as it tastes and it will sell itself.

Campagnola Restaurant New York

Enormous plate of chicken and sausage, half order of lamb chops with greens, chefs choice pasta sampler, and fried soft shell crab

One thing about New York is there are 2-3 good restaurants on every block and 10-12 great restaurants in every district or area.  One of our more memorable dinners was at a rustic and hearty Italian restaurant in the Upper East Side called Campagnola.  Their tagline is “a country restaurant” and their traditional comfort food with 1920’s wise guy décor and a nightly pianist playing the likes of Sinatra, Dean Martin and other standards are A Country Restaurant with a modern day Soprano’s flair.  The place was packed so our reservation was wise but we did make the mistake of letting our server “just bring us some favorites” with little direction.

"Past, Present, Future, Your Dreams and Desires"

“Past, Present, Future, Your Dreams and Desires”

Mistake because we had so much food we each left with boxes to go and we were still stuffed to the brim.  The trade off was the food was excellent and the evening was perfect. I capped the night off with a glass of one of my favorites.  Sambuca.  They serve it with three coffee beans inside and my server told me they represented, “The Past, Present and Future of my Dreams and Desires.”

On our third night our friend Summer traveled to the city to meet up with us so we put in reservations for a popular restaurant, although we only went late night for dessert.  It was close to 10pm and there was still an hour wait and line

The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is a must try!

The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is a must try!

out the door for a table at the cozy Serendipity 3.  John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale star in the 2001 romance/comedy movie Serendipity with a famous scene where the couple share the ultra popular Frozen Hot Chocolate.  Or as they call it, Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, either way it was pretty tasty stuff! The gaudy décor of tiffany lampshades and eccentric pink and white walls seem to add to this landmark place.  On any given night there could be celebrities, former U.S. Presidents or VIP’s enjoying the experience but tonight it was just the five of us, one Frrrozen hot chocolate, Julie and Summerone peanut butter frrrozen hot chocolate

The Forbidden Broadway Sundae

The Forbidden Broadway Sundae

and a forbidden broadway sundae.  Again we ordered too much but you only live once right?  We definitely needed to walk a few New  York city blocks after this dessert but the experience was worth it.

At a show where tens of thousands of people walk by you it is interesting how you start to actually recognize and notice people from one day to the next or even one year to the next.  One passer-by that didn’t need a double take for my wife Julie and I was Chef Joe Arvin formally known as Chef Joe from Season 14 of CBS’s show BIG BROTHER.  Both being fans of the show, we were surprised we saw instead of heard Joe since his

B.B. was in the house!

B.B. was in the house!

enthusiastic loud booming voice is his moniker.  In fact Julie yelled to him from behind our booth as he passed by asking him why he was so quiet.  Chef Joe was there with fellow season contestant Jen City and season 13’s Heavy Metal Adam Poch to put on a celebrity cooking demonstration and help promote Chef Joe’s new cookbook.  I stopped by each demonstration throughout the week and the attendance was always less than stellar so the large crowd Joe accumulated as Jen City ripped chords from her electric guitar center stage was worth kudos, not to mention he instructed and served some killer crab cakes.  He also signed a cookbook for us, which made our day.  I know, we are reality TV dorks but the cookbook is a good one!

SOFI Awards

SOFI Awards Red Carpet Event

Not only were we representing Calivirgin Olive Oils in our booth but we were also there for the SOFI award show and red carpet event.  SOFI stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation and a record number of 2,573 products were entered.  The Specialty Food Association describes the awards as a representation of culinary creativity across America and around the globe.  The Finalists are selected at the Specialty Food Association offices in New York City by a national panel of Sofi Awards New Yorkspecialty food retailers, foodservice professionals and journalists. The selection panel is made up of people from O The Oprah Magazine, Whole Foods Markets, Raley’s, Crate and Barrel,  Di Bruno Brothers, Pier 1 Imports, The Culinary Institute of America,  Good Morning America plus many, many, more industry professionals.

