It’s been two years since Peter Boutsikakis purchased his mother’s stake in Riverside Foods and joined his uncle, Jerry Garbis, as a partner in the business.
But while Boutsikakis remains part of the grocery business, he and his younger brother, Alex, are branching out into the olive oil business.
Their Village Batch brand of extra virgin oil was the result of a conversation the brothers had a couple of years ago while visiting family in Greece. The country was in the midst of economic turmoil, yet the countryside was abundant with food products that would fit right in with the U.S.’s growing interest in farm-to-table living.
“We said, ‘What can we do to bring these fantastic goods people are making in our area in Greece to the Chicago market?” Peter said.
Peter and Alex’s father lives in a small village near Astros, which is located on the east coast of Peloponnese. Agriculture is the main industry, producing table olives, olive oil, oregano, lemons and oranges.
So the brothers created a pair of sister companies — one in Greece and one in Illinois — to produce, bottle, export and sell the oil. The companies are unrelated to Riverside Foods, though the oil is sold there.
“We formed relationships with the farmers in the area,” said Peter. “We’re keeping it local with small-scale farms.”
And the product is unique, say the brothers, because the oil is not a blend but rather from one particular type of olive that’s indigenous to the region, the Manaki olive. Grown on trees that thrive at higher altitudes (2,000 feet), the golden-hued oil is distinctive, they say.
“It’s delicate, with a thinner skin,” said Alex. “It’s a little sweeter, with more mild, floral tones.”
Their father is a critical cog in the wheel of the new venture, according to Peter.
“We need someone out there for quality control,” he said, “for testing the oils and finding local families and building relationships.”
Alex said that the Greek company is also in the process of helping farmers obtain certification as organic.
Bottles of their Village Batch extra virgin olive oil (from the 2012 harvest) can be found on the shelves of Riverside Foods in Riverside as well as a handful of other markets in the Chicago area. And oil from the 2013 harvest should be arriving at the end of February, said Boutsikakis. The label on the bottles was designed by local Riverside artist, Amanda Mans.
In the future, the Boutsikakis brothers would like to expand the Village Batch label to include other products from Greece, like table olives (which their father already produces), olive oil soap, organic honey, oregano and wild chamomile tea.
The brothers know the olive oil business is a competitive one and dominated by the big Italian producers. Their job, they say, is to educate consumers.
“There’s still a huge education curve for olive oil,” said Peter.