Advertisement
business

Small-Business Success Story: Texas Hill Country Olive Co.

The Gambini family tapped their Sicilian heritage to produce award-winning olive oil.

Kiplinger's spoke with John Gambini, 66, cofounder of Texas Hill Country Olive Co., a Dripping Springs, Tex.-based olive oil company, about what led him to start an olive oil company with his daughter and fellow cofounder Cara Gambini, 41 (pictured above). Here's an excerpt from our interview:

How did you get started? I've always loved building, and I still own my own construction company. Because I think like a builder, not a farmer, I wanted to make money quickly and efficiently. In 2008, my brother-in-law, Rick Mensik, and I bought 17 acres of land, and in 2009 we trucked in about 2,000 trees from California. By planting large trees instead of small cuttings, the very next year we had fruit. We picked about 2 tons last year -- all of it by hand.

Advertisement - Article continues below

What kind of olive oil do you make? We produce three different blends of premium extra-virgin olive oil, from mild to robust in flavor and pungency: Sola Stella, Terra Verde and Texas Miller's Blend. Last year, we produced about 3,000 gallons. In 2017, Sola Stella won a silver award in the Les Olivalies competition -- the Olive Oil Awards of France. We were the first Americans ever to win a medal.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Why olive oil? For years I dreamed of starting a winery. When I came home to Texas from Ohio in 2003, I discovered that the state already had 162 wineries. Then I read about a new oil industry in Texas -- olive oil production. It tied in perfectly to my Sicilian heritage, and my family agreed to join me in the venture.

Your family is involved in the business? Cara, my daughter and partner, builds wholesale and retail relationships, develops our website, and runs our store. She's incredibly good at merchandising. Rick is a partner, and his son-in-law is our shipping manager.

How do you produce the oil? I've built an 11,500-square-foot facility that includes a milling area, warehouse, tasting room, bistro, wine bar, store and offices. We bought our mill from a manufacturer in Florence, Italy, and its engineers came over to teach us how to operate it. Not everyone can create premium extra-virgin olive oil with the equipment. You have to learn to manage time, oxygen, light and heat.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Where do you sell the oil? We sell on-site, online, at farmers' markets in six cities every week, and at festivals and other special events [prices start at $18 per bottle]. We also make balsamic vinegar with a base that is imported from Modena, Italy.

How did you finance your start-up? We self-funded to start, then relied on cash flow. In year five, we broke even. I tried to get a construction loan to build our building, but no bank in Texas would consider it. We finally found a small, regional bank to give us a commercial mortgage so that my brother-in-law and I could get some of our money back.

Your ultimate goal? I built the company for Cara, her children and their children, too. I wanted a business that could last forever. The oldest living olive trees are more than 6,000 years old and still producing fruit. That's the romance for me.

Advertisement

Most Popular

Chiropractor Trying to Get Business the Wrong Way – Illegally
careers

Chiropractor Trying to Get Business the Wrong Way – Illegally

A new chiropractor’s fledgling business plan to attract patients may sound reasonable at first look, but it’s actually against the law, and the same p…
June 30, 2020
What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?

The IRS unveiled the 2020 tax brackets, and it's never too early to start planning to minimize your future tax bill.
June 20, 2020
13 Luxury Goods That Are Cheaper at Costco
spending

13 Luxury Goods That Are Cheaper at Costco

You could be missing out on huge savings: Costco sells a limited selection of luxury goods at discounted prices, both in-store and online.
June 27, 2020

Recommended

Tax Changes and Key Amounts for the 2020 Tax Year
tax law

Tax Changes and Key Amounts for the 2020 Tax Year

Americans are facing a long list of tax changes for the 2020 tax year...and it's never too early to start thinking about next year's return.
June 22, 2020
7 Ways PPP Loans Just Got Better
small business loans

7 Ways PPP Loans Just Got Better

The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act makes a number of changes to the popular small-business loan program. See how your business might bene…
June 5, 2020
Don't Let the Drama Surrounding PPP Distract You from Running Your Business
business

Don't Let the Drama Surrounding PPP Distract You from Running Your Business

If you're so wrapped up in worry about your Paycheck Protection Program loan not being forgiven, think about the worst-case scenario. It might not be …
June 5, 2020
Thinking of Selling Your Business? 2 Steps to Get the Best Price
business

Thinking of Selling Your Business? 2 Steps to Get the Best Price

Here's what could be the difference between a lucrative outcome and disappointment for business owners now.
June 5, 2020