We were honored to be a SOFI finalist in the 2013 awards show for our Calivirgin Bountiful Basil flavored olive oil up against a grape seed oil and a cherry seed oil.  I have written about the agrumato process we use to make our flavored oils and we were humbled to be recognized for our passion by this esteemed award.  It was a dreamlike night and the closest thing to being at an event like the Oscars then I will ever experience.  The finalists were announced IMG_4405and we walked down the center red carpet aisle as tables of retailers, wholesalers, and industry guru’s applauded.  Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.  The keynote speaker was internationally acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson and his opening address was wonderful.  Chef Samuelsson spoke about how the Fancy Food Show blurs the lines between the large corporate companies and the little guys who are “making peanut butter in the basement hoping they’ll be in a big retail store one day.”  Samuelsson went on to say, “That passion for making your own product isn’t something you

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson Photo from: specialtyfood.com

can outsource,” and then asked the audience how many of them argue [over quality] at work. “If you don’t,” he said with a laugh, “you’re not passionate enough about your product.” These remarks hit home for our small family business and brought a smile to all of our faces.  Unfortunately we didn’t win the category we were up for (best oil) but we did go home with a shiny silver runner up award (its heavy too!).  The speech the winning couple gave and the fact that they left the stage to stop and literally tango dance right in front of our family before returning to their table was less modest than what I had planned if we had won and a bit of salt in the wound of disappointment but fortunately the post party was a highlight that quickly made us remember that we were all part of a Basil Olive Oil Sofispecial evening.  We celebrated at an after-party that featured recipes made with sofi finalists’ products and food provided by an array of New York restaurants.  There were about 25 restaurants serving 3-4 tapas style dishes featuring the finalist products.  Some of the creations were to die for and it ended up being a very fun evening.  After that we headed to a private after-after-party.  When in Rome, right?  We ended up burning the candle at both ends; even my father was able to stay awake for the excitement.

All in all the trip was very successful and a great time.  We will definitely be back next year as the show itself proved to be worth it being able to meet with so many retailers, stores and and industry connections.  We were also ableto take in many of the eclectic New York sights and attractions.  Julie and I even got caught in the middle of a flash mob.  Everyone around us just froze, and Julie asked me what’s going on.  Some how it instantly clicked and I said, “Flash Mob!” as I pulled her hand so we could watch from “outside of the dancing mob.”

Below are a few more photos (you can click to make them larger),  Thanks for reading or
Grazie Mille!  -Mike

IMG_4425

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall

Impressive World Trade Center Memorial was a highlight of the trip

Impressive World Trade Center Memorial was a highlight of the trip

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central park

Bethesta Fountain in Central Park

Our bottle in the Williams - Sonoma New York Store

Our bottle in the Williams – Sonoma New York Store, only one left!

Central Park Sheep Meadow

Central Park Sheep Meadow

Central Park

Central Park

Guess Who?

Guess Who?

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Trade Shows, Farmers Markets, and Fairs…Oh My!

Our company still consists of all family members and we split up the jobs of farming, sales, marketing, packaging, & distribution.  Growing this small family business has been a blast and our best sales pitch to date has always been to simply get someone to taste the oil.  We are proud of the unique and elaborate packaging and design but we always say it tastes as good as it looks.  Getting a following and people to taste the oil often involves setting up tasting booths which leads me to this topic.

Our Flight of Oils

At first glance it seems our yearly calendar has something on nearly every weekend of the year.  Our family trades off who attends the events and many of them are attended by all of us as a group.  From the Paso Robles Olive Oil Festival to the San Francisco Fancy Food show all the way down to our local Lodi Spring Wine Show and St. Marys Italian Olive Oil Festival; just to name a few.  Each event has its own flavor and along with that, its own idiosyncrasies.  We have met many great vendors traveling acts and olive oil families on the road, as well as many interesting and intriguing customers.  Learning event or market etiquette has also been a hoot and at times eye opening.  Learning things such as the fact that homeless vagrants will eat all of your bread before the market even opens if you have it displayed  early have been mistakes we have made a few times.

