5 min read ·
Bethany Perkins is passionate about olive oil, and she and her husband Ed, want you to be too. This husband and wife team has made it their mission to spread the news about the benefits of high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil and other specialty oils through their three locations of Midtown Olive Oil. Since we’re proud to say that North Hills is where it all started, we took the opportunity to ask Bethany about why she and Ed decided to make olive oil their family business.
For those who have never visited one of your shops, what is Midtown Olive Oil?
Bethany Perkins: Midtown Olive Oil is a gourmet store, of sorts, featuring over 50 of the freshest, highest quality small-batch Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOOs) from around the world, specialty oils and balsamics from Modena, Italy. All of these are “on tap,” so you can taste before you buy, then watch as your selections are freshly poured, corked, and sealed.
Do you only carry olive oil?
BP: No, in addition to our Ultra-Premium single cultivar EVOOs, we also carry flavored oils, specialty oils, and white and dark balsamics on our tasting bars. Additionally, customers will find olive oil based bath and body products, imported and local gourmet foods such as olives, pastas, and sauces, fine kitchen linens from France and Italy and other gourmet accessories, cookbooks, seasonings and spices. The store is for anyone, whether you are a professional chef, foodie, or just a health conscious consumer!
How did you learn about olive oil, and is it something you are passionate about in your personal life, as well as professionally?
BP: I think everyone thinks they “know” about olive oil, but the truth is, most people really don’t know much at all. There is a general perception that olive oil healthy and good for you, when in reality about 80 percent of what is labeled and sold as Extra Virgin on grocery store shelves is not really EVOO. Ed and I went to California for several days of intense EVOO training. We shared that information with our employees, so they are able to educate customers. Additionally, we are constantly seeking any news in the olive oil industry and making sure our employees and customers are aware of the latest information available.
Passionate is a great adjective for me, in general. Anything I do, I am passionate about it! I love cooking, baking, and creating in the kitchen, as well as living a healthy lifestyle. All the products we sell are carefully, hand-picked by me. I am also passionate that the education, customer service and overall experience in our stores be exceptional!
What made you and your husband Ed decide to go into this business, and why did you decide to do it together?
BP: For starters, it was a very, unexpected opportunity and partnership. In early 2010, we were on a ski trip in Utah and were introduced to the products at a dinner party. I became passionate about the oils and vinegars immediately, but it took several months to convince Ed about my idea and vision to open an oil/vinegar concept store at North Hills.
At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom and had no intentions of returning to corporate America, where I had spent almost 10 years in sales prior to having children. Additionally, the economy was poor and since I wasn’t working, I needed Ed to help fund opening the store. No bank was going to loan me the money.
What did you each do before you opened the first Midtown Olive Oil store?
BP: Ed currently works for Jones & Frank Corporation as the Retail Sales Vice President. He has worked for them for 11 years, which is what brought our family to Raleigh. I worked in outside sales for BellSouth, now AT&T, for almost 10 years immediately after finishing college. I became a stay-at-home mom and volunteer for many organizations after the birth of our first child in 2003.
With Ed having a full-time job on top of his ownership responsibilities, what is your role in the business?
BP: I oversee the day-to-day operations and am in the store almost every day or working from my home office. During the fourth quarter, I do whatever needs to be done, whether it’s wrapping gifts, helping customers with large customer orders, or running the sales floor, which is by far my favorite role.
What is the biggest challenge?
BP: When we don’t agree on day-to-day decisions or the direction of the business, it’s really hard to leave our difference of opinions “at work.” Our family is so busy on a daily basis, sometimes the only time we can discuss issues at hand is at home at night after the kids have gone to bed.
Your first location opened at North Hills in 2010, your second one in Greensboro in 2011, and your third one in New Bern in 2013. Many might wonder – is there really that much demand for olive oil?
BP: Absolutely…but it’s not just olive oil! All the oils we carry are Ultra-Premium certified and that accounts for only the top 2 percent of the world’s population of EVOO. You cannot get oils and balsamics of our caliber anywhere else in town. All of our EVOOs are tested in labs to ensure top quality, and if they are not up to our standards, we don’t buy them. Not only is there a huge difference in taste, but also in how they hold up in every day cooking. Lastly, we guarantee the health benefits from our EVOOs. No one else can do that! Since they are lab-tested, we can tell you the antioxidant count and Omega 9 fatty acid count for each oil. If you like good food and/or give a darn about what you put in your body, our store is for you!
Why did you decide to open your first location at North Hills?
BP: I immediately knew the location was perfect for several reasons. First, the typical demographic of the North Hills shopper parallels with our customer base. Secondly, it is centrally located in that shoppers from Wake Forest to downtown can easily make the short trek to our shop.
What types of people do you get as your customers at North Hills?
BP: All types: foodies, gourmet chefs, people who aren’t well-versed in the kitchen and want to make their role in the kitchen simple but tasty and healthy, people buying gifts, and many people with special dietary needs and/or restrictions. Basically, anyone can find something they love at our store!
What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to olive oil? How does the experience your stores offer differ from the experience someone might have in buying their oils in the grocery store?
BP: People assume that because a bottle is labeled EVOO, that it is. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Recent investigations by CBS News and the University of CA-Davis reported that approximately 80 percent of grocery store oil is adulterated. Because the FDA only mandates that a certain percentage of what’s in the bottle be Extra Virgin, many mass producers cut the oil with cheaper seed and nut oils or refined olive oil from overripe and rancid olives. This gives a flavorless, odorless taste every time you purchase it. Olive oil should be like wine in that the taste, color, hints, notes, and finish should vary from year to year. Consumers think they are being health conscious by purchasing something labeled Extra Virgin, when, in fact, they most likely are not receiving any health benefits at all.
There are so many differences, I really don’t know where to begin! We have several main focuses that are very important to us: quality, educating our customers about our products, customer service and presentation, especially for gifts. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t get these at a grocery store.