Paso Robles Olive Oil Festival

The last hour of wine tasting events always draw a long line to our Calivirgin booth as well.  “Why”, you might ask?  Because we often have the only food available at that hour.  Watching purple toothed people hold each other up while grabbing handfuls of bread is comical; however, it is often in this last hour of wine events that we have most of our sales as well!

Setting up and taking down these elaborate displays is always a rat race.  Each event has strict and sometimes unique rules for what you need to have, how you can display, and how to take down.  Trying to balance displaying all of your products as uniquely and appealing as possible with ease of taking it all down and getting home as fast as you can is the quandary.  To avoid repacking cases of unsold products and hauling them away, we quickly learned that trading products is often vendor practice at these events,  especially large events such as the San Francisco Fancy Food Show.  A certain family member of ours has a hard time saying no to said proposed

San Francisco Fancy Food Show

trades .  This last year I think we went home with an elaborate box of chocolates, some coffee flavored tea, a huge wheel of brie cheese the size of a basketball, truffle sea salt, Madeleines/Brownie Bites/&Palmiers from Sugar Bowl, and a package of macaroni pasta that was supposed to be animal shaped but looked a little more phallic than the package suggested.  I’m not sure the theory of going home lighter works in our case but if you are looking for a group of suckers who will trade a $15-$30 bottle of oil for a pair of mint flavored chopsticks swing by our booth!

If you have ever sold products or worked a booth at a farmers market, trade show or expo you know the expression, “people say the darndest things.”  Recently over dinner our family was reminiscing about some of the classic one-liners we have heard over the years working countless display/tasting booths and it got me thinking about sharing some of them.  My apologies in advance if you remember giving me material for this piece; believe me when I say that it is often phrases like these that make the long hours of a market or show bearable at times.

While keeping in mind that the majority of patrons who taste test our products seem to genuinely enjoy them (or at least they are really good fakers), there are from time to time people who express their distaste.  I’m not afraid to admit it; if you are in the food industry and you say that you have never had a negative comment then you are a liar and I don’t care if you are giving away ice cream topped with $100 bills.  Someone, somewhere, sometime will blow you away and complain or offer a suggestion on how it could be better.  This is in part why these events are so much fun.  I truly enjoy interacting with people and the anticipation of the facial expressions or reactions they get when they are about to taste our oils or vinegars are almost like a mini adrenaline rush.  Again, don’t get me wrong; I could go on and on with positive quotes or reviews from chefs, aficionados, foodies or the occasional Sunday stroller but today I wanted to add a little humor.  Now for some one-liners!

“Your olive oil is fantastic but it looks like shampoo” –Referring to our bottle.  We have had a few people say it looks like perfume too!  I usually laugh and add that it is actually a French cognac bottle.  I’ve had a few, “cognac huh, looks like perfume to me”

One lady tasted every product we had.  All of our balsamics, our extra virgin olive oil and all of our crushed flavored olive oils and then plainly looked at us and said she didn’t like any of them. (Kind of bold but fair enough right? I appreciate the honesty)  Then about two hours later she came by and bought two bottles.  I really wanted to ask if we were to be included on some “things not to buy” list but resisted.

Our Calivinegar balsamic and our Premium Calivirgin olive oil were in dishes side by side and after tasting both of them, one lady told us that she “Liked the black olive oil way better than the light gold olive oil.”

Most people who taste fresh extra virgin olive oil can’t believe how much flavor it has.  They are used to the rancid and sometimes refined garbage they typically buy and didn’t realize how fresh olive oil is supposed to taste so we get a lot of feedback on this.  Taste descriptors such as a grassy taste or fruity are often discussed.  Some people swear we have added something to the oil to add taste. “You put bananas in there don’t you!” I have been told.

Calibody Skin care made with Calivirgin Olive Oil

At a few events, (usually wine tasting events) we have turned our back for a second and then returned to find someone (usually a guy, sorry guys) with a spoon eating our samples of Calibody hand moisturizing cream made with olive oil.  I guess with fragrances like Cucumber Melon and Lemon Pound Cake it can be sort of suggestive but I am pretty sure the last guy ate Cool Rain.  He seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t have the heart to embarrass him.

– Author Mike Coldani